Category: jaguars

Ballsy Thai Tourist Grabs Tiger’s Crown Jewels

Look at the balls on this one!

A woman from Thailand apparently decided that caging, beating and sedating tigers for selfies wasn’t enough mistreatment for Earth’s critically endangered apex predators. You can always add more insult, just a little icing on the “We Destroyed Your Entire Species” cake, by grabbing a handful of tiger testicles and mean-mugging for a selfie.

Of course the reason the tourist, named Waraschaya Akkarachaiyapas (also referred to as Khun Waraschaya in some media reports), was able to enter the tiger enclosure and pose with the tigers in the first place is because the keepers at Tiger Kingdom zoo in Thailand sedate the animals until they can barely yawn, rendering them incapable of defending their personal space or doing anything other than laying down as tourist after tourist touches them and poses for selfies.

Tiger Kingdom was at the forefront of the so-called “Disneyfied” “zoo experience,” in which the operators rake in millions by breeding tiger cubs like an assembly line and charging tourists to interact and pose for photo with the animals.

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The tourists are told comforting lies: Employees of Tiger Kingdom dress like Buddhist monks, spout platitudes about being one with nature, and claim their “humble” operation began when one kindly monk took in an orphaned cub and founded a sanctuary decades ago.

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Tourists are told that kindly monks founded a sanctuary after taking in an orphaned tiger cub.

The reason the tigers are so docile, the tourists are told, is because the monks hand-raise them, socializing them with humans from a young age. (Paging Siegfried and Roy, as well as Joe Exotic’s two former employees who lost limbs to hand-reared tigers!)

The comforting fiction allows tourists to justify what they’re doing: When an acquaintance of mine proudly changed her social media profile photo to a shot of herself hugging an adult tiger, she acted as if she was shocked by the suggestion that the tigers were sedated. No, she explained, you don’t understand! These tigers were hand-raised by the monks from the time they were cubs! That’s why they love spending 12 hours a day having their tails pulled and getting mounted by tourists who want to ride them like horses. They love it!

It takes only a few seconds to refute what we’ll gently call that misconception: Articles abound of former employees and conservation experts describing horrific conditions for the animals at Tiger Kingdom. (It’s not the only “zoo” that thrives on selling big cat interactions in Thailand: When the infamous “Tiger Mountain” attraction was raided by authorities in 2016, they found the remains of more than 60 tiger cubs, tiger pelts, and “around 1,500 tiger skin amulets, plus other trinkets apparently made of tiger teeth.”)

The cubs, who would normally spend at least two years with their mothers, are taken away when they’re infants so Tiger Kingdom’s employees can hand-raise them, and not with the care and good intent they claim: The operators want the cubs to be accustomed to being handled and passed around so they don’t protest too much when tourists manhandle them.

The cubs are big money-makers, and tourists will pay a premium to feed them from milk bottles. The baby tigers are fed and fed until they can’t drink anymore, then they’re fed some more, former employees say. The bottle-feeding only stops when the day’s over and there are no more tourists forking over an additional $15 to get “adorable” photos of themselves with the babies.

That’s also the age when the cubs are introduced to the bamboo stick, the primary tool for keeping them in line. A cub who doesn’t want to leave its cage for another day of manhandling and force-feeding is smacked on the nose with a bamboo stick until it complies.

Tiger attractions like the infamous one at Thailand’s Tiger Kingdom have popped up all around the world, with interest fueled by enthusiastic reviews from celebrities like Beyoncé, who shared photos of her visit to an American tiger park with her millions of Instagram followers.

If Queen Bey says it’s okay, then it must be okay. Okay? 

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Queen Bey says it’s okay to mess with tiger cubs and chimp babies, so it must be okay!
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Queen Bey says it’s okay!

Life as a cub at Tiger Kingdom is a walk in the park compared to adulthood. Most of the adults are confined in cages 24 hours a day and are only let out on busy days when the operation swells with visitors who want tiger selfies. (Tiger selfies are extraordinarily popular with men who use them on dating site profiles, and Buddy’s home state of New York went so far as to ban tiger selfies because of their prevalence.)

When you consider the context, it’s really not surprising when someone like Waraschaya Akkarachaiyapas feels perfectly comfortable literally molesting the animals for her amusement.

