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Dead or Alive

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Wanted: Meat. Preferably alive. That is, if you're a carnivore. But most carnivores in zoos find themselves being fed something more along the lines of a hamburger... or in zoo lingo "a meatsicle." And like in the movie "Supersize Me," the result of this diet is a bunch of overweight, lethargic, unhappy animals lying around in the zoo. So, a new wave of zoo reformers are suggesting that to make these caged carnivores happy, we should be feeding them whole carcasses, or better yet, whole live animals. We visit two zoos who are trying to recreate this gory element of wildness, and see how visitors feel about watching it. First up, NPR Science reporter Nell Boyce takes us carcass-tossin' at the Toledo Zoo. And then we follow reporter Jocelyn Ford onto a bus in China where hungry lions lick their chops at the squawking cargo. The question here is just how far will we go to be 'humane', and when does it get us right back to a point dangerously close to the Romans?

Comments [31]


You guys are cowards on this show. You talk to people torturing other animals in the most horrific of ways and have nothing to say. Whether it's in China or Princeton.

Oct. 04 2015 05:16 PM

The sad thing about the tigers in China is that stuff like this goes on every day. One login to HSUS International, World Animal Fund, or World Wildlife Fund will show that this kind baseless, unspeakable cruetlty is rampant. Hell, if you want to know where your food comes from, go to Mercy For Animals or the Humane Faming Association and see what happens for the sake of almighty bacon or cheese. For enterntainment. Amusement. The pleasure of the palate. We didn't eat from the Tree of Knowledge; we ate from the Tree of Madness.

Sep. 19 2015 10:34 PM
Marge from Seattle

I stopped in my "tracks" when I heard the tiger's yowl. I was sickened and like all the rest of these replies, it has haunted me. Years ago I made a protest to the Denmark government regarding that they have sessions where they give live animals to other animals to eat IN FRONT OF CHILDREN. This is in the zoos. The reply I got back was that this was something the children should learn. Astounding and so very sad. What can be done?

Sep. 19 2015 04:59 PM
Laura Beth Aaron from Bartlett,NH

Troubling that humans elevated ourselves to a status of 'top of the food chain" and in doing so, have entitled ourselves to take way too much of wild habitats for commerce and unbridled capitalism, leaving many species starving and considered nuisances.
Trophy hunting, poaching, killing animals is all part of that cycle of human prowess, some weird psychological need to be on top.

We betray ourselves as we do them, as our relationship with animals is one of dominion rather than co-existence. Hence, we betray our own spiritual connection with the natural world. That is why human society is replete with all the forms of violence it holds. Bless the beasts as they should never have become slaves to human domination. The first form of slavery, animal slavery, led to all others, especially in our minds.

Sep. 19 2015 01:23 PM
ck from Colorado

It's bizarre to me that the kids had no idea they ate cows! We eat fish, no other meat, and from the first bite my child understood it was fish, and yes - it used to swim.

Mar. 19 2014 10:44 PM
Alex from khsu

Interesting that when the children thought they DIDN'T eat cow, you guys just passed right over that idea. Really? Really, Radio Lab?

and youwant to be my THOUGHTful radio show...

Mar. 18 2014 10:55 PM

hearing the sad tigers in small cages completely broke my heart. I had to pullover my car and just cry. these people should be punished/imprisoned. these animals would be better off euthanized than allowed to suffer like this

Mar. 17 2014 12:49 AM
Chris Hendrickson from Kalamazoo

I immediately needed to see a tiger eating a chicken and found this interesting video on Youtube of people basically fishing tigers with chickens

Aug. 20 2013 10:51 AM
Karl Harmon from GA, USA

I absolutely loved the string piece at the end of this segment, what is it?

Aug. 19 2013 10:54 PM
Barry Johnson

Aug. 19 2013 10:59 AM

Please update us on the tiger... Too heart breaking to not hear what ultimately happened to them

Aug. 17 2013 03:48 PM
Dee from NJ

Aug 17, 2013

Heard cast today. I understand predators eat prey, live. What I do not like is that the people on the bus seemed to enjoy their power over whether the chicken live or dies teaching little kids that when they get bigger they will have all kinds of power over free animals. This reminds me of Warsaw when the predators were attacking their prey and the prey fought back. What was not proper was after that, the predators really enjoying themselves torturing the prey and starving and killing in a chamber for irrational reasons. Even the lowest of the animals do not do that.

Aug. 17 2013 01:18 PM
Amy Weldon from Decorah, IA

Very belatedly, following a rebroadcast of this episode in my area - thank you for this information, Jocelyn. I too was stricken by the cry of that tiger, and remain haunted by it. I'll follow up with these agencies and keep investigating ways to help. Thank you.
Amy Weldon

Sep. 17 2012 05:33 PM
steve delchamps from Batavia, Illinois

I was outraged to hear about those tigers in the cruelly tiny cages. What is the story there? Can we do anything about it? Is anything being done about it?

