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Dreamworld Dreamworld Tiger Bites Handler

Discussion in 'Australia' started by Peter Dickinson, 22 May 2011.

  1. Peter Dickinson

    Peter Dickinson Well-Known Member

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  2. Steve Robinson

    Steve Robinson Well-Known Member

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    I think that the distinction should be made between just who is doing the handling and posing. Certainly I think that members of the public interacting with big cats poses a huge risk to the human participants and, possibly, not much fun for the cats.

    But I haved no problem at all with trained professionals working in free contact with any suitable animal. And Dreamworld's operation is demonstrably as professional as any. An analysis of the number of cats that they have used, interacting with the number of staff that they have trained over the number of years that they have been doing this would reveal that incidents such as this recent one are very rare.

    And the positives are huge. Interactions such as those at Dreamworld are enormously enriching for the animals.

    They are also dramatic "eye-openers" for the hundreds of thousands of people who see them each year. They help to give a persona to tigers which ultimately translates to interest in conserving them.

    There will always be the odd incident when working with any animal. I would suggest that there would be no more injuries to tiger handlers than there would be to people working with horses, cattle, elephants, reptiles, raptors, deer, dogs or any other animal.
     
  3. Yassa

    Yassa Well-Known Member

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    Probably not more dead and injured tiger trainers/handlers/ keepers then elephant trainers/handlers/keepers :mad:
    And seems the arguments from those who encourage free contact with wild animals like elephants and big cats are virtually the same, too.

    Common sense should tell people to stay out of tiger and lion pens, and no reputable zoo in europe is still allowing such dangerous actions. Even John Aspinall who was BIG on free contact between staff and all animals incl. big cats had to stop it after not just one, but serveral incidents with dead and injured keepers. These australian parks who still cling to circus style training with big cats will learn the lesson too. Just too bad that people will have to die for it.
     
  4. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    In North America there has been a steady movement away from physically interacting with mammals such as elephants, bears and big cats. Many towns and cities have actually passed laws banning circuses with animals that are not domestic, and I recently posted a thread about the fact that currently there are more than double the number of accredited American zoos that use protected contact with elephants in comparison to free contact...and that number is growing every time there is a serious accident involving a keeper. The days of going in with tigers, elephants, gorillas (like at Howletts) or any large, dangerous mammal are practically extinct other than the establishments that are grimly holding onto past practices.

    @Steve Robinson: you mention the "odd incident when working with any animal" but in the last year that has resulted in an elephant keeper at Toledo Zoo becoming injured (that zoo has now switched to protected contact), an elephant keeper at Knoxville Zoo being killed (that zoo has also now switched to protected contact) and now the Dreamworld tiger incident and the "odd incident" usually involves either a serious injury or a human death. I understand some of your key points in relation to the public becoming interested in conserving certain species, but the horrific attacks/accidents/tragic mistakes that occur undermine the success rates. Is it really worth the risk of a human life being ended?
     
  5. nanoboy

    nanoboy Well-Known Member

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    Hmm... fair points all around.

    Did you hear the one about the domesticated pit bull that bit his owner? Or the pet macaw that almost took off his owner's finger? Or the horse that threw it's rider after getting spooked?

    I suppose that even a domesticated animal or pet can turn on its owner or damage them by inadvertently "playing rough". It is not surprising, therefore, that we hear about instances like the one at Dreamworld more often than we would like to.

    I don't have a solution to the issue. What I can say, is that it was an absolutely amazing experience to see the tiger show at Dreamworld. At times I did get the feeling that it was like the circuses I used to go to as a child given that the tigers were doing tricks for our amusement, but at least the handler did not have a whip! On the other hand, I couldn't help but be scared for the handlers, not from the point of view that the tigers would turn nasty, but that they may jump on the handlers to have a play, or get too excited when hand feeding them the milk, and the handler would get injured.

    As a zoo patron, I felt that the show was a positive one for us, as we had no previous appreciation of how absolutely massive the tigers were, or that they could climb so well. I am sure that the majority of patrons probably were not aware of how critically endangered they were, and the show was so awe inspiring that I am sure they left thinking "it would be a shame if my grandkids never saw a tiger".

    As I said, I have no solution, but merely the opinion of an avid zoo-goer.
     
  6. Jabiru96

    Jabiru96 Well-Known Member

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    Only two facilities in Australia use free contact with tigers, Australia Zoo and Dreamworld.

