Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tatiana in Heaven

Few events in the history of zoo-keeping have generated as much publicity (and controversy) as the "tiger attack" which occurred on December 25th, 2007, at the San Francisco Zoo. Tatiana, a female tiger, was born, in captivity, in Denver on June 27th, 2003, and was brought to San Francisco Zoo, to provide the resident male with a mate. Tatiana had been involved in a minor mauling incident during a public feeding in December 2006; she was not blamed for that incident, because there had been inadequate precautions and training, and the tiger was, in the words of the zoo director Manuel Mollinedo, "acting as a normal tiger does."

What occurred in December 2007 was as follows: According to eyewitness accounts of patrons in the SF Zoo in the late afternoon of 12/25/07, three young men loitering just outside the tiger compound were taunting Tatiana, throwing things over the fence into the cage, yelling and growling, generally attempting to incite the tiger to anger. The tiger compound was surrounded by a deep concrete moat, which is ordinarily designed to function as filled with water, but had been allowed to go dry. Tatiana suddenly leaped over the interior barrier, bounding into the moat and up the steep wall, and over the exterior fence, and proceeded to attack the startled youths. Tatiana killed 17-year old Carlos Souza, Jr. immediately, then chased Paul Dhaliwal (age 19) to just outside the zoo's Terrace Cafe. When police arrived, Tatiana had Dhaliwal at bay, and was "toying" with him. Police managed to distract the tiger, which then ran towards the officers, who proceeded to pump seven rounds into its body and head, killing it at once.  

The three youths, it later was reported, had criminal records. Not long after the incident, the two Dhaliwal brothers hired a lawyer, and have filed suit against the City of San Francisco and the Zoo for negligence and huge damages.

Wikipedia provides a neat summary of developments in the case subsequent to the incident:

"The zoo remained closed until January 3, 2008. On January 15, 2008, the transcripts and the recordings of the 911 calls were released. In the days immediately following the attack, the director of the zoo stated that Tatiana was probably provoked. He said, "Somebody created a situation that really agitated her and gave he some sort of a method to break out.  There is no possible way the cat could have made it out of there in a single leap. I would surmise that there was help. A couple of feet dangling over the edge could possibly have done it." Sources told the San Francisco Chronicle that pinecones and sticks were found which might have been thrown at Tatiana, and which could not have landed there naturally. Amrital (Paul) Dhaliwal would later admit to the deceased victim's father that the three had yelled and waved at the tiger. Kulbir Dhaliwal stated to police that the three had smoked marijuana and had drunk vodka on the day of the attack, which toxicology tests confirmed. A partially-filled vodka bottle and marijuana were also found in the 2002 BMW car used by the Dhaliwal brothers on the day of the mauling. According to early news sources, the Dhaliwal brothers had slingshots on them at the time. The discoveries reinforced suggestions that the brothers might have recklessly teased the 253-pound Siberian tiger before she leapt from her grotto. Zoo visitor Jennifer Miller and her familiy allegedly saw the group of young men, including an unidentified fourth person, taunting lions less than an hour before the tiger attack. She later identified Sousa as being part of the group, but said Sousa did not join in the taunting. The Dhaliwal brothers' lawyer, Mark Geragos, denied that the brother teased the animals, but later testimony by another park visitor corroborated Miller's story by saying the four men were taunting the animals.  The Dhaliwal brothers were reportedly 'hostile" to the police following the attack. They initially refused to identify themselves or Carlos Sousa to the police, and they refused to give interviews to the police until two days after the attack. Initially, the brothers would not speak publicly about the details of what happened to them. On January 1, 2008, the Dhaliwal brothers hired Geragos, planning to sue the zoo for their "utter disregard for safety".  

Despite what you believe about what precisely occurred at the zoo on Christmas Day 2007, there is little doubt that the tiger is not to blame for what occurred.  

Today, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the four uniformed officers who answered the emergency call and killed Tatiana, were receiving gold medals of valor, for bravery.  

It's hard not to feel disgust at almost every aspect of the case. Almost no one escapes fault, except, of course, the poor tiger Tatiana.

The zoo deserves condemnation for not providing adequate barriers against the possibility of escape. They admitted that the mote was designed to work when filled with water, not empty. They seemed to have no contingency plans for dealing with animal escapes. There seemed to be no monitoring of visitor behavior, allowing almost any kind of activity to occur, including people climbing over fences directly into animal compounds.     

