There's a lot we can learn from the wild animals around us.
And I'm not exactly an animal rights activist, but I do think that in this learning process, we must treat the animals with respect. In this light, the Tuttle Tiger Safari has suffered very unfair criticism.
The first time the Humane Society contacted us about Tiger Safari (or the first time since I've been at this paper), I was invited to see it for myself by the owner Bill Meadows. He was very nice to take time out of his day and show me around, and I was impressed.
Now, I would not call myself an animal behavior expert, but there was none of this sad animal, dirty cage, poor treatment stuff the Humane Society would have you believe. Sure, there is the occasional thing out of place, and perhaps records aren't kept as well as is necessary.
These are all issues the United States Department of Agriculture's inspection team notes in their reports, because it is their job. They take note, and if the problem is fixed, then they move on.
It is our duty to report on the USDA's findings about a local attraction. Also, in its latest report there was the unfortunate case of a deer potentially gored to death that we have not yet spoken to anyone at Tiger Safari about.
Mostly, I get the sense that the Humane Society's judgement is clouded by their overall view of operations like Tiger Safari. Their use of the term "road-side zoo" to describe it indicates a poor opinion even from the start.
At the time of last year's stories about Tiger Safari, I learned that no one from the Humane Society had actually been to see the operation. This time around, it appears they have paid a visit through some sort of "undercover investigation" that they say prompted the latest USDA inspection.
At the top of the USDA's subsequent report, however, it says "Routine Inspection," which doesn't really scream out emergency situation.
The Humane Society seems to be making a mountain out of a mole hill; however, there is one part of their undercover dealings that I agree with.
To be clear, I don't want the zoo shut down over this. It would be nice if others were to also express similar thoughts so the Safari can stick to what it does best.
In the Humane Society's video that came from secret recordings inside the Tiger Safari, they concentrate on the treatment of tiger cubs that are used for photo opportunities.
This, by any definition, is exploitation. I know it's cool to have your photo taken with a wild animal, but I cannot agree with a practice that forces animals to bend to our will simply for a quick buck.
There is no question that a tiger cub needs his or her mother as they develop. It's the mother that works tirelessly to ensure her cub is safe, well fed and, in the process, learns how to survive. The moment a cub is taken away from this, it becomes lost.
Not only is this cub now missing a key influence in its life, but it is then handed from stranger to stranger with only its instinct to act on. No wonder it makes attempts to bite and scratch, only to be met with a firm smack for doing exactly what we all expect it to do.
Outside of this practice, the Tiger Safari is important to this community. It is the only place nearby where people, especially kids, get a first-hand look at such wonderful creatures that can still teach us so much about the world around us.
I would hate to see this opportunity disappear from the community, and I only ask that the zoo stick to its main duty of helping us learn more about the wild world.