Tatiana Tiger Report

Animal attacks are a topic of interest for me since early in my career with animals I observed more than my fair share of them at close range.

Close hands-on work with large predators and powerful animals (such as elephants) always come with an inherent risk and are an occupational hazard.

However, there are animal attacks that happen to non-professionals that catch my eye and capture the imagination of the general public. One of those happened on Christmas Day 2007 at the San Francisco Zoo.

Perhaps some of the fascination is rooted in a primal fear of being killed or consumed by a large predator because the risk of dying or being mauled by such a creature is minuscule when compared to the chances of dying from a car accident or perhaps anaphylactic shock.

But since those events are more common place, they are not as fascinating nor do they really capture the widespread attention of the media.

Now a few years ago I wrote a series of posts about the San Francisco tiger attack on zoo visitors and what I called the tiger’s lucky leap.

I even posted a video and some citations about how the tiger might have jumped out of the enclosure.

The whole event was a fiasco and raised suspicions about the behavior of the tiger victims prior to the tiger escape incident.

I wasn’t the only one questioning what might have motivated Tatiana the tiger to escape, and then this weekend the Associated Press released an article that hit the wires with this gem:

…I cannot imagine a tiger trying to jump out of its enclosure unless it was provoked,” Gage wrote in the Dec. 27, 2007 draft of her report.

That statement was stricken from the final version of the report because it was “irrelevant from an Animal Welfare Act enforcement standpoint,” said David Sacks, a spokesman for APHIS. Whether or not the tiger was provoked has long been a point of contention.

You can read more about the San Francisco Tiger Attack Documents here.

Now people taunting tigers and other animals in zoos is more commonplace than people think and is something that makes zoo professional cringe.

On the one hand, close encounters can inspire a sense of wonder and fascination with these creatures, but on the other hand captive animals endure the stupid antics of the unsophisticated or bored.

One thing I would hope is that the example of this incident will perhaps dissuade others from taunting captive wildlife.

But perhaps that is too much to ask and I am sure we will be hearing about other such incidents in the future.

John Olguin

john olguinMy uncle John Olguin passed away earlier this week. He was a joyful soul who lived a passionate life educating others about the marine environment.

He was my mentor and got me on stage at the tender age of 15 years-of-age. Under his tutelage, my love for the sea became a career–first as a marine naturalist and then as an animal behaviorist and trainer.

His passing makes me think about a life well lived and the impact one life can have on another and how it exponentially expands out to cover the globe.

When I first began whale watch tours, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was a new thing and most people didn’t know much about whales.

At the time a lot of information came from stranded specimens but the Cabrillo Beach Museum was a hub of activity for those passionate about the ocean, whales, and other marine life.

The American Cetacean Society was a new group we all were active in supporting and many of the great names in conservation and education in the marine world were often present.

I remember meetings that were held in the upstairs area of the museum, the musty smell of the collection, the great leather back turtle on display, and the constant buzz of the tiny office.

Today, members meet in a very nice auditorium. The red jacket windbreakers were symbols of those active in whale watch and the patches that adorned them were badges of honor.

I no longer have my windbreaker but I still have my blue volunteer badge from the 1970s tucked away along with some of my other relics of the past from that time such as my Marineland tag and a faded yellow Cabrillo Marine Membership Volunteer card from 1986.

My life centered around the sea and I spent a lot of spare time down on the beach and on the boats. John was always prompting active learning with his infamous antics and “do-it, do-it” commands that got everyone participating–and laughing.

Someone recently asked me about my memories of him. It is not one particular memory that stands out but a vast collection of snippets.

His encouragement, his tight hugs, his walrus like kiss, and how great it is to live a life of passion. I’d hope that one day my life would have the impact that his has.

He inspired countless bus loads of Los Angeles Unified students who were bused in to the beach or to the boats for an amazing introduction to the ocean and the life within it.

He instilled a sense of awe in amazing numbers and was well loved by his community.

His enthusiasm was infectious and his heart full of love and joy.

When I think about him the words that come are “passion”, “charisma”,  “life changing”. But more importantly, I realize what an amazing life he led and how his imprint is like that of a whale footprint.

As whales dive, they often leave a footprint on the surface. It appears and slowly spreads across the surface and gradually blends until it is undiscernible, a trace of a leviathan who can reach great depths and travel long distances.

John was a great soul with a big heart whose impact traveled far and reached great depths, and whose influence will be carried on in the hearts of people everywhere.

He will be sorely missed–but what a good life, lived fully.

Photo Credit: Bernardo Alps