Fact: Big cats are dangerous.
This seems pretty self-evident. Yet, last summer, visitors to a drive-through zoo still got out of their car near an uncaged tiger, with predictable results.
This summer, a Kenyan man illegally grazed his herd in Nairobi National Park at night – prime lion activity time. They found what little was left of him the next morning.
But these incidents aren’t so simple when you look at them more closely.
For one thing, each happened in a big city – Beijing and Nairobi, respectively.
Yes, Nairobi National Park is the only wildlife park in the world located inside a nation’s capital. And suburbs are encroaching on it, inch by inch.
The victim of the Nairobi Park attack was an 18-year-old Maasai man. According to news reports, he was there because a bad drought is happening. In addition, growth of urban areas and increasing private ownership are making it hard for the Maasai to find good grazing lands.
The presence of the park offers local herdsmen a chance to keep their precious stock alive.
With survival at stake, taking the risk of using the park’s grasslands at night, when The Man can’t see you, makes some sense.
Unfortunately, the lions can see you.
And the same habitat encroachment and drought conditions that are messing up the Maasai’s world are depleting their natural prey animals, too.
Now enough of the park’s lions are apparently hungry enough to make the costs of a night trip to Nairobi National Park very high for some local herdsmen.
In China, the July 2016 trouble in Beijing’s Badaling Wildlife World began when a woman got carsick.
Have you ever felt so nauseous that you just had to leave some confining place and get a lungful of good air? Now suppose you were in a moving car with a bunch of other people, the windows rolled up.
Of course you made them stop the car.
And you could see a few animals out there, through the glass, looking just like they do on TV; and it’s a park. No big deal. They’re all used to humans, and this will only take a minute. Just one quick breath . . .
Perhaps Zhao Jing turned her back on the tiger, unaware (as most of us are) that this is a trigger.
Anyway, the cat, almost as big as the young woman, dragged her into the bushes. Her mother then entered the fray and rescued her seriously injured daughter, sustaining injuries that she later died from. The daughter eventually healed, physically.
Besides post-traumatic stress, she must also deal with heavy criticism from the Chinese internet as well as the knowledge that a CCTV video of the entire attack is now in circulation.
The entire world can replay Zhao Jing’s worst nightmare over and over again, forever. There will never be closure.
These two attacks are a little unusual from lion and tiger attacks that have killed hundreds of people in recent decades (see Loveridge and others; Packer and others), but all big cats are dangerous.
They’re just cats, the same as little Fluffy, but they’re big – big enough to take us down.
And they know it.
Well, some of them know it.
Featured image: Tambako the Jaguar. CC-BY-ND 2.0
Loveridge, A. J.; Wang, S. W.; Frank, L. G.; and Seidensticker, J. 2010. People and wilfe felids: conservation of cats and management of conflicts, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 161-195. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Packer, C.; Ikanda, D.; Kissui, B.; andKushnir, H. 2005. Conservation biology: lion attacks on humans in Tanzania. Nature. 436(7053):927-928. Abstract only.