An Australia Zoo tiger handler was attacked during a show in 2013. Image: Seven News
An Australia Zoo tiger handler was attacked during a show in 2013. Image: Seven News

OPINION: Why tigers are fighting captivity at Australia Zoo

TIGERS deserve to live in grasslands, swamps and jungles… not glass enclosures.

Another staff member at Australia Zoo has been attacked, making it at least the fourth in three years.

First let me say that I really appreciate the wildlife rescue work Australia Zoo does. That after all was Steve's legacy.

What I cannot condone is keeping these foreign wild animals in cages. Yes their colourful home at Australia Zoo might not resemble dark steel cages from your childhood nightmares, but those glass walls are still walls.

No matter how you want to spin it, the enclosures at Australia Zoo (or any zoo for that matter) are often small and barren compared to the space, diversity and freedom that these animals experience in their natural habitats.

Space is one of the four key elements vital to a tiger's happiness and survival, according to America's National Museum of Natural History. 158 000 000 square metres of space would be just enough to support seven female tigers and two males. That's more than double the land area of the whole Australia Zoo's home suburb of Beerwah.

Tiger Temple at Australia Zoo is 80 square metres, according to their website.

READ MORE: Tiger attack: Australia Zoo keeper has deep puncture wounds

I also understand that the breeds of tigers at the zoo, Sumatran and Bengal, are endangered. But if they were true conservationists wouldn't Australia Zoo be better off implementing programs to protest the Asian palm oil industry, one of the biggest contributors to the destruction of Sumatran Tigers' habitat?

Even if the cages look clean and large, the deprivation of stimulus and loneliness can cause a condition called "zoochosis" where the animals rock, sway, pace and sometimes even mutilate themselves.  Often times a zoo will try to combat zoochosis by administering mood-altering drugs such as Prozac to calm the animal and make it 'behave' for the visiting public.

According to Australia Zoo Tiger Supervisor Giles Clark, "the most dangerous thing about tigers is their fear and they usually attack only when they feel threatened," he said when interviewed as the tigers first were introduced to the zoo in 2004.

"They are never going to be tame. They are always going to have their teeth and their claws and their instinct. You're not going to take the wild out of them, they're still tigers," said Mr Clark.

Knowing that, does parading them around in front of large crowds and making them available for 'tiger walks' at $500 a pop sound particularly smart to you?

Terri Irwin has tried to pass the incident off as just a 'scratch' and the result of a hot summer's day. The truth? Queensland Ambulance says the man suffered "deep puncture wounds" to his head and arm.

If they are true conservationists, Australia Zoo need to consider what is in the best interest of all animals, both tigers and humans.

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