A Wisconsin man is recovering after being attacked by a seven-year-old Siberian tiger at The Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue & Educational Center. The victim is a volunteer at the centre, and he was attacked while giving the tiger some water. He was airlifted to hospital but his injuries are described as minor.
As is often the case, it is suspected that the attack wasn’t an indication of aggression. Rather, it may have been playful behaviour, something that can quickly become deadly with a large cat. People have been killed before by big cats trying to play with them – all it takes is one misplaced swat from these extremely powerful beasts to do significant harm.
Attacks by big cats are not exactly rare in North America, and are almost always associated with poorly housed "pet" big cats and roadside zoos. It is actually relatively easy to buy a big cat, and many parts of North America have few to no restrictions on ownership. The animals often suffer because of inadequate nutrition or poor housing, and public health is at risk because of inadequate housing and restraint. There’s no reason for tigers to be in North America apart from accredited zoos (or similar facilities) with adequate housing for these large animals and properly trained personnel. They are not pets. You can hand raise a tiger and make it pretty tame, but they are never safe. How many cat owners are bitten, swatted, stalked or jumped on by their small-sized pet cats every day? Imagine what happens what those same feline behaviours are exhibited by a tiger that weighs a few hundred pounds.
When I first saw the headline, I thought "here’s another person injured at some crappy roadside zoo that has no business keeping big cats." This facility and the circumstances around the attack seem to be different. This does seem to be a legitimate rescue facility (some "rescue" facilities for various species are just people who like to collect animals), although it’s hard to say too much about how reputable the place is from a distance, and whether there is any truth to some unflattering internet reports. The attack also occurred through a fence. In properly run facilities, the likelihood of an attack is reduced by restriction of direct contact between people and cats. If someone isn’t in a pen with the animal, the chances of injury are much lower. Circumstances regarding this attack aren’t clear, so it’s hard to say whether there are issues with the design of pens or how people interact with the animals, and whether the person really wasn’t in the pen. However, the fact that this seems like a more reasonable facility than your average small zoo and a potentially serious attack still occurred underscores the danger posed by people owning these animals.