Yesterday I posted about a National Geographic story involving a young female leopard in Botswana caring for a baby baboon, orphaned when the leopard killed its mother. Here’s some video of the encounter;
The video is a big help in determining what happened, as the young leopard seemed more inquisitive than benevolent at the start. The narration and music, while appealing to TV audiences, don’t especially help either, but if you listen closely you can hear the leopard making “contact calls” and the two settle down together, although I have to wonder if the leopard was more ambivalent than outwardly caring. Such actual evidence is important to figure out what occurs in cases of cross-species altruism, being that it becomes exceedingly easy to speak in anthropomorphic terms and attribute feelings that may not actually be there. Even so, I’m trying to look into such cases further, although most evidence is anecdotal and seemingly ignored by many scientists because of their complexity.
While we’re on the subject, I wanted to take the chance to combat some flim-flam that I receive in my inbox about every 2 months or so; the “Mother of the Year” e-mail featuring a female tiger and 6 piglets. The story is that the young pigs were given to the mother after she lost her cubs, acting as surrogate children to the grieving mother. I was a bit suspicious of this when I saw the pictures and at least one seemed to feature a different tiger (every tigers stripes are unique, and this particular photo had a tiger with different markings with small pigs), and it turns out that the photos are not doctored, but the story is a hoax. In reality the tiger lives in the Sriracha Tiger Zoo (located in Thailand) that attempts to gain attendance through cross-species displays, tiger cubs nursing from sows and piglets kept with female tigers, not to mention a slew of other roadside zoo-grade attractions that have more to do with a freakshow than a reputable zoological park. Indeed, this website gives a disturbing account of what goes on at this zoo, the care of the animals a secondary consideration compared to cash flow.
While zoos have definitely improved over the past 100 years, many leave much to be desired, thousands of animals living in poor conditions at locales all over the country (and the world), essentially being exploited for profit. Even well-funded zoos (like the Cincinatti zoo) can care more about entertainment than conservation and animal welfare, and I feel that David Quammen (in his essay The White Tigers of Cincinatti) correctly interprets whats going on in these places;
What is a zoo? Most essentially, it’s an arena of the visual. It’s a place to see wonders. The act of seeing is the primary zoo experience – whereas learning, thinking, and emoting are dimensions of encounter that come secondarily, if at all. We go there to look; in passing, we read a few labels and placards, of which the information content is low.
That’s why no matter how many photos I take of cougars, snow leopards, tigers, red pandas, tree kangaroos, gazelle, zebra, elephant, etc., I don’t feel it really counts. What I have captured is not wild or a photo that truly speaks to my heart, by at best an illusion; a glimmer of what really exists beyond the chain link fence and concrete moats.