The Numbers Don’t Lie !!...
By Zuzana Kukol and Scott Shoemaker
Every time there is a tragic unusual accident, the media gets into heated hysteria to milk the story, often not researching the subject and causing damage in the process by not presenting the entire picture.
They especially love the fatal exotic animal mauling accidents, with big cat attacks being their favorite, turning them into sensationalized pieces resembling Hollywood horror movie scripts.
Private owners of captive big cats, pet tigers especially, have been coming under ever increasing attacks from the media bandwagon, mostly fueled by the agenda of the animal rights (AR) activists groups. Under the guise of pretending to care for public safety and using well meaning, but uninformed grieving relatives of the exotic cat attack victims as their pawns, they hide their real agenda: to end the captive keeping of animals.
The best method of discrediting the claims of big cats being a public safety issue and to show no need for additional regulation is to look at the real numbers, facts don’t lie.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) website and various news sources, 20 people were fatally mauled by captive big cats in the USA in the last 17.5 years ( between 1990 and 10/2008), which is one death per year (1.1). (PETA is an animal rights group opposed to captive keeping of all animals.) For captive reptiles, the rate is one and a half death per year.
One fatality was by leopard, one by jaguar, one by liger, 2 by lions and 14 by tigers. (The 20th death cited by PETA was an apparent suicide of a woman climbing into lions' cage at the AZA accredited [The American Zoo and Aquarium Association] National Zoo at Washington DC).
One of the tigers is responsible for the deaths of 2 people, its female owner and male handler. None of these deaths were the result of the exotic cats unsupervised off the private owners’ or zoo's property. Instead, all victims were voluntarily on the property where the animal was kept, be it owner(s), handlers, employees, friends or visitors wanting to see the animals. The only person killed in public was a circus trainer in Pennsylvania in 1997 while he was doing his job and the tiger was caged.
20 dead, 12 of them were occupational/hobby hazard, (2 AZA zoo workers and 10 trainers/owners).
(AZA is a private accrediting groups always exempted from bans).
The odds of being killed by a captive big cat is therefore extremely low. With the current US population being almost 302,000,000 with one death occurring every 13-14 seconds, this translates to approximately 2,440,000 total US deaths per year. With this in mind, the alleged threat of big cats posing a public safety issue seems ridiculous with the yearly odds of being killed by a captive big cat being one in 302,000,000 equaling to one fatal mauling per year.
You have a better chance of winning the lottery Jackpot (1 in 13,983,816, all six winning numbers selected) or even the elusive Mega Millions Lottery jackpot (1 in 175,711,536), than being killed by a captive large cat (1 in 302,000,000). But you must visit someone with a large cat to get those odds. Now compare that to deaths by privately kept escaped big cats….can’t find those numbers since nobody ever died as a result of privately owned captive exotic cat running loose. Animal Rights groups claim to want more regulation and/or banning ownership of big cats in the name of public safety. The odds just don’t add up.
Animal rights activists also claim that the ownership of the big cats is on the increase. With the current increase of the US population and the number of fatal big cat maulings remaining low, we can easily argue that the trend of fatal captive exotic cats maulings is therefore on the decrease.
Keep in mind that most of those deaths/attacks where on handlers/owners, whom have accepted and know extremely well the risk (occupational hazard?). Some deaths/attacks were to people who voluntarily went to see the tiger, most were family or friends.
According to news reports, big cats have contributed to the death of one member of the general public, teenager Haley Hildebrand. However, she went to the property voluntarily to have her picture taken with the animal. Exhibitor himself broke the federal rules regarding public contact with big cats and has been shut down since.
Still, where are the escaped big cats killing people? More people have died from a runaway NASCAR vehicle than a runaway (escaped) big cat. Shouldn’t we ban racecars?
According to Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2001 killed 37,862 people, of which 4,901 were pedestrians.
Also, wild tigers kill on average 40-60 people per year, even though estimates suggest there are easily more than 5 times as many captive US tigers that the entire wild population.
Even though there is no recorded fatal mauling attributed to the captive mountain lions, there is an increase in fatal wild cougar maulings in the USA, but we don’t see the AR groups supporting population control of these animals to save human lives, just the opposite. These organizations oppose any form of animal hunting, even for overpopulation control.
Assuming responsible exotic animal owners with proper caging, a perimeter fence to keep the animals in and the curious public out and to avoid easy trespassing, the best method to avoid being killed by a captive big cat is to simply avoid the properties where they are being kept. Can you do that with the rest of your daily activities outlined at the end of this article?
Your lifetime Odds of Dying by a captive big cats are 1-in-4,000,000.
If our government and the AR groups really care about saving human lives, they should concentrate on the tables below.
Table 1- Lifetime odds and Number of deaths in 2003
TOTAL NUMBERS AND ODDS OF AN ACCIDENTAL DEATH IN THE USA BY CAUSE OF INJURY in
2003 – comparing human fatalities caused by captive exotic and wild animals
(average up to year 2006) to deaths caused in the course of a normal daily
routine in every day life in 2003.
The figures in Table 2 and Table 3 are for US residents, and are based on 2001. Other odds, indicated with an asterisk (*) in Table 1 are based on long-term data.
Table 2 - LIFETIME Odds in USA in 2001
** Perhaps 1-in-500,000
SOURCES: National Center for Health Statistics, CDC; American Cancer Society; National Safety Council; International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; World Health Organization; USGS; Clark Chapman, SwRI; David Morrison, NASA; Michael Paine, Planetary Society Australian Volunteers
Table 3 -CAUSE OF DEATH IN USA in 2001
Source: CDC, FARS, CPSC and Wikipedia
Now, how scared should we be of captive privately owned big cats, and how scared should we be of everyday life?
Are you still worried about captive exotic animal attack?
Originally published 2005
Copyright © Zuzana Kukol & Scott Shoemaker