So we’ve seen how humans have a taste for keeping even the most exotic wild animals as pets. The Julius Ceasar administration of Ancient Rome kept lions, hyenas, cheetahs and wolves to entertain the crowds of the Coliseum by fighting gladiators for entertainment. Arab sheiks kept cheetahs as pets because the represented a high status for the owner. Nowadays, Mike Tyson is well known for possessing tigers. Twilight’s Kirsten Stewart, somewhat unsurprisingly, owns a wolf hybrid named Jack. Even Justin Bieber is in on the wild ownership – he has a pet monkey called Mally.
Kirsten Stewart owns a wolf dog.
But what makes people believe that an unusual animal would act as a cool sidekick for their image?
The most obvious reason seems to be the animal draws attention to its owner. In fact Mike Tyson’s public image, controversial as it may be, is significantly complemented by his association with tigers. The “Baddest Man on Earth” takes delight in relating himself to the fierceness, toughness, agility and regal nature of these big cats. In his cameo in the first Hangover movie he owns a pet tiger and in real life he has a tiger-like mural tattooed onto his face.
Mike Tyson with his white tiger cub.
On a game farm I grew up on, an orphaned cheetah was adopted and allowed to roam around the gardens inside the lodge compound. Which was all fine and well until it unexpectedly attacked a 3-year-old toddler . Sadly, but almost inevitably, the cheetah was shot to prevent any further such mishaps. While the logic of the lodges actions can hardly be called into question, I was left wondering why the lodge even kept the animal.
“It was unusual, the guests enjoyed it, they thought it was authentic Africa,” I was told.
Another prevalent theme is that wild animals are religious or status symbols. In India and other East Asian nations, elephants are enshrined in religious scriptures, such as the Hindu god Ganesh, and are highly regarded as working animals. In China, rare birds are kept by the rich and admired for their beauty. On every American government seal and dollar, the Bald Eagle can be found.
Perhaps wild animals are seen as things that people aspire to emulate – or at least emulate certain characteristics. In a romantic sense, most humans would like their bravery to be compared to that of a lion; their stealth to that of leopard; the strength to that of a bull. Almost every nation has a national animal and often their national sports teams honour wild animals: South Africa’s Springboks, the Three Lions of England or the Australian Wallabies.
Great rivals at rugby as well as in the savannah – equally adored by fans: The South African Springboks and the Three Lions of England
In all cases it seems that humans have taken ownership of the wild animal. If not in a physical sense then maybe psychologically. Then it seems almost logical the jump from owning the animal in name is hardly a hop at all. Hopefully peoples’ eagerness to take on the names of animals they treasure will translate into a greater willingness to preserve and protect the physical beings themselves – not just by remembering them on a shirt of a national sports team. Just ask Didier Drogba, captain of Les Elephants of the Cote d’Ivoire!