The youths acted irresponsibly, with malice, mischievously inciting naturally aggressive predators to go on the offensive. They were bingeing on drugs and alcohol, abusing themselves, making a public nuisance at a public attraction, and ultimately playing chicken with wild animals in an artificial situation. Finally, to top it all off, they have the audacity to blame the zoo and the city for their own immoral and grossly irresponsible behavior.

Rather than blaming the zoo, the city, and the tiger, it is rather these men who should themselves be prosecuted as the vandals and low-lifers they are, for having caused the whole thing.  

In a larger sense, my sympathies go to the animals. Zoos have a long tradition in Western Europe and America. Most people have at some point, usually as children, taken pleasure in the casual, vicarious appreciation of "wild" animals, captured from nature, caged and sustained in completely artificial conditions. Most of these animals are miserably frustrated, and eventually become autistic or otherwise profoundly disturbed by their captivity. 

Tatiana was a beautiful, natural, creature, whose true destiny was stolen from her. She was not responsible for her actions, which were the result of hormonal/chemical reactions in her nervous system over which she had absolutely no control.  

Man continues to bring misery and harm to wild animals across the globe. Our unbridled overpopulation and expansion into wild habitat is causing the wholesale extinction of thousands of species every year. Those we find attractive or aesthetically inspiring we pluck from their world and make them do duty as playthings, pets, public attractions, circus or carnival animals. It's disgusting.

The whole concept of zoos needs to be re-thought. It may be that instead of zoos, humankind should consider establishing and maintaining animal rehabilitation centers, designed to assist endangered species from harm or extinction. That's the least we should be doing, given our appalling history of exploitation and cruelty to nature's creatures.         



Kirby Olson said...

Curtis, I think I agree with your assessment. The tiger should have been allowed to finish these men off, in self-defense. It was cowardly of them to torment an animal who couldn't hurt them, or so they thought.

There is a book called Zoos in Postmodernism, I think it's called, from Farleigh Dickinson U. Press. I haven't read it, but received a flier for it the other day.

It is basically a call to get rid of all zoos, written by a guy who ran a zoo or aquarium in Buffalo, NY.

99.9% of all species have gone extinct, so it's more or less normal for species to disappear as more powerful species appear and then disappear. I'm not really certain how much we should care about tigers or on what basis.

There is a certain beauty to them for sure.

As there is probably a beauty to all the lousy languages that are disappearing. And all the lousy beer joints that go out of business.

Should we also care when a star goes extinct?

Should we care when a 90 year old dies from natural causes?

We can't artificially sustain something that has outlived its time.

Tigers have a poor setup. They have a lot of power, but almost no brains. We can't really live around them.

Even mountain lions are ripping up cyclists, and you can't tame them and turn them into pets.

Unless you think it's ok to kill off huge populations of people, or get the animals to live in enormous closed-off areas (like reservations for animals) then I don't know what to do with tigers.

I don't think people should torment them.

That's clearly wrong.

The zoo needs cameras, and they need to fill the moats. But zoos are very expensive, and they are strapped for cash like everyone else.

In Brooklyn about ten years ago some boys jumped over a fence into a polar bear's swimming pool to get cool on a hot summer night. The polar bear eviscerated them.

They shot the polar bear as if it was a common criminal. But animals don't have moral agency. They just can't think in that way.

Maybe dogs can. A little.

But no wild animal can do that, and you can't tame a tiger. They do sort of calm down a little with their owners, but they're still not safe. They go berserk and often rip up the people that try to tame them.

Corso has a lot of poems set in zoos.

Curtis Faville said...

Mankind has basically overrun his boundaries.

When any species becomes too "successful" nature will find a way to temper its recklessness.

Man does not "deserve" to dominate every corner of the earth, eliminating every competitor for space and sustenance.

Top of the pyramid predators are the most vulnerable of all creatures, since they depend on the "cooperation" of all the creatures on the chain below them. People are just another source of food. Should people be sacrificed to appease these primitive godheads we call predators, as the Maya sacrificed children and enemies to their gods?

The population of the earth needs to be reduced by at least 40%.

With any luck, within 100 years, nature will take care of that for us, with vast plagues and epidemics caused by drug resistant strains of bacteria and virulent viruses.

Thank god I won't live to see it.

Some day, long after, man will live in balance with the planet.

It's a long cycle. Maybe all this has happened before, and we have no "memory" or trace of it.

Kirby Olson said...

Right now, people are boss. And as in any corporation, all other animals have to justify their existence to the boss. Tigers don't need to exist. They exist at our pleasure. We can destroy them all and it wouldn't affect us at all except perhaps in aesthetic terms. But tigers in zoos can serve that purpose.

