Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Rethinking the American Animal Rights Movement

 I am excited to announce the impending release of a book I have been working on for the last few years along with Michael P Allen and Jennifer Eadie.  Rethinking the American Animal Rights Movement is aimed at undergraduate students and might be of interest to anyone interested in getting an overview of the history of the American Animal Rights movement.  This book will be available starting on February 25th.  More on this to come....

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Captive Tiger-Related Fatalities [In progress]

In modern times there has been about one reported fatality a year caused by an attack by a captive tiger. On one hand that doesn't seem like very many -- but on the other hand, it seems like the kind of situation that would not be too challenging to avoid.  Specifically, how do you end up on the same space as a tiger? If it happens, then human psychology is falling into some kind of trap to either suggest this is a good idea or fail to avoid it.

Out of curiosity, I started collecting reports of these fatal events and how they occurred (33 events). Out of respect for the victims and their families, I will not include any names or identifying details.

How do Captive Tiger Attacks Occur?

The majority of the tigers involved were kept in zoos (61%) versus as pets (27%) or performing animals (e.g. circus, 12%).  As exhibit animals, contact with humans should not be necessary other than through protected contact or with sedation (e.g. from veterinary procedures).

The incident was most likely to happen after the victim entered the tiger's enclosure (73%). The majority of these events involved professionals that work with to around tigers, with a similar number of cases where the person knew the tiger was in the enclosure versus did not know it was there (e.g. due to a gate being unintentionally open). A smaller number of events involved deliberate or accidental trespass by a civilian into the enclosure, or an attack at the perimeter of the enclosure or after the tiger had been removed or escaped.

Victims of a fatal tiger attack have an average age of 33 and are somewhat more likely to be male than female (61%). 

Why do Attacks Occur?

Tiger factors: The risk associated with tigers may be especially high as they are considered "pseudo-domesticated".  That is they can present very like a domesticated and so relatively safe animal, but then very suddenly show aggressive or predatory behavior.  As such, a person might have a relatively long history with an animal in which they have shown no dangerous behavior. This will often lead a person to under-estimate the unpredictability dangerousness of the tiger.  This complacency is particularly obvious with inexperienced people being allowed access to a tiger by a private owner -- for example family members including young children or visitors being offered opportunities such as having a photograph taken with a tiger. It should also be recognized that tigers are ambush predators and so their natural pattern of attack is sudden and behaviors leading up to the attack may be brief and subtle.

Environment factors: When it comes to workplace activities, the opportunity for injury is strongly influenced by enclosure design and workplace policies and their enforcement. For example, whether zookeepers are permitted or encouraged to enter the enclosure, and whether the presence of the tiger in the enclosure or an adjoining space is easy to see. In a small number of cases, the enclosure was inadequate to the point that tigers needed to be manually moved or leash-walked between areas or was able to escape. Placing workers under stress and time constraints may also increase their risk-taking behavior such as cleaning enclosures while the animal is still present rather than taking the time to remove them.

Victim factors: In cases where being in the same space as the tiger is part of a performance, the risk of attack is unavoidable. Having direct contact with a large charismatic animal is exciting for the professional and audience -- but interactions of this type are becoming less popular on developed nations for both animal welfare and human safety reasons. When the animal is simply on display and direct contact should not be necessary, one contributing factor to people deliberately entering a tiger enclosure is likely to be that their expertise (e.g. as a zookeeper) causes them to judge they are not at risk and to feel they are able to accurately assess whether the tiger presents any danger. On rare occasions, fatalities have occurred due to deliberate or accidental trespassing by visitors into the tiger habitat including some cases of apparent "suicide by tiger."

Human psychology is generally poor at assessing risks at extremely high or low levels -- in this case, low frequency but high severity.  If a tiger is handled with direct contact it may form a calm and friendly relationship with familiar people and provide them with extensive experience of "trustworthy" behavior.  However, the tiger's size, reactivity, and predatory nature mean that there is always a risk of sudden attack that can main or kill.  

As with other large pseudo-domesticated animals, e.g. elephants, zoos are moving towards not allowing any direct contact between people and captive tigers. While private ownership of tigers is, and should be, discouraged -- most recent fatal events occurred in reputable zoos.  As such it seems that a failure to develop and enforce non-contact protocols and provide the resources necessary to implement them in a fail-safe way is the primary cause of captive tiger-related fatalities.

Media reports sometimes indicate that there may be a gap between safety procedures on paper or as known to management, and day-to-day working routines.  It is important to not only require non-contact with tigers but to provide the staffing, time, and facilities that allow all necessary work activities to be performed without encouraging the breaking of these rules. Specifically, Activities in any area should only be permitted when the tiger is in another area, the location of the tiger should be visually obvious, gates should not be able to be left open, and people should not work alone in or near the tiger enclosure.

These standards would ideally also be applied to private owners and allowing direct contact between a tiger and a third party, especially a child, should not be permitted.  Performers and trainers of tigers used in entertainment are trusted to understand and manage the risk presented by their own direct contact with animals.  The extent to which this risk is justifiable for purposes of entertainment is questionable, however it is not dissimilar to other potentially dangerous activities carried out for sporting and entertainment purposes with informed consent.


Lindahl, C., Lundqvist, P., Hagevoort, G. R., Lunner Kolstrup, C., Douphrate, D. I., Pinzke, S., & Grandin, T. (2013). Occupational health and safety aspects of animal handling in dairy production. Journal of agromedicine, 18(3), 274-283. 

 Nyhus, P. J., Tilson, R. L., & Tomlinson, J. L. (2003). Dangerous animals in captivity: ex situ tiger conflict and implications for private ownership of exotic animals. Zoo Biology: Published in affiliation with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, 22(6), 573-586. 

 Schiller, H. J., Cullinane, D. C., Sawyer, M. D., & Zietlow, S. P. (2007). Captive tiger attack: case report and review of the literature. The American Surgeon, 73(5), 516-519. 

 Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B., & Lichtenstein, S. (1981). Perceived risk: psychological factors and social implications. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. A. Mathematical and Physical Sciences, 376(1764), 17-34.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (post in progress)

What are they?
Madagascar hissing cockroaches ("hissers") are large cockroach species native to Madagascar.  They are kept as feeders, as educational specimens, and increasingly as pets.

Are they the right pet for me?
  • Hissers can be handled and once they get used to it will not be stressed by handling
  • Hissers are not suitable for handling by small children or for extended periods
  • Hissers and their enclosure can host a diversity of mold species and so are not suitable for people with allergies or sensitivities to mold
How to keep them
Hissers are relatively hardy.  You will see people keeping them successfully in a variety of different habitat designs.
  • They should be kept in a tub or tank that will retain some heat and moisture, but with a mesh or perforated lid to allow some air circulation
  • Hissers can and will escape and their nymphs are small, so ensure there are no gaps they can squeeze through
  • They can be kept without a substrate but I would suggest using something like coconut fiber or tropical bark mix.
  • They should be given areas to hide and climb such as egg crates, branches, rocks, or tubes.
  • If they are being fed predominantly dry foods provide water via water crystal, droplets, or a wet sponge.  Small cockroaches (nymphs) will drown in open water dishes.
  • Keep the enclosure above 60 degrees, higher temperatures are better.
  • If you do not wish the hissers to breed keep only male
Things to know
  • Hissers molt (shed their outer layer) multiple timers as they grow.  Immediately after the molt, they are softer and white in color.