Dave Barry

Miami's getting to be real jungle

BY DAVE BARRY

As you are no doubt aware, a Bengal tiger got loose on Jungle Island over the weekend. Tragically, the tiger did not eat a single member of the cast of Jersey Shore. It did, however, cause panic among the tourists, who were no doubt hoping to experience a more traditional type of animal attraction, the type where you, the visitor, are on one side of the fence, and the 500-pound carnivore with teeth like steak knives is on the other side of the fence.

That is the usual arrangement at Jungle Island, which to its credit has a strict policy of not letting tigers mingle with guests. But this particular tiger, whose name is Mahesh (pronounced "Mahesh") managed to get over a 14-foot fence. For the record, this is illegal: The Miami Herald quoted a Florida wildlife official as saying that "escaped captive wildlife . . . is a violation of the law." But apparently nobody had explained this to Mahesh, who started prowling around the tourist sector of Jungle Island.

The good news is, Mahesh did not harm any humans. The Herald quoted a Jungle Island official as saying: "It didn't charge a single person. There was no interest in the people, maybe a passing interest."

Now, one could argue that having a 500-pound tiger display even a "passing interest" in one could cause one to soil one's undergarments. But one would be quibbling. The point is that Mahesh apparently was not interested in the people; what he was interested in, according to the Jungle Island official, was an ape named Watson, a white-handed gibbon who had escaped earlier from his cage. Yes! Yet another Jungle Island animal flagrantly disregarding Florida law! They need to enroll those animals in some kind of refresher course.

Anyway, Watson the gibbon went into the tiger enclosure, where, according to a visitor quoted by The Herald, Mahesh bit him "on the butt." Watson then exited the tiger enclosure, followed by Mahesh, followed by an exciting and unforgettable experience for the tourists, followed by refunds. Both Mahesh and Watson were eventually taken back into custody; there is no word at this time on whether they will retain legal counsel and sue each other, but this is Miami, so you do the math.

This is the city's second major Alarming Wildlife Encounter (AWE) in a little over a year. You may recall that last July, two men decided to use the downtown Metromover -- I am not making this up -- to transport a six-foot nurse shark that was still alive. Fortunately the shark didn't attack anybody, but God only knows what might have happened if there had been escaped gibbons in the area.

But these are isolated incidents. There is no reason for Miami residents or visitors to take any special precautions, other than to remain in a state of extreme nervousness at all times. I also want to stress that you have no reason to worry about visiting Jungle Island -- Mahesh is in Time Out -- so it's once again a safe and fun place to visit. While you're out that way, you should also check out the Miami Seaquarium, another fine attraction. Although you might want to wait until later in the week, because we just got word that Lolita the killer whale is loose in the parking lot.

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