But just as there are laws in place in which bosses cannot torment employees beyond a certain level, I think we ought not to inflict too much harassment on the naked beasts in zoos. They are a lot of fun to look at and wonder about.

I grant that this viewpoint is rather speciesist (this term now actually exists -- it was coined I believe by Peter Singer, a philosopher at Princeton).

Snice Darwin, our philosophical relationship to animals has shifted. It's still an ontological uproar.

But it's a one-sided uproar. All other species are purely selfish.

We are the only creature that can think about keeping another species afloat.

But some species are untenable.

Tigers are untenable.

It's hard to know what to do with them. I'd prefer to keep them afloat, but I don't want any of them within two hundred miles of my kids.

Curtis Faville said...

The success of the human species is more or less unprecedented in the "history" of life on the planet.

We know that dinosaurs "dominated" their world for a period that was far longer than we can even imagine, yet they were suddenly eliminated in a cataclism, probably a giant meteor event. Yet these things happen so rarely, that calculating their likelihood literally has no meaning to us; it's rather like trying to think of how much longer the sun will keep burning. Long after we're gone, that's for sure.

Human beings are just a blip in the time-line. Blip! You're gone!

Cockroaches and silverfish may survive the longest. They have the best chance.

So-called "primitive" peoples worship animals, thinking them entitled to life and freedom just by virtue of their presence.

Maggots and parasites are just as necessary to the chain and purpose of life as the "higher" creatures. Indeed, there is a "cleanliness" and efficiency to nature which would be admirable if one believed it had either a master plan(ner) or a purpose. But of course it simply IS, like the universe.

MacLeish said a poem "must not mean, but be." In the same way, being, the universe, consciousness don't "mean" (anything), they simply "are."

This relatively simple concept has confounded and frustrated thinkers since the beginning of time.

Kirby Olson said...

The weirdest part of this post is the last word in the title.

Curtis Faville said...

I think it's James Dickey, who has a poem entitled "The Heaven of the Animals" in which if I recall he talks about predation as a kind "ecstasy"--the ritualistic nature of hunting, killing and devouring--how the devoured participate in a kind of holy process which is the essence of the compact of life. The lion jumping from a tree onto the back of a wildebeeste or something, the terror and emergency of the infliction of death, the certain knowledge of it, as a kind of ultimate salvation. A sacrament.

The use of a symbology (destination) for the afterlife, called "heaven" is in no way an expression of religious dogma or doctrine. It's just a manner of speaking. As in "you go to Hell" etc. Just an expression..

If there WERE a heaven for animals, I would hope that Tatiana could be allowed to go there.

Kirby Olson said...

There are some popular books out about how you will meet your dog or cat in heaven.

Not exactly scriptural, but they've found a big audience.

As for me, I'd be scared to meet Tatiana in heaven, even if she was now willing to lie down with the lamb.

Curtis Faville said...

Blake again.

eddie watkins said...

I volunteered at the St. Louis zoo one summer while in college, and left terribly disillusioned. From the chimpanzees out of boredom chewing their own excrement to remove undigested seeds, to baboons so in-bred that not even research institutes wanted them let alone other zoos, to pythons no longer able to devour live prey after being fed frozen rats for years because the zoo didn't want to risk the snakes being bitten and slightly disfigured and so be less presentable to the public.

But there was also research and preservation going on behind the scenes. They did a lot of work with tuataras for instance.

Eddie Watkins

eddie watkins said...

Curtis, I'm with you when you mention being not meaning. It is a very tricky thing, but is not really an intellectual knot to untie. It's much more something for the more philosophical/religious teachings, like Zen or Advaita, to untangle.

Curtis Faville said...

The old "objective correlative" fallacy from poetic theory is in a sense a restatement of the Heisenbergian uncertainty principle. We can't define or explain or describe a thing without making a version of it which is not the thing itself.

Being is separate from meaning insofar as it can be conceived of as discrete from the perceiver, but without a perceiver, the being doesn't, in effect, exist, since there can be no sense of an existence without a perceiver. It's a riddle.

For beings which do not perceive representation, or signs, or logic, everything is being, i.e., without significance. Lions don't have any sense of mortality, or pity, or anger. They simply act on impulse and instinct. No animal is "to blame" for killing as a natural act.

eddie watkins said...

Exactly. This is why the ultimate point of certain spiritual/philosophical practices is not to stop thinking but to stop forming concepts, and to just "be" within this riddle.

I've always thought of animals as living outside of time. Of course they are born and die, but still, while they're alive they are pure timeless perception. They do have memory and even foreknowledge, but it's not intellectual, and isn't time an intellectual construct? We should mourn their suffering, but not their passing.

