I recently read a headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune featuring an unfortunate wolf at the Minnesota Zoo.
The story went that this 8-year-old male Mexican gray wolf—an endangered species—escaped from his1 enclosure through a gap in the fencing of the keeper’s area. He proceeded halfway around the grounds before being tracked to the Northern Trail area and shot.
Tranquilizers would not have acted soon enough, Minnesota Zoo officials said, forcing them to destroy the 8-year-old male.
I beg to differ. There was nothing forcing these people to shoot an innocent animal—an intelligent being. Wolves belong to the canine family, and do we not use dogs every day to help track criminals, find explosives, and guide the blind (to name a few)?
We do. Canines are intelligent beings. The fact that they are used in so many different parts of human society prove that. They wouldn’t be useful in their jobs without intelligence.
So what “forced” the zoo officials to have the wolf shot? Tranquilizers would have taken 8–10 minutes to take effect, and that delay was deemed too long.
Never mind that the wolf hadn’t approached anyone.
Ignore the fact that he was probably a very freaked-out wolf, more concerned with getting away from people than with attacking them.
In fact, the paper ran a follow-up story the very next day. They quote a wolf researcher:
“That animal wouldn’t have been dangerous, period,” countered David Mech, a wolf researcher and vice chairman of the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn.
Sure, anyone would get a little pissed after being stuck with a tranquilizer dart. But tranquilizers and guns weren’t the only choices. Could not keepers go out with nets to catch the wolf? They already evacuated visitors, so there was no immediate danger to anyone who might sue the zoo.
Why didn’t the animal “experts” come up with a better solution than a gun? Doesn’t the Minnesota Zoo—a considerably large zoological institution—maintain contingency plans for escaped animals? Don’t they have equipment for containing said escapees?
I am reminded, in a somewhat macabre firing of synapses, of the “death by misadventure” scenarios of many role-playing games. Choose to enter the wrong cavern, and die; or pick up the wrong item, and die. Go through the wrong hole, and die.
If the story had included any mention of the wolf going after visitors, my views might be different (but then, there are many non-lethal ways of neutralizing a threatening animal). But it didn’t. Nobody reported being threatened by the wolf. He was just exploring.
That’s all he did: He chose to explore the wrong hole.
Zoo officials got scared, panicked, and had an intelligent being killed.
Nobody forced them to do it. Their own fears of potential litigation pushed them into the easy solution.
Killing is never the only option. There is always a choice.
- I will use personal pronouns. Referring to the wolf in question as “it” would put me uncomfortably close to the level of consideration displayed by Zoo officials. [↩]