For a Tyger, who still burns bright.

When I was a young child, I went on one of those school day trips to a zoo. From the foul weather, I’d guess it’d be towards the end of the year, November or December perhaps, when I suppose the school could get a decent volume discount because the place would be deserted otherwise. The school very much operated on a budget.

We munchkins had all been well wrapped, scarved and bobble hatted up by our Mums, and the wind howled without respite, blowing us tightly bundled up miniature Michelin people around like tenpins. The rain alternately drizzled down or drove at us horizontally all day and we sort of squinted and crocodiled our way through the deluge, hand in mittened hand like reluctant whirling dervishes, led by a couple of disinterested teachers on autopilot, who just wanted to march us through the hell of it as quickly as possible and out the other side.

The whole desolate landscape was a plain of damp grey concrete with iron bars embedded in it and a metal roof welded to the top of each pegged out enclosure. We got marched from one miserable exhibit animal to another but the one that got engraved into my child’s memory was the Bengal tiger.

He had huge paws, I remember. Exactly like our cat Suzy’s, but massive.

Some tour guide droned on about tigers for a bit but all I could see was it pacing from one end of a forty foot rectangular concrete-floored cage to the other in the driving rain. Every time it turned, it stopped and glared at us, enraged, before marching back to the other end of the cage to repeat the loop. It never varied its routine. Pace, turn, glare, pace, turn, glare, on and on, on and on, and on and on.

He hated us.

Even at that young age, I knew it was a cruelty to put a creature like that in such a terrible cage, or any cage at all. He didn’t have a way out and my heart went out to him.

Me, being congenitally the great escaper, I all too easily gave the teachers and the guided tour the slip to go back and see him again. I stood in front of the cage and thought let him free, don’t be this bad to him. You see, children know only too well what it’s like to be looked at, talked about, poked, overlooked and ignored by the world, and all I wanted to do was let him out, but I didn’t have a key. I never would.

Nobody has that key.

He stopped pacing and turned to look at me through the bars. His fur was totally drenched, the wind flecked clumpy bits of it up, he smelled like a damp rug and the thin skin on his shoulders was twitching involuntarily in the cold but his breath was warm on my face, raising a steam cloud and we stood looking at each other through the bars in the driving rain. One swipe, and I was gone, but perhaps he needed a visit. Yellow eyes looked into brown, and I felt I should do something.

Seeing no way of releasing him, I reached up and through the bars to comfort and stroke him, like I did with Suzy, but with one Earth trembling snarl, he blasted me back into the hands of a teacher who’d finally noticed they’d misplaced someone.

He still had his pride.

I fought to stay there as only a kid can do by triple massing their awkward kicking body weight but she snatched me back over the barrier and away, screaming and shouting.

I’ve never forgotten that moment of being there with him.

He could have taken some payback, but he didn’t. There was something there, over and above any anger and an imperious outrage, the grievous insult we’d done to him as a life, but yet he didn’t hurt me. One easy swipe and he’d have gutted me, from gullet to gizzard. In my innocence, I’d placed myself well within easy range of what was left to him of his meagre power.

Many years later, I read a paper that estimated one third if not half of all animals confined in such conditions had actually gone insane. I knew that already – if you really want to know the truth about an emotional situation, ask a child. Not many adults can handle the raw unguarded honesty they can deliver to you. Too few people ask their opinion.

To this day, I’ve never liked zoos.


Related articles by Pointman:

The difficult kind.

Click for a list of other articles.

12 Responses to “For a Tyger, who still burns bright.”
  1. Blackswan says:

    Was it St. Francis Xavier who said “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man.”

    Was a small boy who felt such empathy for a caged and tormented beast, and who fearlessly reached out to offer it comfort, an indication of the man he would grow to be?

    “Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
    In the forests of the night: 
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”

    Did William Blake have his own encounter with a caged and pacing tiger and wonder “In what distant deeps or skies, burnt the fire of thine eyes?”

    It’s a wonderful story to relate Pointy, and thanks for posting it.


  2. Retired Dave says:

    Another good read Pointy – I always think what strange people are those that do not have any empathy and sympathy for a caged animal. Yes I don’t like zoos either, although some are better than others and for a few species they are now the only refuge.

    I was taken into a shop only yesterday that had reptiles (and only reptiles) for sale , many were kept in glass tanks that were far too small. One large lizard definitely showed signs of distress and mental illness. We left very quickly with all four of us saddened by what we had just seen.

    I also don’t like to see any living creature killed without very good reason. I obviously understand that it has to happen at times but I can’t get inside the mind of those who do it for pleasure, no matter how necessary it might be. Ill-treatment of an animal is never justified IMHO.

