Friday, July 06, 2007

Urban legend watch: tiger raising piglets

We recently got an email from a friend about a tiger in an unnamed zoo in an unspecified location in California being consoled after the loss of her cubs by being given piglets to raise, the piglets being "wrapped in tiger skin" to fool the supposedly depressed mother tiger into thinking they were her own offspring.

That sort of story screams hoax. Not that ranchers haven't been known to get a cow that has lost her own calf to accept an orphan calf by putting the skin of the dead calf on the orphan. Same with horses. Not that I think I would or could do it, mind you, (major blech) but I know it was recommended in how-to-raise-livestock books that I read when I was young and my brothers had Herefords (more here) and I had a horse. I'd rather bottle feed, thanks. Any day. Absolutely. And, no, I don't know if skin-suiting is still recommended, or how well it generally works or doesn't work. I just know we were told we might have to do that someday, so we'd better be prepared. (Perhaps it was just a way of trying to weed out sissies, or folks not really prepared to deal with animals that insist on being animals instead of fairy tale creatures?)

Oh, wait, let me google... Here you go, Maternal Behaviour of Beef Cows, by Joseph M. Stookey, seems to have about as much or more than I really want to know about mothering, mis-mothering, and fostering with beef cows. It appears to be a good overview, anyway. And it notes that grafting a skin onto the calf you want the cow to adopt can result in a successful bond - but often isn't necessary. Oh, good. Glad to hear it. Skinning baby anythings just strikes me as something to be avoided if possible, you know?

But, back to the story at hand, these "tiger skins" didn't look like tiger skins, and why in the world just say 'a zoo in California'? It just didn't scan.

So, here's what Snopes has to say about it, and here's what has to say about it. The write-ups are similar, and agree that the pictures come from a zoo/circus in Thailand, which does this sort of thing as part of its exhibits. The zoo is also proud of its ladies who wrestle crocodiles, btw, for all you who admire that sort of craziness. (Not my thing. By a long shot. But since I spent part of my youth planning on putting on shows with killer whales at Sea World or something like that when I grew up, I'm not sure I have a whole lot of room for fussing. Do I? I like to think that swimming with intelligent and sociable killer whales is somehow saner than wrestling massive-jaws-with-man-eating-incredibly-brainless-reptiles-attached, but... honestly, I'm not sure if that's a difference in degree or in kind. Although, to be sure, I do think it's possible to be ladylike while putting killer whales through their paces. Wrestling crocs, I don't think so.)

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