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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

It’s a Wild World

Air Date: Week of

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October has been a month of animals behaving badly. Or maybe they’re just being themselves. Commentator Sy Montgomery says that catching prey is fundamental to animals and sometimes people become the victims.


CURWOOD: Given the recent spate of dramatic attacks, October would appear to be a month of “Animals Behaving Badly.” But commentator Sy Montgomery says don’t blame the critters.

MONTGOMERY: First, one of Siegfried and Roy’s famous white tigers critically injures the illusionist, biting him during a performance. Next, another tiger causes trouble in New York, this time for biting a man with whom he was sharing a Harlem apartment – along with a five foot alligator, by the way. And the following week, we learn that a grizzly bear has mauled to death a researcher and his girlfriend in Alaska. These stories have easily eclipsed most other news. No wonder. Tigers and bears are far more interesting than, say, politicians – for the simple reason that, until quite recently in our evolution, if you weren’t interested in big predators you quickly became a snack for one.

Which brings me to what is puzzling. People keep asking me, what made the animals do it? In Roy Horn’s case, images from a video suggest he actually slipped and the cat might have been trying to pick him up. Maybe so. But even very polite predators, predators who might know and love you, are still predators. Catching prey is fundamental to who they are. Sometimes, they just can’t resist. It’s like you’re on Atkins and there’s this donut on the table. The next minute, despite your best intentions, the donut is gone.

Not one of the people hurt or killed by these huge predators blamed the animals. Roy Horn’s words as he was taken to the hospital were, “Don’t hurt the cat.” As he was hauled off by police, the man bitten by the tiger in his apartment said, “The cat is like my brother.” And before he was killed, biologist Timothy Treadwell, in one of the stunning videos he made about the bears, thanks a grizzly named Quincy for not eating him. “If Quincy had eaten me,” he says, “Good cause. He’s a nice bear.”

The tragedy behind the tragedy is this: we have forgotten the true nature of wild predators. Precisely because they can kill us, these are the beasts thrill, horrify, challenge, inspire – and humble us. They enlarge our capacity for wonder and reverence. No matter what else these folks might have done wrong – and keeping a tiger in an apartment is very wrong – they all had one thing right. The very fact of their involvement with these animals shows they remembered we need wildness in our world. In very different settings, all these people were trying – with different degrees of success – to touch, in some way, the magnificent wildness of predators. To do so was worth, to them, a very great price.

CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery is author of “The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans.”

[MUSIC: Brian Reitzell & Roger J. Manning Jr. “On The Subway” LOST IN TRANSLATION (Emperor Norton-2003)]



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