Tiger Petting, Not That Dangerous

I was not designed to be forced.

—Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

I’m going to run for president, and I’ve found my platform. (Note that this post follows in the very very long tradition of guy complaining on a blog.)

New York bureaucrats (I prefer the more technical term, “human trash”) have passed a bill banning “hugging, patting, or otherwise touching tigers at fairs or circuses.” Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who proposed the bill, explained that her goal was to increase safety.

Oh, and it’s going to kill off all of these great pictures:


…which one intrepid Tumblrizen has been collecting from the dating app Tinder. This, too, I understand was, if not an explicit goal of the legislature, an unexpected “benefit.” Of course, infringing on the tiger-patting liberties of the populace is a very dubious sort of benefit, but this doesn’t prevent our popularly elected nannies from relishing it all the same: The Washington Post reports that one of the assemblywoman’s staffers joked, “I feel bad now. We’re killing bros’ dreams and chances of being laid!”

Before I tear into this one, note that 1) everyone who voted for this bill should be, if not hanged, barred from public office forevermore and 2) the governor has not yet signed it into law.

Wherein we calculate tiger petting risks

The internet’s reaction has been to repeatedly make the same lame joke: “…you’ve eliminated yet another way for Mother Nature to eliminate dumbasses from the planet.”

But I would like to paint you a different picture, one where people learn to distinguish minuscule from real risks and to avoid scope insensitivity. Guys who manage to set themselves apart in a hypercompetitve dating market by posing with tigers are not bros or dumbasses, but creative geniuses. Or, at least, sorta clever.

Especially when they are in what is, to a first approximation, zero danger.

There are somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 tigers in the United States right now, a small subset of which are public zoo tigers. Many more are private property, owned by circuses, fairs, eccentric people, or small guy-with-a-backyard-full-of-cages level private zoos.

To make this as convincing as possible, we’ll assume the lower bound: there are a mere 5,000 tigers within the United States.

Now, how often does someone pet, pose with, or otherwise touch one of these beasts? Well, it’s hard to say for certain, but we can say something about it. It’s got to be higher than zero, ever — we have the photos after all. On the other hand, the average tiger is probably not being touched 1000 times per day, so that’s an upper bound.

As a conservative estimate, it seems reasonable (at least to me) that the average tiger might “hugged, patted, or otherwise touched” once a month. Sure, there are some unfriendly ones that no one touches, and others on the circus circuit who are very friendly, but the average tiger, at least once a month someone pats him on the head or whatever.

Round that down to 10, and we receive a lower bound of 50,000 tiger petting incidents in the United States per year.

Now, how often is someone killed in the United States by a tiger? Over the last 23 years, there have been a total of 15 tiger-related fatalities, if we generously count ligers as tigers — .7 tiger fatalities per year.

I’ll also note that during the last 23 years, there have been zero tiger-related fatalities in New York. In fact, I can only find 1 New York tiger fatality on record, and that was a 1985 death of a zookeeper, something this new law would not have prevented. It’s unclear what tiger attack epidemic, exactly, this new law is supposed to be preventing.

Indeed, only one person has ever been killed as a direct result of posing with a tiger, at least in the last 23 years — a 17 year old volunteer in Kansas.

So, if you believe that there are at least 50,000 tiger petting incidents in the United States per year, then, your risk of dying from petting a tiger is about 1 in 70,000. And remember this is a lower bound. (Although note that your chances of being somehow harmed by a tiger are higher, probably by about a factor of 5 to 10, but fatality rates are easier to compare.)

In which I compare tiger risks to other risks

But 1 in 70,000 is just a number. What is about as risky as tiger-related death as a result of petting?

The odds of dying from touching a tiger are about the same as:

Petting a tiger is less risky than:

So go forth, pet tigers, hold snakes, skydive. Don’t smoke or deal any crack — there’s a lot to live for: I know I for one am looking forward to Rage Against the Machine’s next single, “Fuck you, I’m petting that tiger.”

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