    I see no reason why free contact tigers should not be allowed. The keeper chooses to work free contact with these animals, along with any free contact animal. And unlike your infamous free contact elephants, the tigers do not have an ankus or other such equipement to work with them. You cannot argue that it is a mutual bond in this case. And another positive factor is it increases opportunities for educations (such as at Dreamworld, where tigers climb up the trees to reach a piece of meat or jump between logs of varying distance), showing how majestic these animals really are and pushing the conservation message.
     
    Last edited: 23 May 2011
  7. Steve Robinson

    Steve Robinson Well-Known Member

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    It intrigues me that the people who are most vehemently against free contact with animals are outsiders - not the people who are involved in the contact.

    Do outsiders know more than the rest of us?

    Or do they believe that we shouldn't have the right to choose?

    Their arguments against free contact invariably focus on the risk to humans. Don't those humans have the right to choose whether or not they work in a free contact situation?
     
  8. Steve Robinson

    Steve Robinson Well-Known Member

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    Given the number of exotic animals and humans that are interacting every minute of every day somewhere on this planet then, yes, I do believe that these are only odd incidents. That is why they are so newsworthy.

    When it's all boiled down, the keeper/trainer/handler has the choice of which method they prefer to work with. Nobody is forcing them. In many cases they are achieving good things for animals and I don't believe that the odd incidents diminish these good things in any significant way.
     
  9. Tigress

    Tigress Member

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    I 100% agree with Steve. I've helped hand raise big cats and been in close contact with elephants and I know that I'm risking injury when interacting with these animals.
    I also have horses and dogs and interacting with them at times results in injury too.

    But the enjoyment that animals such as big cats get when interacting with their handlers is amazing.
    I'm well aware that there is high risk when interacting with essentially wild animals in a captive setting but all animals, just like us humans have bad days.
     
  10. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Let me pose a question for the Protected Contact advocates:

    last year a keeper was killed by a Killer Whale - should shows that involve keepers in direct contact with cetaceans now be ceased, as the potential is there for more deaths in future?

    :p

    Hix
     
  11. reduakari

    reduakari Well-Known Member

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    These arguments sound remarkably similar to those offered up by "right to bear arms" fanatics here in the US in response to any attempt to regulate gun ownership.

    Don't underestimate the enormous legal costs bourn by every institution where a tiger/elephant/orca/jaguar kills or severely injures someone.
    This alone will eventually lead to further movement away from "free contact" with inherently dangerous animals, as it should.
     
  12. Jarkari

    Jarkari Well-Known Member

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    I have been kicked, bitten, spat on and head butted by everything from possums to sheep, snakes to camels. I've been thrown from camels and horses. ( i know a few people that have been killed by both). I've only ever been scared by an elephant I was working with once and that was a wild bull in musth. The closest I came to death because of an animal was when I hit a kangaroo and my car flipped several times... Funnily enough I've also been kicked, bitten, spat on, headbutted, stabbed, knocked out and had my shoulder dislocated by PEOPLE... What's my point? There's a risk involved in everything wether it be working with animals, driving a car, visiting a tourist attraction, or just working. I choose not to wrap myself up in cotton wool. I think all forumsters do. We all have our comfort zones and people need to not judge because they aren't comfortable with something, that's fine you don't have to do it.

    Now that rants over, my experience with big cats is minimal. My views on dreamworld are based on the now two MINOR incidents in tiger islands history. The facility is well managed.
    Keepers are injured everyday, its just that nobody wants to hear about an addax goring, camel kicking, meerkat biting etc... It's only the big ticket animals that get any media attention and everyone who isn't comfortable with it blows it out of proportion. I'm glad it's only big ticker animals though, Otherwise we'd be keeping baby crocodiles, lizards, snakes, birds and possums using only protected contact!
     
  13. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I'm not sure that there is a single AZA-accredited zoo in all of North America (that means approximately 225 different establishments) that has keepers go into an exhibit with a big cat. There might be a handful of less reputable, "Out of Africa" type of places (an infamous Arizona wildlife park) but unless someone corrects me I don't believe that even one single accredited, and thus highly regarded zoological institution, allows its keepers to enter the same space as that of a tiger or other big cat. I predict that in 20 years those same 225 establishments will have less than a handful of zoos that still allow free contact with elephants, and in fact it is more than likely that what is regarded as a somewhat dated method of dealing with elephants will be obsolete and extinct. I'm an outsider in the zoo industry as I work as a high school teacher and visit loads of zoos on my summer vacations, but the facts are staring everyone in the face. A place like Dreamworld would be an anomaly in North America, and whether someone agrees with allowing humans into the same space as tigers is almost irrelevant as other than Las Vegas and a few other establishments I cannot imagine keepers in San Diego, Miami, New York or anywhere actually handling tigers with free contact. Accredited, reputable, highly regarded zoos would not dream of doing that in the year 2011, although in past decades such practices might not seem so outdated. Chimpanzee tea parties were at one time extremely popular but those have also edged into extinction.

