The Christmas Day tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo that killed a 17-year-old boy and severely injured two men has ignited a national debate about whether wild animals should be held in captivity.
When a 350-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana killed Carlos Sousa, it wasn't the first time that the animal had attacked someone. On Dec. 22, 2006, the animal attacked a zoo keeper, who survived.
Police are investigating whether the three victims provoked the tiger to scale a 20-foot wall and jump over a moat.
"If you go across a barrier at a NASCAR race and go on to the track, you get hurt," said Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, on "Good Morning America" today.
But Adam Roberts, senior vice president of the animal protection advocacy group Born Free USA, said caging animals can create problems for both humans and the animals.
"It's not good for the animals," Roberts said on "GMA" today. "It's not good for humans either. First, the animals are put in unnatural settings. They're taken out of their biological comfort zone and the way they actually live in the wild and forced into these artificial enclosures on concrete, behind bars."
Roberts argued that having animals in unnatural environments provides no educational value.
"You're not getting the right education about what animals are like in the wild. That's why we believe that you should keep wildlife in the wild. That's best for animals and it's best for the people," Robert said.
"We're not getting an educational benefit from zoo-going or from circus-going, and more importantly, as you unfortunately have seen recently, there is the potential for attack," he added.
But Hanna vigorously disagreed, saying millions of dollars had been spent to ensure the health of animals and education of people.
"I take great offense to anyone saying there's no education done there," Hanna said. "Most of these animals live better than people in the world. You have to have the love for animals in order to save animals, and that's what we teach. … We're doing the best we can to provide habitat for these animals."
For zoos that are lacking suitable animal habitats and settings, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and others are working to close them down, Hanna said.
But those actions haven't appeased objectors.
"It's not enough to say we're pouring money into education or conservation without quantifying exactly what that means," Roberts said. "It's very easy to say we're doing it, but we have to see the results. AZA's [Association of Zoos and Aquariums] own research has suggested that we don't know whether the results on educational values of zoos are conclusive or not."