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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Down in Jungleland: Tiger in Your Backyard

In some countries, it’s legal to domesticate wild beasts, but the results aren’t pretty.

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | Published: May 25, 2014 12:52:39 am
 In some countries, it’s legal to domesticate wild beasts, but the results aren’t pretty thinkstock In some countries, it’s legal to domesticate wild beasts, but the results aren’t pretty. Pic: Thinkstock

How much is that lion in the window?
The one with the fabulous mane
How much is that lion in the window?
Will it please eat up all my children!

I’m going to indulge in some gloriously sanctimonious xenophobia in this piece, so rub your hands in glee and begin smirking. Did you know that, in that land of the brave and free — America — you need a licence to keep a Chihuahua, but can buy and keep and breed the above-mentioned lion without having to ask anyone? Of course, when you ring your neighbour’s bell and he finds you standing there, holding your eyeballs in your hand and half your face ripped off, he’ll know, but it is not against the law. So some Americans (probably the kind who sleep with howitzers under their pillows — also legal) keep lions and tigers and komodo dragons in their backyard and charge people good amounts to have selfies (with lion or tiger) taken with them.

I saw a TV programme recently where this guy was getting up excessively close and cuddly with a pair of tigers he’d raised from cub-hood (to give the Yanks a break, I think this was in South Africa). I could hardly bear to watch — it was so disastrous to the tigers’ self-esteem but so good for his — and, no doubt, made many silly girls swoon. (The tigers would require some serious counselling.) Just think what would happen if you took a pair of Royal Bengals out for a walk to Lodi Gardens on a Sunday morning. See, your head’s swelling already.

Ah, you might say, if you sensed injustice here — there are people in India, too, who have done such things: tried rehabilitating hand-reared big cats into the wild. Well sure, but those big cats were let loose in the jungles that were their home in the first place. But tigers being taught to hunt wildebeest in Africa? Call me old-fashioned, but that’s weird.

The owners of such beasts say they’re doing a noble service — by ensuring that breeding stocks are maintained, so that if the animals go extinct in the wild, there will still be some left to start afresh with. The problem is not the animals going extinct, but the wild itself going extinct, and you can’t replicate that in a backyard measuring 20’x20’. Nor do they get it, that it motivates wildlife traders to clean out the wild and make the animals go extinct there, and to which end they will happily machine-gun gorilla mothers, so they can snatch the babies… Charming.

And one recent news report mentioned this guy who had a private zoo of 50 wild animals and went berserk one day. (A nine-month-old pup can drive you nuts, forget about 50 lions and tigers.) He let all his animals loose and then conveniently shot himself. Think of the mass trauma caused in those quiet leafy American suburbs where you can die of boredom in 10 minutes. Suddenly awash with ravenous, slavering tigers and lions from the darkest forests of Asia and Africa — like something out of Jumanji. The cops had to “take down” all the animals before they interviewed them, but then that’s par for the course in America — your tail-light doesn’t work, you get shot 500 times and then they ask you for your name, address and social security number and why you took to a life of crime and were a threat to homeland security.
We, in India, smirk, have very sound, detailed laws about what animals we may or may not keep, and tigers and lions and leopards and elephants et al are out of the question. So there.
But, hey, what do I now hear you singing?

How much is that tiger in the window?
The one with the long, stripey tail
How much is that tiger in the window
That tiger had better be for sale!
Because you want to take a walk in Lodi Gardens on Sunday morning….

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher

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