Stories

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?

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