By Anuj Sabharwal
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Since the day nineteen-year-old boy, Maksood, was mauled by tiger Vijay in the Delhi Zoo, there have been demands from his family and their supporters for some kind of compensation. My initial reaction was, “What Compensation? It was Cruelty towards the poor tiger.” One of my friends suggested that in San Francisco, Dhaliwal brothers of Indian origin claimed to have got $900,000 as compensation from the zoo for an attack by the Siberian tiger Tatiana. I will discuss and compare the two incidents, reaching the conclusion that these two incidents cannot be compared. Kindness and compassion towards animals is expected of human beings and is a mark of civilized society. However, sadly, we are not that kind towards animals and we cannot become a civilized society until we stop exploiting them in the name of sport, cosmetics and yes, in the name of food. Animals too have emotions and they feel pain, sorrow, love, cold, hunger and depression like us.
Before arriving at any decision with regards to the compensation of Maksood on the precedent of the Dhaliwal brothers, we need to see the circumstances of both the cases. We all have seen the video clippings of the Delhi zoo incident and the first question arises – what was Maksood doing in the tiger’s den? How did he reach there? Eyewitnesses say that he jumped into the tiger’s moat. The guard on duty warned Maksood not to throw stones at the tiger, but he did not listen to his warning. Nobody could have fallen into the den without crossing two barriers, each three feet high. Did Vijay, the tiger, really want to kill Maksood? We all saw that the tiger was not in an aggravated state, and he looked to be in a playful mood and was curious to see Maksood in his den. In fact, he was born in the zoo and was not trained to kill. The tiger seemed confused because he was unaccustomed to such close human interaction with anyone other than the zoo caretakers. So what prompted the tiger to Kill Maksood? Natural behaviour prompted him to kill the young man. We all know that the tiger is a wild animal, whether in captivity or in an open environment. The basic animal instinct to kill does not go away. People started throwing stones and some even water bottles. This distracted the tiger, who was otherwise in a playful mood, making him a little angry, and what happened next is history. So, the question of any kind of compensation looks illogical in this kind of incident.
Now the question arises why San Francisco zoo gave compensation to Dhaliwal brothers. In fact, teenage boy Carlos Sausa’s parents also got the compensation for the death of their son at the hands of the tiger. To understand this, we need to go through the whole incident in detail. On the eve of Christmas, on the 25th of December 2007, three men went to the San Francisco zoo to enjoy themselves. They were spotted by an eyewitness who said that two men were provoking Siberian tiger Tatiana and Carlos Sausa, though part of the group, was only watching. They were throwing sticks and bottles into its den and also yelling at the tiger. This probably irritated the tiger. Just before zoo closing time at 5:00 p.m., the tiger jumped over its moat wall and killed Carlos Sausa, the teenager. After killing him, the tiger searched for Dhaliwal brothers and found them at the Zoo Café. There were around twenty-five people in the zoo at the time, and they all hid themselves wherever they could. It is said that even if there are thousand people around, the tiger will find you and hunt you. Thus, Tatiana followed them, found them at the café and mauled Dhaliwal brothers badly. The big tiger was eventually shot by police officers for no apparent fault of its own. Dhaliwal brothers filed claim for negligence and defamation against the zoo. It was found later through an investigation that the moat wall of the San Francisco zoo was only 12.5 feet high and not up to the AZE standards of 16.50 feet for tigers. The tiger paws had installed concrete chips and probably climbed the moat using those claws on the wall. The zoo was at fault and paid the compensation.
However, here in Delhi zoo, the tiger never jumped the wall; zoo fulfilled AZE standards and was not at fault. The primary investigation shows that Maksood jumped into the moat and did not indeed accidentally fall in. He was seen throwing stones at the tiger. We can judge a man by the way he treats animals. The assumption that animals do not have any rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance, is wrong. While I sympathize with his family, I still feel that we need to explain to people that animals are fellow creatures. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. They also possess the same desire to live that humans do. Human beings are a part of the animal kingdom, not apart from it. As for the compensation, greed has increasingly become a virtue. We should not look for compensation at every opportunity, especially when it is not entirely deserved.