By DAVID A. WILSON
According to one school of thought, a tiger in a zoo is free and a tiger in the wilds of a jungle is actually captive.
The reasoning is that a tiger in a zoo has freedom from fear. The zoo provides food, water, shelter, an outdoor area, medical care and security. There is seldom anything that could be considered real danger.
The zoo tiger is given exactly the kind and amount of food needed for a sound diet. The water it is given is clean. The inside shelter which is provided has what is needed for private time and sleeping, if the tiger doesn't mind the usual cameras for the keepers and those viewers on the internet to watch. The outdoor area given to the tiger is usually equipped with toys or other items for exercise, play and resting, again with cameras. Sometimes the outdoor area mimics a natural habitat.
The health of the tiger is watched over with frequent checkups, medical treatment including surgery or medication and whatever vaccinations the governing body of the zoo believes is necessary.
Most important of all, there is complete security. Often the tiger lives not alone but in a "gated community" with bars to keep out unwanted intruders. And there are often security cameras everywhere.
The proof of the superiority of zoo life is that a zoo tiger can live up to 26 years. A tiger in the wild lives a maximum of about 15 years.
So, as far as "quantity of life" is concerned, the zoo tiger has it all.
But what about the "quality of life" in the zoo?
Does the tiger who lives in the comfort of a totally secure place where everything needed is provided have a life which is interesting, stimulating and fulfilling?
Take the food, for instance.
According to an internet source, the zoo tiger is usually fed a commercial meat product for cats. They also will get larger chunks of meat and bones for their jaws and teeth. But what about the excitement of the hunt, the stalk, lying in wait, the chase? And the taste of fresh-killed game?
Or the water?
Doesn't muddy water from a stream taste better than chemical-tasting water from a faucet? I know at least one dog that thinks so.
The shelter and the outdoor area for the zoo tiger may be fine, but at least a few tigers would surely rather take a run in the jungle than in a safe enclosed area, watched by cameras.
Access to medical care in a zoo is certainly better than a tiger is likely to come across in the wild. And the zoo tiger may live 40 percent longer. But when your shorter life span is interesting and at times exciting, might it not be better than a boring life which may seem to go on forever?
Maybe the zoo tiger is not free and the wild tiger is not captive. Maybe giving up liberty to have security is not worth the life to be lived.
As Aldo Leopold, a founder of the science of wildlife management, said in A Sand County Almanac, "It must be a poor life that achieves freedom from fear."