What Then Shall We Do?

Huang Fellow Amy Yoon Reflects on Her Experience at the Carolina Tiger Rescue

The July sun bore down on our backs, and with a few words of caution from our guide as to the poison ivy and fire ant hills, we began our tour on the gravel path. Stepping in my flip-flops, I came up behind the group to a metal chain link fence surrounding the first enclosure. We immediately identified the three figures in the foreground—the distinctive orange and black stripes, the lines across the forehead, the sharp canines. One of the tigers paced back and forth with a limp leg, eyeing us. The other two lay in the grass and then in the bath.

Our guide told us the names of the three tigers, and explained that in captivity their lifespans had far exceeded that in the wild. In the rescue center, they were provided for with raw food and shelter as well as daily enrichment activities. She stated that the illegal wildlife trade is the third largest illegal commerce in the world, valued in the tens of billions. For tigers specifically, there are more in captivity in the U.S. than in the wild all together. All of their animals had been rescued from roadside and private zoos being kept as pets and for entertainment and profit. Many of them had been deprived of proper nutrition and care in those places, and subject to inhumane practices, such as declawing and filing of teeth.

I’ve been to many zoos before, including a wildlife park in Shanghai where I grew up—they are all experiences I look back on with the fondness of childhood memories, but I’ve been thinking more about their ethical nature. In some ways, the rescue center resembled a zoo in appearance. It was hard not to see that the animals were still in cages. They were living in contained spaces and not experiencing the stimulation a wild animal does on a constant basis. This is the consequence of extracting them from the wild and into the illegal wildlife trade—they cannot be returned to their past lives, they are restrained the best second life. It was exceedingly clear then that the center was intended to provide “forever homes” for the rescued animals to live in more than anything else.

However, tigers, lions, and other wild cats are charismatic megafauna—they are species that appeal to people because of a confluence of factors, from the way they are characterized in popular culture and media to their overall relatability to people. Billions of other animals live in cages and are slaughtered every year in the U.S. as a product of industrial agriculture. As consumers, we have become detached from this kind of suffering and death, both cognitively, emotionally, and physically. We are emotionally attached to the stories of suffering and death of tigers and lions, but that of chickens and cows are normalized and suppressed from the collective consciousness to continue to consume meat.

At this time in the U.S., most egregious of all, there are migrant children detained in cages at the border, with lack of access to healthcare and sanitation as well as food. Given the limited money that I have, I don’t think I would donate to a wild cat rescue center, even though they do important work, when the conditions at the border are as appalling as they are. This made me think back to a conversation I had with my roommate this summer about the way people engage with different issues. We need people who demand justice for the people migrating across the border, for their humanity to be seen and regarded for what it is. But we also need people who are proponents of animal rights and against the suffering experienced by wildlife in inhumane conditions. We need all of this work to be done by people, and the work that we cannot do ourselves, we can support with our time by educating ourselves, by sharing with others the truth that we know, and by being the allies we are needed as.

Jeremy Betham believed that one should have rights not based on the ability to rationalize, but based on the ability to suffer. The one who can suffer should have the right to not suffer. I think that all of this work is important—from the wild cat rescue center to industrial farm animal rights to human rights in immigration—as they all contribute to the framework of how we understand rights and the right to not suffer. In an ideal world, they would not be mutually exclusive, and we would be able to do each one equally. But when we have limited time and resources, we have to think critically about how we are affected by our own dominant paradigms of thoughts of what is best for ourselves as individuals and what we suppressing from our collective consciousness. Then we must be pragmatic about the issues that demand our immediate action and demand us to engage as people on the forefront and, at the least, as allies.

Amy Yoon, Huang Fellow ’22

Amy YoonAmy is from Orange County, California, and plans to double major in Environmental Science & Policy and English.