Sunday, February 27, 2005

HUNTING THE SIMI VALLEY TIGER
By now, we've all heard and seen what happened to the unfortunate tiger of Moorpark. The big cat escaped from a private exotic animal breeder and spent a few days roaming the hills of Simi looking for a meal, a place to live or maybe just wondering what terrible thing he'd done in a previous life to end up in an overgrown suburb of LA.

If you've been watching the news or reading the papers, you know that animal control agents shot and killed the cat. The public reaction was typical. There were candlelight vigils, calls for investigations, piquant renditions of the The Lion Sleeps Tonight sung by heartbroken grammar schoolers and all manner of simpering sorrow over the shooting.

Animal lovers wanted to know why animal control couldn't tranquilize the tiger. Or throw a net over it. Or lure it into a cage. We wondered too.

Thanks to a connection at the Ventura County Sheriff's office we got to information that for some reason never made it into print in your local faux newspaper.

To begin with, the animal was not walking through wilderness. It was never more than a few hundred yards from schools, homes and stores. They found paw prints right at the edge of a basketball court and parking lots. Something had to be done quick.

From the point of view of liability, if the cat had hurt or killed someone, every public entity even tangentially responsible for capturing the cat would be looking at a major lawsuit. Every lawyer looking for a big payday would be handing out business cards like Free Pipe Bomb Day at a Gaza Soccer game.

The plan to trank the cat involved a helicopter and several ground units. Each ground unit was composed of three individuals -- a game control agent armed with a trank gun and two armed escorts armed with either a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with slug shot, an AR-15 with the standard .223 cal round or an M1-A1 loaded with 7.62 cal (aka .308 cal).

The chopper would spot the cat and direct the ground units to the location. Once the foot units were close enough they'd try the trank gun. The Game people had some reservations, however. Prior experience has shown them that there was only a 6 in 10 chance of hitting a moving animal with the dart. On top of that, the dart hit has to be in a muscle. A gut shot or lung shot would do absolutely nothing to put the tiger to sleep.

They also knew that even a perfect muscle shot wouldn't bring the tiger down for twenty minutes.

When the tiger was eventually spotted from the air, three ground units were directed to converge on its location. Thanks to the heavy brush, the ground units couldn't see the tiger as they advanced. As they and the tiger moved through the brush, the chopper pilot also lost sight of the cat.

The chopper swooped low hoping to flush the animal. The animal flushed, alright, but it popped up BEHIND one of the ground units and it was moving in their direction. The cat was stalking the stalkers.

The chopper pilot told the ground unit to turn around. When they did, the cat was exactly 32 yards away. They measured it off afterwards. Tigers can charge at 35 to 40 mph. They can cover 32 yards in seconds. Not a whole lot of time to concoct a new plan or redeploy the foot units. They took the decision to end the potential danger right there. The first shot was fired from the M1-A1. They finished the animal with two 12 gauge slugs from the shotgun.

Now you know what happened.

Why the big media doesn't give you the details if baffling. They're real quick to stick a microphone in front a grieving 12-year-old holding a stuffed tiger toy. And they can find a dozen animal "experts" who weren't within cell phone range of the event to tell you how "they" would have done it. But for some reason, they never seem to get to the guys on the ground who make the decision and ask them who, what, where, how and why. Maybe it's too much work. Maybe they've already go their minds made up. Maybe they just don't care. Maybe it's because facts are boring but a crying kid is "news."

Whatever the reason, you're only getting what they want you to get. So remember to exercise caution whenever you're watching or reading the news.

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