Kirby Olson said...

Brilliant distinction: we should mourn their suffering, but not their passing.

Nice distinction, Eddie Watkins.

It's hard to think about animals as individuals, since they are also members of species.

The species has to remain healthy. The individuals perhaps don't matter.

Tigers were meant to destroy the fleet-footed gazelle, but so long as the herd of gazelle remains more or less intact, it's ok.

Zoos, and things like puppy factories, are more or less our relation to nature now. It's bad too in the way that we eat food out of factories in which the chicken may not once have stood up straight or gone for a walk, but was born into a tiny cage with two hundred other chickens, blown up with steroids or whatever's barely legal, and then immediately turned into globs of protein in blue styrofoam packaging.

not that I want to go back to hunter-gatherer societies!

eddie watkins said...

It's all about attention and perspective isn't it Kirby? Of course we're species too, so by your logic...

I have no trouble thinking of animals as individuals. But then I can think of humans as just a species also.

This has made me think of Saint-Exupery's The Prince. He has a rose from his home planet which he loves, but when he gets to Earth there are roses everywhere and he loses heart thinking his rose isn't special. But then someone explains that it's all about attention and love. Not that I'm endorsing this book as a guidebook to life, but still...

eddie watkins said...

And Curtis, speaking of Blake and attention... I was extremely intrigued by an anecdote you related on Silliman's blog a while back. You told of an old gas cap you were obsessed with as a child, and how your attentive obsession with it related to the human mind and the meaning it applies to objects. It now reminds me of something Blake said, or something someone said Blake said. Someone asked him about "Vision" and how it works, and he said it was a simple matter of attention and imagination intensely applied, and used the example of staring at a tree until it revealed itself and became almost terrifying.

Kirby Olson said...

I know it doesn't make sense in Darwinian terms, but I feel that each human being does have a soul, and is therefore different from animals. I know I can't prove this, and that it seems preposterous to anyone who isn't Christian, but I don't think the logic of the herd holds with humans. Each human being is precious, infinitely precious, in the eyes of God.

I have never read St. Exupery.

I did see a program the other day about how they finally found his aeroplane off the French coast.

He crashed there or something?

I was doing a Sudoku puzzle and not completely following the narrative.

At any rate, I can't comment on St. Exupery since I haven't read that book. It's interesting to get your little summary here. I wish I had read it!

Curtis Faville said...

Some hold that the soul "enters the body" at birth, and then is released at death. Believers in reincarnation think that souls are immortal, and can pass from body to body to body forever.

St. Exupery had visions when flying. I think Le Petit Prince was probably something he dreamed while flying, or in his sleep before or after a flight over North Africa. It has a powerful feeling, like a vivid science fiction story. It's like an epiphany.

Plato thought that souls "forgot" everything they had learned and known in their previous incarnation, and that learning was just a kind of "remembering" of everything they'd learned from their previous life.

It wasn't until Darwin, and later, genetics, that we finally discovered what made new individuals through genetic inheritance. You could say the "soul" is another word for the unique set of DNA which each person possesses (except for identical twins). And even twins are different--i.e., they have different experience, hence different memories and outlooks.

Ronald Johnson's "if we could look at a orange flower long enough it would become blue" is another way of saying what Blake is implying about the intensity of vision.

As for the soul's immortality--is immortality just the span between two generations, or do we mean literally "forever". Forever is a tall order.

eddie watkins said...

I recently dipped into Aristotle's De Anima, and it looked very interesting. I've been a Platonist since before I even knew of Plato (there's a joke in that statement), but what I read in the Aristotle intrigued me, more analytical and "scientific" than Plato yet also with of course an apprehension of the soul.

I accept immortality, but the rub is that that part of us that "enjoys" the immortality is the part of us that we can never objectify in our own minds, our personality if you will. What's immortal is that "being" that's forever hidden from all our organs of knowing. To accept this is what I would call humility.

Kirby Olson said...

Now the whole Lamarckian theory of learned experience becoming genetic is getting a second-wind. They burn slugs with bright lights, and then inject slugs that haven't with the DNA of those who have, and the slugs who haven't are now afraid of bright lights.

It's mysterious.

Maybe Lamarck was on the mark.

Who knows how much our souls contain. Maybe the whole history of the universe is in them.

Verification: endless.

Curtis Faville said...

Probably not the history of the universe.

But maybe the grudges of a thousand years back.

