Year of the Tiger (But Not As a Pet)

8 years ago

In a fluke of the lunisolar calendar, Chinese New Year landed on Valentine's Day and the Year of the Tiger came roaring in…albeit with chocolate hearts and Tiger Woods jokes. Born in the Year of the Tiger? (1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998) You are rebellious, colorful, passionate, impulsive and vigorous. The Tiger's motto? "I Win."

Chinese New Year generally kicks off somewhere between January 21 and February 20. The 15-day holiday is a wild celebration that honors a time when Chinese villagers frightened away Nien, a man-eating monster who liked to snack on townspeople. Mythology holds that Nien was scared off by loud noises (firecrackers!) and the color red, the official color of Chinese New Year. 

While taking my 'turn' living in San Francisco, I relished this celebration. Since I lived along a handy bus line (California 1, baby), friends would gather at my apartment, we'd toast the New Year and then we'd bus it down to Chinatown, where the party was in full, loud tilt. (Also, since the 12-31 New Year's Eve was always a let down, the Chinese version offered a nice do-over.)

Firecrackers EVERYWHERE and yes, that means under your feet. Ka-pow! Happy crowds and yummy food aromas filled the air, along with the smoke and steel drums. The parade coming down Kearny was the best part. When the giant dragon came along, it was good luck to get your head underneath the swirling body. One year, none of my friends could make it and I went alone - I still had a blast.

To celebrate Year of the Tiger, the BBC has launched a collection of videos celebrating the tiger and bringing attention to its status as a endangered species. (Unfortunately, the videos may not be accessible to U.S. folks but it's worth a try.)

Meanwhile, the Zoological Society of London and the conservation organization, 21st Century Tiger, are taking the opportunity to point out that in the 12 years since the last Year of the Tiger, the global population of tigers has halved – leaving less than 3,200 in the wild. A recent feature in TIME also highlighted the problem:

"Tigers are what is known as charismatic megafauna — the sort of big, well-known animal that tends to be good marker of a jungle's ecological health — and green groups are taking advantage of the Chinese new year to press for better protection. They face a battle on many fronts: tigers are threatened by deforestation, hunting and the illegal trade of their bones and other parts, which are used in some forms of traditional Chinese medicine, mostly for consumers in Asia."

--Bryan Walsh, TIME, "No Valentine? Celebrate the Year of Tiger Instead"

Sadly, Walsh's piece points out that a growing threat to tigers come from American boneheads who keep them as pets. In fact, there are more tigers in U.S. private captivity (including zoos and wildlife reserves) than there are wild tigers in the entire world.

Anyone remember back in 2003 when a Harlem dude was arrested for keeping an adult tiger - and an alligator - in his apartment? Only in New York, right? If only.

Estimates place U.S. captive tiger populations between 10,000 and 20,000, a stunning 5,000 of which are believed to be living in Texas alone. In 2001, three tigers were found behind a Texas mobile home, caged and kept as 'pets.' Authorities only discovered the big cats after one escaped and fatally mauled a three-year-old boy.

On January 10 of this year, a 66-year-old man from southern Ontario was mauled to death by his 660-pound pet tiger. The man, Norman Buwalda, spent years battling neighbors to keep several wild cats on his property.  And in 2004, one of his tigers attacked a visiting 10-year-old boy when Buwalda brought them together for a photo opp.

One reader comment caught my eye with its simple accuracy: "The tiger didn't go crazy; the tiger went tiger." And yet all the headlines continue to put the blame squarely elsewhere: "Killer Tiger Mauls Man." Yes, shame on that tiger for not being ... a housecat.

"It was a dream until yesterday, now it's true. Directly from our India breedings, we give you the possibility to buy a tiger ONLINE and without any trouble. Tiger is probably the strongest feline predator on earth, but you will discover that it can be a lovely pet as well, loyal, friendly and TOTALLY HARMLESS. We have been shipping tigers worldwide since 1984, giving our lucky customers the chance to own the most fashionable animal in earth. We ship the tigers via sea everywhere in the world.", where you can purchase a tiger for $13,400

The laws on owning exotic animals as pets vary from state to state. Just 14 states ban private ownership altogether; eight have a partial ban on some species and 13 states regulate exotic animals. Then there's good old Nevada who, along with 14 other states, has zero regulations on owning exotic animals, which is how Las Vegas 'Hangover' scenes happen:

"What do tigers dream of, when they take a little tiger snooze?
Do they dream of mauling zebras?
Or Halle Barry in her Catwoman's suit?

Well, don't you worry your pretty striped head, we're gonna get you back to Tyson and your cozy tiger bed…."

--Ed Helms singing as Stu, in "The Hangover" 

(On a side note, if you love freaky documentaries, DO check out "Cat Dancers." I caught it one year at SXSW and it left quite the impression. It delves into the world of tigers used in entertainment and profiles one couple in particular. The ending will simply gut you.)

Want to do something to help these beautiful animals? Consider signing the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) petition to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking them to close existing loopholes in the permitting and monitoring of captive tigers in the U.S. WWF’s admirable goal: To double the number of wild tigers by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

At Free Tony The Tiger, the case is made to free a wild cat from his confined life at a Louisiana truck stop:

"Tony is a nine year old Siberian/Bengal tiger who has lived his whole life at a truck stop in Grosse Tete Louisiana. His home is one of concrete and steel, amid the deafening noise and noxious fumes of cars and trucks 24 hours a day. It is angering as well as sad to see this majestic cat pacing back and forth in his steel prison with people staring at and taunting him constantly. A sign is even posted to remind people not to throw things at him."


Sadly, on December 14th, 2009, The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries granted the permit to Tony's owner allowing him to keep Tony at the truck stop.

Meanwhile, Property Grunt has some tough-love advice for facing the Year of the Tiger:

"One big ball of suck out there. And it is easy for people to get sucked into it and letting circumstances take control. But circumstances are just circumstances. You may not think you have control but you have a say. A huge say in what goes on in your life. So you can be like the rest of the world and be bitter about life or Tiger up."

Finally, China Kat spent the holiday in Beijing, celebrating with friends:

"Later we had jiao zi (dumplings), which is a big tradition to have near midnight on New Year’s Eve. A little before midnight, we went on top of their apartment building to watch the symphony of fireworks that were going off ALL over the city.  I have seriously never seen anything like it!"

Kat also goes on to post a video of the Beijing fireworks and to make some very interesting connections between Chinese New Year and Exodus 12. Not even kidding.


BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal Concerns, Proprietor, ClizBiz

(Image Credits: Top - AP/Brisbane Times; Middle - jared67: ICanHasCheezburger; Bottom - Edgar Thissen on Flickr)


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