Tigers and Our Selfish Gene

Last week we had the opportunity to hang out with, play, cuddle, and pet… real… live… TIGERS! Yes, you read correctly, this was made possible at Tiger Kingdom, a sort of petting zoo in northern Thailand. It was absolutely incredible! We went inside their cages while they were running around, playing with each other, and sleeping. Their trainers helped us to pet/snuggle/scratch/rub and anything else we could manage with them. A once in a life time experience for sure.

It was relieving to confirm that the tigers are not drugged like many people think. On the contrary, they are alert, and seem happy and healthy.

(You can see a video of the tigers and us playing on our Facebook page)

Despite our great time in the Tiger Kingdom I can’t avoid feeling a little guilty and selfish. It really got me thinking…

Is it unfair and self-interested for me to pay for and enable the capture of wild tigers to be put on display for us?

Maybe visiting a place like this, where you can experience animals like nowhere else, makes us appreciate them more and in turn treat them better? Or as Adam pointed out, perhaps if they were in the wild they would be starving or dying an awful natural death rather than well cared for in a zoo.

Or perhaps these are just ideas we bring up in our mind to justify our own, true selfishness in the matter. I mean, if any animal is meant to be in the wild at ALL times, it’s a tiger, right?

So where do you draw the line? It’s tricky.

Richard Dawkins touches on a related thought in his book The Selfish Gene:

“Our genes may instruct us to be selfish, but we are not necessarily compelled to obey them all our lives. It may just be more difficult to learn altruism than it would be if we were genetically programmed to be altruistic.

Among animals, man is uniquely dominated by culture, by influences learned and handed down. Some would say that culture is so important that genes, whether selfish or not, are virtually irrelevant to the understanding of human nature.”

I think he is right; all creatures are selfish to some extent, including us. It is a part of our surviving instinct and a very human thing. It doesn’t mean that we can’t change it though. Our capacity to learn, discuss, and share ideas gives us the unique ability to overcome this inherent selfishness.

Adam and I spent some time discussing this very deep and intricate topic, as it applies to so many other things in life. In the end, everyone draws a line somewhere for every situation like it.

At some point, it’s ok to be selfish; life would be exhausting if we were 100% altruistic for every idea, movement, and living thing in existence. (Adam points out that maybe altruism is actually hidden selfishness since we still get pleasure… sigh, an even deeper conversation for another time).

I don’t believe that it’s right to judge those lines; they are for each of us to set on our own. I do think it’s ok to disagree and try to change other’s minds; especially if you deem their lines too far out on one extreme or the other.

Perhaps expanding our understanding and experiences will help us to draw the right lines and learn to take care of tigers, and everyone in the world.

What do you think?

Related posts:

Lombok, Indo
Even Monks Need a Break
Goodbye Thailand

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Comments To This Entry.
  1. Pam August 15, 2012 Reply

    If we take the analogy to the extreme, children would never be able to see animals in the zoo or fish at the aquarium. Just reading about wildlife is nothing compared to actually seeing the real thing. Well cared for and happy animals seems worth it for a connection to be made and passion inspired to help and protect wildlife and nature all over the planet.
    Pam recently posted..Insect Museum and Live Insect ZooMy Profile

    • Pamela August 15, 2012 Reply

      Hi Pam,
      For me crossing the line is going to a place or a zoo where animals are not well cared for or seem unhappy. It depresses me. On the other side, the Galapagos Islands are a great place to interact with them in their natural habitat. Animals even get close and are curious about humans, they don’t see us as us predators. Overall we have become more conscious about this matter and I see more places taking better care of animals and I hope we keep moving forward.

      Thanks you for adding to the conversation!

  2. dave August 15, 2012 Reply

    Did you consider that by seeing and enjoying the animals in the zoo, you get to experience something that you would not in nature? Perhaps by caging the wild animal you can appreciate it on a level that that otherwise would be impossible. Maybe the cage is the first step towards understanding better and creating a better live for both the tiger and you. if you never got to pet, cuddlee, snuggle with the tigers , would you even care that they are imprisoned for entertainment purposes? i like to think that until you have laid your hands and eyes on soemthing, it is very difficult to speculate as to what the right course of action is. so how many tigers are you planning to jail-break?

    • Pamela August 17, 2012 Reply

      Hahaha, yes, you are right, it certainly made me appreciate tigers even more. Last night after a few beers we went back and broke them all out, we only took one for a rug (jk!).

  3. Isaac diaz August 15, 2012 Reply

    I don’t see a reason to feel guilty. You are creating demand to keep tigers alive instead of dead ones. Buying a tiger coat… that would be selfish.

    And I agree with Adam, Many of our altruistic actions are driven by the need of feeling good or accepted by society.

    just a couple of thoughts….

    • Pamela August 17, 2012 Reply

      Thanks Isaac, it’s just hard to think of innocent animals being on display for our entertainment, but I guess it could be worse. I do not regret it though, it was awesome.

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