Sep. 10 2012 04:50 PM
James Wallace from Fresno, CA

I’m generally ambivalent about zoos. We have a wonderful zoo in Fresno, considered one of the best in California, which I do not visit enough. After hearing the yowls of the caged big cats in your program, I find myself, a 51 year old man, weeping in my kitchen.

Sep. 08 2012 03:58 PM
Valerie from NJ

Listening to the podcast. I went to a similar park in China and felt nearly nauseous by the time I left. Thank you for this piece.

What was the cello music at the end?

May. 08 2010 12:06 AM
Lori Szydlik from NH

This segment was re-aired today 12/16/09 and I too was heartbroken to hear the tiger yowls.

Thank you for alerting us of the two organizations that are trying to help these animals.

Thank you too for the story- it was hard to hear...but important and a reminder of the millions of animals throughout the globe that need US to do something to help them.

Dec. 16 2009 04:16 PM
Lori Szydlik from NH

This segment was re-aired today 12/16/09 and I too was heartbroken to hear the tiger yowls.

Thank you for alerting us of the two organizations that are trying to help these animals.

Thank you too for the story- it was hard to hear...but important and a reminder of the millions of animals throughout the globe that need US to do something to help them.

Dec. 16 2009 04:16 PM
Cara Steger from Urbana, IL

A caged tiger yowls
and sounds a lot like a man
begging for his life.

Mar. 06 2009 11:07 AM
jocelyn from Beijing

Hello Emily and others--

My apologies for a much delayed response.
Sadly, I don't have a simple solution. There were many tigers and lions who were in cages. As I left the "natural" wildlife park, I heard more cries coming from another building.

I think your concern, and desire to take action, is a good start toward a better tomorrow for these and other animals.

Here are websites for two organizations that are working toward promoting animal protection and humanitarian treatment of animals in China; the Jane Goodall Institute China, and Animals Asia Foundation

I am optimistic that as China grows wealthier, society will become more compassionate. The tragic May 12, 2008 earthquake has spurred greater concern for strangers among many, to the pleasant surprise of many Chinese friends of mine.

I hope you will remain interested in social developments in this large and fast-changing country, or better yet, become engaged with groups here that share your interests.

Thanks for your comments.


Jun. 14 2008 02:06 AM
Jennifer Hardy from Brooklyn, NY

I am haunted by the sounds of the tiger's cries at the end of Jocelyn's segment. It was chilling. I cry every time I think of it. I'm with Emily. How can we help him? (I hope there is only one!) Can we find out where that tiger is and buy it and free it? Jocelyn, please respond!

Feb. 17 2008 08:57 PM
Lee Jian Ming

Good god, those tigers made me sit back in my chair, completely dumbstruck by disgust and grief and all that sort of thing. Completely heartbreaking.

Feb. 04 2008 08:39 AM
Emily from New York, NY

The lion's cry was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever heard on the radio. How can we help them?

Jan. 18 2008 03:51 PM
Wolfgang Masarie from Austria

We are hosting five lovely cats here in our little paradise and I often witness them torturing the cute little mice to death. I have to accept the cruelty of nature but I'm nevertheless glad to be a vegetarian.

A great and enlightening program!

Sep. 03 2007 03:34 AM
Elliot Richmond from Austin, Texas

At the end of the "Dead or Alive" segment, Jocelyn Ford went into some other part of the facility (I missed exactly where) and saw some tigers in small cages. She recorded one. I recognized that cry. It was the sound of utter despair.

Aug. 18 2007 05:56 PM
Maggie Rufo from Novato, CA

This whole episode on zoos was fantastic - thank you.

The yowling of the tigers is heartbreaking and reinforces my feeling that China is hell on earth for animals. I firmly believe there will never be human rights for all the peoples of China until the people of China become compassionate towards animals. It will start with the animals and spread to all life. Cultural traditions are never an excuse for cruelty. I judge Chinese governments and society harshly because of the unnecessary torment to animals and the whole-scale environmental destruction and forced removal of people from their homes.

Jul. 02 2007 07:05 PM
Christopher Murray from Co. Wicklow, Ireland

I saw live mice being fed to captive snakes at a nature centre in Florida.

Jun. 19 2007 11:20 AM
Gerry from New Jersey

Great story! I always look forward to stuff by Jocelyn Ford.

Jun. 14 2007 04:21 PM
Clay from Maitland, FL

One of the best Radio Lab shows yet. These seasons are just too short.

Jun. 03 2007 01:25 AM
Gerald Wilson

What an amazing program. Now I'm questioning whether sleep is my favorite. Maybe Zoos is my new favorite. Can't decide. Radio Lab should run for president.

Jun. 01 2007 06:34 PM
Fanny from New Lane

I had to stop listening when the tigers started yowling. Too sad.

Jun. 01 2007 04:32 PM

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