Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tigers & Piglets: An Urban Legend Explained

One of my students sent me an e-mail over the break with photos of a tigress nursing piglets in little tiger costumes. According to the e-mail, forwarded under the title "A lesson in world peace among divergent cultures (and religions)," this scene took place at a zoo in California. Before the images and the "story," it reads: "Once more my faith in animals grows stronger. We could learn so much from them. Imagine!" After the photos, this version of the e-mail ends with "Now, please tell me one more time... Why can't the rest of the world get along?"

I told my student that I'd seen these before and wanted to check out the story. Thankfully, Snopes.com came to the rescue yet again, letting me know that these were real photos, but with an inaccurate description. You can read the full story here, but in brief, I received an even more recent e-mail than the one Snopes addressed; they discuss one that made the rounds in which the tigress was supposedly given these piglets as a treatment for depression after losing her own cubs. As it turns out, these images come from the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Thailand, where this is apparently a common form of visual entertainment for zoo patrons.

There have been a lot of problems at, and concerns about this zoo: the Animal Welfare Institute has noted that this zoo has been investigated for illegally breeding and selling its tigers for use in Chinese medicines and that somewhere around 80 to 100 tigers died at the zoo due to an outbreak of avian influenza. I guess this type of creation of a story and a heavily-forwarded e-mail around an image isn't all that surprising--just look at how much has been made out of Barack Obama's decision to be a good guest on a visit to Kenya.

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