    Of course I am a big enough hypocrite to be a meat eater, but I suppose those animals we eat wouldn’t exist at all if we didn’t consume them. They have to be treated with respect at all times. Let’s face it if we all had to kill what we eat, 95% of us would vegetarian.


  3. richard clenney says:

    This story hurts;I also recall a visit to the circus;poor elephants–I haven’t forgotten.
    (Pointy, I wanted to e-mail you a comment off this topic, but can’t figure out how. It is
    about Buffet’s Peabody move. My first thought was ” he’s going after Lawrence Tribe”,
    the only way he can. He can’t buy Tribe; but he can buy his client. What a genius move!
    However it comes out, he is fine. Tribe is now working for him. Expect Peabody to cave.


  4. Pointman says:

    Well done all those guys on the train in France, especially the gutsy one who ran the length of a carriage to hit him before the maniac could get the Kalashnikov working. Yet another “lone maniac”, but he’d ten magazines of ammunition and could have walked the length of the train killing hundreds.

    Croix de Guerre stuff.



    • durango12 says:

      It amazes me that there are still some among us with the right stuff, after all the propaganda, the brainwashing, the idiocy that passes for conventional wisdom. There may still lurk deep in the human brain — the reptilian part — the nobility that our species could attain but don;t.


    • Old Rooster says:

      An even higher honour–all four awarded the distinction of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (membership strictly only being for French nationals) this would appear to be in the military not civilian class.


  5. bushkid says:

    “They” can tell us what they think we should think and how they think we should behave, but you will never take the soldier out of those born to be soldiers, whatever form of real soldiering they take up.

    Here in Oz, in Western Oz, the bidding has just opened in a by-election, and one of the candidates is an ex-SAS Captain. The leftoids have already started the shameful slinging of mud at this man, yet you’d have to think that the same low-lifes trying to denigrate him would be only too glad to have him and a few like him on a plane or train with them in similar circumstances. It’s the usual leftoid game of denigrate the Digger, but this time it’s backfired.


    • Old Rooster says:

      The following remark of recent origin can be traced back to slightly earlier observations:

      “When the country is in danger, the military’s mission is to wreak destruction upon the enemy. It’s a harsh and bloody business, but that’s what the military’s for. As George Orwell pointed out, people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
      —Richard Grenier

      I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’beer,
      The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
      The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,

      O makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
      Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
      An’ hustlin’ drunken sodgers when they’re goin’ large a bit
      Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.

      PACIFIST. Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.

      Not much changes.


  6. Truthseeker says:

    Pointman, I also think that the zoos of our youth were abominations, and some probably still are. There are exceptions though. If you ever get the chance to go to the other side of the world, I can recommend the Western Plains zoo in Dubbo in a rural region of Australia. There are areas, not cages and the wonder of these amazing creatures are available for everyone to marvel at.


  7. Rastech says:

    Dave: ” Let’s face it if we all had to kill what we eat, 95% of us would vegetarian.”

    Actually that isn’t how it would be. There wouldn’t be any vegetarians.

    You quickly learn that death is a normal, and inescapable part of life. It forces you to face reality, and come to terms with it. Death is an essential part of life. To me, an important part of our evolved niche in this World is to ensure constructive and worthwhile outcomes, and fulfill that role with humanity.

    Before the First World War, South West Wales was littered with small manor houses that were the heart of small sporting estates. It had the finest game shooting in the Country, huge numbers of gamekeepers and underkeepers, and a huge diversity of wildlife.

    Before my grandfather went off to war, he hadn’t seen a rabbit. When he came back, there were rabbits everywhere, Things went downhill from there. The gamekeepers and underkeepers were mostly gone, the sons of the small sporting estates were mostly gone, the increasingly punitive taxation on such small estates, and the death duties, finally did in pretty much all of them.

    As time went on, the pests and vermin increased dramatically, only vaguely kept in check by subsidised rabbit cartridges, and the substantial income from rabbits. The damage the rabbits did was so huge, farmers couldn’t even rent their farms out – but at least you could sell a rabbit for a half a crown, and my great grandfather and grandfather earned enough from them to buy a few farms, and set up family businesses, with the landowners they trapped rabbits for getting a share to keep them going too. The income from fox skins was substantial too, and rural people could have a good boost to their incomes, which fed into the rural economy to considerable effect.

    By the 1980’s the pest and vermin situation had become so bad, with no subsidised rabbit cartridges any more, and no income from fox skins (a terrible tragedy to leave such a valuable product to rot and go to waste), it was difficult, if not impossible, for ordinary rural people to afford to do anything about it. It had become obstacle after obstacle placed in front of them to even get a shotgun certificate, the price of a shotgun had reached extortionate levels (these things are not expensive or even difficult to make), and the price of a box of cartridges meant for most people, they had better use them on something they could eat.