I think there's something deeply mysterious about mixing DNA. Our ancestors wandered around the globe, setting up outposts which were then cut off; then their descendants developed distinct characteristics, which we now call "races."

eddie watkins said...

Then there's Rudolf Steiner and his Akashik Records, a sort of infinite astral library that contains the entire history of all things, endlessly revised, and actually accessible to attuned minds. For what it's worth...

I've read of anecdotal evidence of people who have received organ transplants having experienced changes in their normal behaviors, cravings for previously undesired foods for instance, and that these cravings have been traced back to the tastes of the organ doner.

John Ashbery has admitted in interviews of never having much of a sense of self, of never really knowing who he was or is. Identity is a very specific but elusive ghost.

Curtis Faville said...

Ashbery--that's obvious in his writing. There is a shifting center which is never still, never certain in his work. Many have observed that this produces a kind of anonymous effect, as if he were the ultimate chameleon. I think that's true.

How about Chaucer? We have these huge poems, dramatic tapestries, but what really do we know about Chaucer the man? He's subsumed inside his work.

Kirby Olson said...

I never knew this about Ashbery.

What does it mean to have a floating sensation of not being at home in your own personality? Is this a syndrome?

You definitely feel it in his writing. It's something I don't like at all, in fact, but it's one of the reasons he's celebrated as postmodern, I think.

What if it's just a symptom of some personal malaise?

I never feel like that.

I always feel like I'm myself. I love to talk to myself.

I like talking to myself. I do it even in public, and sometimes get caught, but I love to hear what I think about things.

I'm kind of my own best friend, even though there's only one of me.

Kirby Olson said...

I remember when everybody stopped talking to themselves about age 5, and I thought, oh my goodness, I'm going to just go on talking to myself. I really like it! I have so much to say, and so much to learn!

At any rate, Ashbery's poetry is very -- I think the word is -- disassociated. If anything, I'm OVERLY associated.

Curtis Faville said...


Were you a "verbal" child? My parents told me that as a child, I would sit by quietly, then suddenly come out with a big long sentence, bafflingly erudite.

I don't remember.

Writing is a habit. There's a good deal of futility in it, since so little is actually read by very many people, but it does feed something in one. Not the same thing as women who talk incessantly on the phone, either.

eddie watkins said...

I always feel like I'm myself, but it still doesn't mean I know who I am. One's personality is the objective part of what we know about ourselves, but our SELF is the subjective part that we can never quite get to know. It's like trying to see the back of your neck, or touching your left elbow with your left hand.

I don't know if Ashbery means something like this when he says he's never really known himself, but that slipperiness of self is actually what I consider the more profound part of his poetry, partly because I see it as authentic. If it was just some post-modern trick I wouldn't be so impressed.

I'm always talking to myself also, at least internally, and the more I do the more "people" I find in myself, that is there's not just one consistent "voice".

eddie watkins said...

In regards (just kidding) to women talking on the phone. I found the transcripts of the Tripp-Lewinsky phone conversations fascinating, in a very painful way. To know that this type of "conversation" is going on all the time, all around us, actually filling up the air we're breathing and moving around in frightened me because it must have some impact on everyone. It's not just words on a page, or even just words out of a mouth, but words converted into electro-magnetic radiation (in this age of cell-phones) that ends up like an atmosphere around us. I might be taking this a little too far, but I think it's true.

Curtis Faville said...

Since the appearance of small cell-phones, I've continued to be astonished by their proliferation and use.

People seem to want or to need to use them obsessively.

"Hi, it's me. I'm on my way to the store. Did you let the cat out? Is there anything you need? Okay, bye!"

Then, 10 minutes later. "Hi, I'm at the store. Did you let the cat out? I'm in the deodorant section? Was it Right Guard you needed? No? Shall I get the other stuff? Okay, bye!"

Then 10 minutes later. "Hi, I'm in the car, on my way home. Did you let the cat out? Oh, good. I decided not to get the deodorant. I'll be home in about 3 minutes. See ya!"

Why this kind of stuff goes on, I have no idea.

It seems plainly idiotic, though perfectly intelligent people the world over are doing it.

eddie watkins said...

I suppose it's about having that feeling of constant tangible connectedness with others. It's also about unloading the chatter that's always coursing through our minds. When I see my friends compulsively talking like you describe I do wish they'd learn to shut it off once in a while, and just let the chatter dissipate rather than automatically calling someone.

Similarly, after first being on-line for a while I found myself automatically searching the web for answers that arose in my mind. Instead of searching my own memory. I was allowing the internet to be my memory, which made me very uneasy. I'm a lot better about it now.