    @Hix: of all the animals kept in captivity throughout the world I'd argue that large cetaceans might be the most ill-advised. You bring up an excellent point, and while an animal such as an orca is rarely seen in captivity the human interaction with them via performing tasks is questionable.
     
  14. reduakari

    reduakari Well-Known Member

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    A number of AZA zoos persist in having cheetahs and pumas as "program animals" with keepers, "handlers" and sometimes the public being potentially exposed to injury by these normally-docile but still well-armed cats. Big cats on leashes seems like such a retrograde concept, but of course the public loves it.
     
  15. Jarkari

    Jarkari Well-Known Member

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    Cheetah are actually very good encounter animals. I think you'd be surprised by the number of zoos that work in with their cheetah. Just not in front of the public.
     
  16. OrangePerson

    OrangePerson Well-Known Member

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    Sometimes 'outsiders' do see more clearly in many situations!

    I'm not particularly bothered what happens to the humans, they do have a choice; so long as the animals, who are in captivity not out of choice, get the best care they can get!
     
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  17. Steve Robinson

    Steve Robinson Well-Known Member

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    I would hope that all of us, irrespective of our views on FC, would agree with your last statement.

    It is partly for that very reason that I argue for people to have the right to work FC with particular individual animals - I have seen, and continue to see, just how enriching it can be for the animals themselves.
     
  18. Steve Robinson

    Steve Robinson Well-Known Member

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    I think that you'll find that the cheetahs get such a great deal of enrichment in their lives out of such interactions [as do Dreamworld's tigers] that the practice will continue whether the public are involved or not.
     
  19. Gryphon

    Gryphon Well-Known Member

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    Hix wrote: "Let me pose a question for the Protected Contact advocates:

    last year a keeper was killed by a Killer Whale - should shows that involve keepers in direct contact with cetaceans now be ceased, as the potential is there for more deaths in future?"

    The trainer was NOT in free contact. Protocol banned free contact with this individual whale as it had a track record of being involved in two human deaths already. Captive killer whales are well known for being problematic in captivity, smaller cetaceans to a much lesser extent. Perspective is need here.

    Many things we ask exotics to do for the public can be done through conditioning without a keeper being in the same space. In some facilities (and the killer whale one springs to mind) keepers may actually have very little say about the OH&S concerns of working in with potentially dangerous animals.

    The message we are trying to get across to the public by using free contact can be viewed in many lights, but it is important to understand what you are getting across and if indeed it is being received that way. Personally I see a lot of free-contact theatrics as Disneyfication of animals, with keepers having to be involved because that is the ONLY way we think the public can make a connection. But isn't it taking the animal out of context, and should we have more faith in the public and be trying to steer them in other directions such as animals existing for themeselves, in their own environments, not for human interaction/entertainment, etc? What messages are we sending? It reminds me of A Bug's Life, where the makers believed the way to make the ant more appealing was to depict it as four-legged! Is it even still an ant?

    I have no doubt free contact can have beneficial effects for the animals, but one has to weigh up the degree of contact and the risk to the keepers involved, along with public perception.

    Just my ramble, and no offence intended :)
     
  20. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    There may be at least one AZA accredited facility that still does it - Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (Vallejo, California). Home of the famous diving tiger show (Odin's Tiger Temple). Not sure if keepers still go in directly since they built the new stadium a year or two ago, but I suspect they do.

    The aforementioned Out Of Africa (not sure why the poster added the derogatory term "infamous") in my state of Arizona has been doing their Tiger Splash show for nearly two decades without incident. Not one single serious injury in years and years of daily shows. If an accident with big cats really was inevitable, something bad would have happened long before this.

    According to a video put out by the Feline Conservation Federation (an advocacy group for private wild cat ownership in the U.S.), if you go strictly by number of annual deaths you are statistically more likely to be killed by having a snack vending machine fall on you than by a wild cat.

    Respected wild cat researcher Jim Sanderson, who has recently become a personal friend of mine, states that when he does fundraisers for small cat conservation, he gets a higher donation rate when a professional handler is at the event with a live cat for people to meet up close.

    Obviously the public should always be kept away from large, dangerous carnivores. Even the aformentioned Feline Conservation Federation states this in their guidelines (and they are VERY pro-contact and pro-private ownership). But I see no reason why professionals should not have direct contact and I agree with the previous sentiment that it is indeed more enriching for the cats. I know of at least two scientific zoo-based studies in the U.S. that back this up.
     
    Last edited: 29 May 2011