British poet William Blake caught the allure of big cats when he wrote in 1794: "Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/ In the forests of the night,/ What immortal hand or eye/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
Joe Parker, quoted in our cover story (right) about the private ownership of big cats, may never have read Blake, but he makes the same point: "Tigers aren't like dogs in recognizing that we give them their food. All food belongs to the tiger. We just happen to have it at that moment of feeding, and they want it. It belongs to them. What are we doing with it?"
Neither Blake nor Parker genuflect at the altar of Walt Disney. A cartoon tiger may suggest cuddliness, wit, compassion, all the things modern animation fabricates to personify the animal kingdom. But cartoons lack gravitas - and gravitas is the nature of tigers.
However cute the cub, chances are slim that when it grows up, it will lie down with the lamb unless someone routinely spends some serious money on a daily portion of red meat.
If you subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service, you probably get the show "Animal Planet." It's a wonderful blend of interest in, and respect for, creatures large and small. It grapples with the essential dilemma of wild creatures - sharing habitat with humans.
And if you've ever watched Animal Planet's superstar, the Aussie naturalist and zoo keeper Steve Irwin, aka "the crocodile hunter," encounter snakes, crocodiles, and lizards, you sat riveted. He handles, captures, cherishes, and protects these cold-blooded creatures with an enthusiasm and respect for their "fearful symmetry" that is as awe inspiring as the animals themselves.
* Jim Bencivenga is editor of the Ideas section. Questions or comments? E-mail Ideas@csps.com
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