Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is there really a Bengal tiger in Puyallup?

Breaking News: Bengal tiger spotted in Puyallup!  If you live in Washington you've probably heard this  exaggerated headline.  The problem is that no one actually even claims to have seen a tiger.  But yet we see headlines like these: Tiger on the loose in Washington StateTiger on the prowl between Tacoma, Puyallup; or  Tiger sighting reported in Pierce County.

As usual this appears to be a case of exaggerated news reporting.  It is of course possible that people did see a tiger, but from the facts being reported so far it sounds a little far fetched.  In fact there were only two reports of sightings and it appears that neither sightings claimed that it was a tiger just that they saw a "fairly large" cat.

One witness even stated: "it was a blond animal with black stripes, that's all I said."  Animal control then took this description and said it "sounded like" a tiger.  But if we look further at the description given by the witness we have some clues to what this really might have been.

The witness stated that he saw a large cat walking away from him in the tall grass that was blond with black stripes.  In Washington we do not have native Bengal Tigers, but we do have native cougars that are known to range widely.  Tiger's are orange in coloration whereas cougars tend to be tan, or blondish.  Imagine what a cougar would look like walking through tall grass on a sunny day... it would be a blondish big cat with black stripes from the shadows cast by the grass.  So what is more likely, that the man saw a non-native Bengal Tiger or that he saw a native cougar walking through tall grass dappled with shadows?  Remember that this man did not even claim to have seen a tiger, he claimed to have seen a large cat.  It was only animal control who added the tiger label.  I of course am making my judgments based off of minimal information only having seen a brief interview of the man.  Thus, perhaps there was more information that lead animal control to believe it could be a Bengal Tiger.

But from the man's statement: "that's all I said" it appears he may even have been surprised by the Tiger claim.  Additionally, we have to wonder who hasn't at least seen pictures or video of a tiger if not seen one at a local zoo.  Thus, I would assume the man who saw the cat knows what a tiger looks like and if he didn't think it was a tiger on his own I find it hardly plausible that animal control could identify it as a tiger based on his description.

This sounds like a case of exaggeration and misidentification.  It is of course possible that there is a Bengal Tiger on the loose, but judging from the statements being released by the news outlets it sounds much more likely that a cougar was simply wandering through the neighborhood.  Apparently sensationalism dictates that news outlets should should state, as fact, the most implausible explanation for an event and then make sure that the implausible explanation becomes the bold lettered title of the story.

No comments:

Post a Comment