We’ve poached this species to the brink of extinction and destroyed its habitat. We make rugs of their pelts, mount their taxidermied heads to our walls, sell their claws and teeth as trinkets, and grind their bones into dust for use in elixirs that allegedly cure ailments like baldness and erectile disfunction, according to ridiculous millennia-old folk medicine systems. (Having exhausted their supply of tigers to slaughter for traditional Chinese “medicine,” the Chinese have turned to poaching the Amazon’s jaguars to fuel their insatiable appetite for big cat parts. Jaguar poaching has skyrocketed “200 fold” in the last five years to fuel Chinese demand for animal parts.)

In that context, literally molesting a helpless animal is a drop in the ocean of abuse, decimation and the destruction of the dignity of these amazing animals. We’re supposed to be the intelligent species on this planet, the wise caretakers of the only world that we know of brimming with life. We are failing miserably.

 

Amazing Cats: He Who Kills With One Bound

The name jaguar comes from the indigenous Tupian word yaguara, meaning “he who kills with one bound.”

On the Scale of Badassery that’s an 11, which is appropriate for such a regal, ephemeral creature who seems to exist only in glimpses before melting back into the jungle.

From ancient chronicles etched in Mayan pictograms to modern-day descriptions of encounters with jaguars, one thing is consistent: When you’re fortunate enough to set eyes on a jaguar, it’s because the animal allows you to.

The world’s most elusive hunter is like smoke: There one moment, gone the next, without any physical evidence that it was present in the first place.

There’s a lot of confusion about jaguars, so let’s get that out of the way first. The jaguar is the third-largest-cat on the planet, behind tigers and lions. Jaguars are the largest cats in the Western Hemisphere and are the apex predators in the Americas.

They’re often confused with leopards, the other spotted big cats, but aside from living on different continents, jaguars are visibly larger, heavier and more sturdy than their African cousins.

Compounding the confusion is the widespread habit of using “panther” to describe both jaguars and leopards, and sometimes other cats too, like pumas.

A panther isn’t a type of cat: Panthera is the genus to which big cats — tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards — belong, while a black panther can refer to any melanistic jaguar or leopard.

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Like its cousins in the genus, the jaguar is an ambush hunter.

But unlike tigers, leopards and lions, jaguars do not kill by going for the spinal cord — they go for the head itself, puncturing skulls, turtle shells, heavily armored caiman scales and anything else they want to make a meal of.

That’s where the “one bound” in their name comes from: By the time a jaguar pounces, it’s already too late for the victim.

Jaguars are paragons of feline grace, yet even among cats they’re strikingly beautiful animals:

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Unlike tigers and lions, there are no recorded cases of prolific man-eaters among jaguars, and the mysterious cats are careful to avoid conflict with humans. The one exception is when a female jaguar feels her cubs are threatened.

Travelers who brave the untamed, near-impenetrable remote rainforests of South America may not see jaguars on their journeys, but the jaguars see them: Humans who venture into the thick tangle are “calmly watched by a jaguar or two” and most of them “don’t realize they’re under surveillance,” Nadia Drake wrote in a 2018 Atlantic story about encountering the enigmatic felids in Peruvian jungles:

Those who have studied jaguars say they sense a kind of preternatural consciousness in the beasts, a combination of disciplined energy and shrewd awareness that allows the jaguar to unleash its power in calculated ways. Alan Rabinowitz, struggling to find the right words, calls it simply “jaguarness.”

The ancient Aztecs saw that same cunning in the eyes of jaguars, naming them the “kings of the animal world” and employing jaguar motifs on statuary, stone reliefs and other artwork. Jaguar imagery was common throughout the pre-European Americas, and at the time the animal ranged across North and South America without a true rival at the apex.

Like tiger imagery is used to denote power, grace and agility in Asian cultures, the jaguar’s image was used for similar purposes, associating the animals with royalty and gods.

In Mayan culture, deities took the form of jaguars, and the big cats were known as gods of the underworld, fertility, war, protection and fire. Ek Balam, for example, was the Mayan god of the underworld, and was depicted as a black (melanistic) jaguar.

Jaguars share another quality with tigers, one that’s rare among cats: They not only enjoy the water, they excel at swimming and even hunting in rivers and swamps. While most cats will do almost anything to avoid entering water, jaguars and tigers have no reservations about immersing themselves, particularly on hot days.

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Like all big cats, jaguar numbers are decreasing. The animal is classified as “near-threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as its habitat has been fractured.

Unlike the other members of the panthera genus, habitat loss hasn’t led to conflicts between humans and the majestic cats. Jaguars, it seems, would rather retreat deeper into the jungle than go to war with humans. It’s crucial to preserve what’s left so these beautiful, amazing cats still have a jungle to go back to.

All photos courtesy of National Geographic and Mexico Lore.

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