Friday, May 25, 2007


Exploit: to use selfishly for one's own ends

This is a post about the ethics of keeping a captive tiger. I have thought a lot about this topic over the last several years. I've gone back and forth on what I believe about the ethics of having a live tiger mascot. I may change my mind again in the future.

My current opinion on this subject is this: we are ethically in the clear for keeping a live tiger mascot, because we do not harm the tiger and the tiger seems to get significant benefits from the deal.

Be clear. I do not believe that it is always OK to keep live animal mascots. I think it depends on the animal and it depends on how you treat the animal. In our case, we keep a tiger. If we kept a buffalo, wolf, vulture, or Cornhusker as a mascot, the ethical considerations would be different.

I believe we're doing something OK for several reasons.
  • Tigers are generally solitary creatures in the wild, so it's not such a bad thing to keep a single tiger.
  • We do no deliberate harm to the tiger, other than put it through the stress of performing before a large audience 7 or 8 times per year.
  • The tiger benefits by getting world class veterinary care, to the point that I understand captive tigers live much longer than is typical in the wild.
  • Tigers in the wild are endangered, subject to significant poaching, and victims of loss of habitat.
  • Like a wild tiger, our tigers get the occasional opportunity to interact with other tigers, as LSU regularly breeds our tigers.
I realize there are down sides. For one thing, our tigers don't have the opportunity to roam the way a wild tiger will. There is also that whole man-in-tiger-suit-runs-up-and-taunts-him-several-times-per-year. While I suppose that isn't necessarily a really big deal, I don't think there's any argument in the world we're doing it for the benefit of the tiger. Hence, the title and opening segment of this thread. We exploit the tigers, though I agree that it is not in a particularly serious way, and the tiger is adequately compensated for it.

Ultimately, I think the bigger issue is the tiger's inability to roam like a wild tiger. However, I do not believe this is at all similar to caging a human being. I don't think tigers look for "personal fulfillment". I think tigers struggle to survive, and if they found an easy way to survive in the wild, would be quite "fulfilled" by it. Our system provides the tiger with that.

Keep in mind that some of these factors are very specific to a tiger. Personally, I think Colorado's buffalo is much more ethically troubling than a tiger. The buffalo is a herd animal, most comfortable in groups that is dozens large. To hold one is really inadequate. I'd think the same of a wolf or an elephant (which I don't think anyone has).

For what it's worth, I think this is a completely different issue from using animals in medical or product testing, which can be less troubling or more troubling, depending on the testing.

I understand PETA's position here. I just think they're wrong.

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