    So a few friends and myself got together and did what we could for our neighbouring farmers. Between us, we averaged at least 25,000 crows a year, year in, year out. We never made headway against those numbers, there just weren’t enough of us shooting. But we protected the valuable crops of our neighbours. To give you an indication of what were were up against, on one barley field, in one day, I got through almost 1,200 cartridges. (I was buying bulk cheap Rottweil cartridges in 200 boxes, for £25 for 200) by the time I packed up. I was a good, well practiced shot, using a good cartridge, and I might have missed with two of those cartridges. It might have been one.

    Same with foxes, I averaged about 120 a year, and only the best primers, best powders, and best bullets, which I personally loaded for optimum accuracy were used. Same with deer (I am a qualified deer manager and qualified advanced marksman).

    Every year there is a surplus that HAS TO be culled, for the best health of the wildlife in the area. The damage and appalling cruelty to animals that is being inflicted by dangerously ignorant fools (Animal Rights type nonsense, etc), well, words fail me.

    The same types are active with the agenda to get lead ammunition banned (when there is no real evidence that it even poses a risk over wetlands), despite solid evidence of dangerous pressures being necessary in guns for the lead free rubbish to even pretend to function (this is even feeding into Military ammunition, where the new 5.56mm NATO ‘effective’ round has 62,000 psi chamber pressure, in the M16 type rifles, where such pressures are extremely damaging to the bolt), lead substitutes are prone to wounding rather than giving a clean kill, lead substitutes are already showing contamination of groundwater, where centuries of the use of lead showed no measurable groundwater contamination at all. Military ranges have even had to ban the use of lead substitutes, because they are causing metal fever. Yet the lies about lead still keep being trotted out, and the agenda is still being followed, to enrich those who have bought up the sources of lead substitute materials on the cheap. Lead mills are closing or closed, large numbers of jobs are being lost, high quality products that work (for example in the Construction Industry) are disappearing, and taking lead out of paint has dramatically increased molds and their dangerous (to health) spores.

    The people behind this do not care what damage they do to wildlife or the environment, or what cruelty they cause to be inflicted, but they use Wildlife and Environment agencies and NGO’s to further their greed, and those Wildlife and Environmental agencies and NGO’s know full well what damage they are doing, and could care less, as long as they get their cut.

    So yeah, it’s a difficult job, and there are always tough choices. The toughest perhaps is the sort of situation where you have a young Doe with a late born fawn, and it is the start of Winter. That fawn is going to suck the life out of the young Doe, and neither are going to survive the Winter, so what do you do? Leave them both suffer and starve to death? Or shoot the fawn and give the young Doe a chance to recover and survive the Winter, after which she can have a fawn at the right time, and be fine from then on?

    Well it’s not rocket science is it. You go for the best outcome, and you do it as humanely as you possibly can. It doesn’t mean you have to like it, but you have to do what you have to do. Then when you see that Doe the following year, in great condition, with a good fawn at heel, you feel much better about a job well done.

    When they were laid up during the day, I used to be able to stalk within about 6 ft of a Doe and fawn, and I could (and did) sit there for hours just watching them. I miss it.


  8. Rastech says:

    PS. One local Game shoot used to release 30,000 Mallard a year (+ Partridges, + Pheasant), paid for by selling the shooting. That sold shooting used to account for less than 10,000 of the Mallard released. His land for shooting was wetlands. The ban on lead shot over wetlands, finished the shoot. This has happened all across the Country.

    Mallard numbers across the Country have already fallen dramatically.Deer numbers are now out of control, because those who did the deer management have pretty much given up, and major organisations are buying up the land and shooting rights, and keeping those that know what they are doing out. There aren’t enough people managing the resource from then on, and as numbers go out of control, you condemn the deer, etc., to starvation and disease. Obstacles to obtaining firearms is having a terrible effect on the environment, and replacing ammunition that worked, with ammunition that basically doesn’t work anything like effectively enough, is going to increasingly backfire. Backfire on wildlife and the environment.

    Nobody will like a Countryside dominated by pests and vermin, and when those pests and vermin no longer have rich pickings in the Countryside, they are going to increasingly go into the towns and cities.

    What then?


    • Tobias Smit says:

      @ Rastech, it ( or I should say hasn’t) happened not only in Britain. In Canada the same problems have been around for decades but not the same way as with you Ras, Britain with it large population and its borders (the Oceans) has always had a very different land management system than the rest of us although in our area in Canada you can still see some remnants. I feel for you when I grew up in Holland in the 50’s there seem to be no rules or regulations, be polite and admit your mistakes and things seemed fine I really don’t know what happened in the 60’s and 70’s ( let alone what is happening these days all over the planet,) but frankly I see a collapse not far in the future I hope you are safe! Thanks for the history I wish THAT was still being taught!


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