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Letter to the Editor: Big cats in danger

St. George


Using exotic cats or other wild animals as props to improve media ratings may seem an innocent practice, however, like many viewers of television I am concerned about the plight these animals face when they leave the studio.

Continuing this exploitation is unacceptable. Myself and many interested viewers will not support stations that utilize animals in such a way.

The contractors television hires to supply wild animals make their living by displaying exotic cats. They may call themselves "educators", and claim to be breeding and exhibiting big cats to save them from extinction. But most television producers have not investigated their suppliers. Even facilities holding a USDA license are only required to provide a minimum standard. A cage that is big enough to stand up and turn around in, food and water is considered sufficient.

Contractors will rarely let anyone see the deplorable conditions these animals live in when they are not being dragged around in circus cages. Nor do they admit that their non-profit status is no more than a ploy to avoid taxes on the profits they make from this deception. Displaying cats in unnatural situations; on a leash, in circus acts, or in cages does nothing to conserve habitat for them in the wild.

The only valid attempts at conserving wildlife in the wild is administered entirely by the American Zoological Association as the Species Survival Plan. The SSP coordinates the participation of accredited zoos, allowing them to work cooperatively by breeding cats who are not closely related.

Carefully documented pedigrees ensure the genetic viability of the species, and the health of the individuals. The plan designates the breeding of only those species that are in danger of disappearing in the wild. This is the sole justification for breeding a wild animal into a life of captivity. There is not one program today that is breeding big cats for release to the wild.

Because baby animals increase admission revenues, even some AZA zoos are guilty of breeding more tigers than the plan calls for, just to raise money. No one outside of the AZA program is participating in the sanctioned Species Survival Plan. This includes wildlife contractors, pseudo-sanctuaries, road-side (non-accredited) zoos, or self proclaimed educators.

Six months later, that little cub sucking a bottle on a late night show is now too big, too dangerous, and no longer so cute. What becomes of these cats?

They are discarded either by slaughter for parts to supply the Asian "medicinal" trade, shot in canned hunts, or sold to private owners who breed and sell more exploited cats. The U.S. is currently the top supplier of such tiger parts. The deluge of "surplus" exotics is so extreme that the few true accredited sanctuaries are turning away twice their resident populations each year, due to lack of space and funding. There is no safe haven for these captive animals.

If television executives are truly interested in increasing their ratings then find out what really happens to captive wildlife when they aren't so cute anymore. Let us see real documentaries on their lives in the wild, and expos�s on their plight in captivity. The truth that television can present with the enormous power of the media is so much more compelling and important than the superficial stories that mesmerize for a brief moment. The viewing public is more sophisticated than many in the television industry may think.

Executives need to educate themselves and their audiences on where these animals really come from, where they are going, and the inhumanity of wild creatures bred for, at best, life in a cage. The worldwide influence of the media displays and shapes the ethics of our culture.

I support the media in broadcasting the ideas and images that bring us to a higher standard.

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