By Hannah Berman


Recently, a seemingly normal young woman in Arizona decided to take a selfie with a jaguar. When the story first broke, my assumption was that the jaguar referenced was the car by that name. I never quite understood why, but some people like to take pictures with their car. My first thought was that this is a male thing, and not too many females do it. My next thought was that if taking a picture with one’s automobile is newsworthy, I might snap one of me with my Rogue and show it around town. If pictures such as these are worth something, possibly for purposes of advertising, it might be wise to give it a try. One never knows about these things.

At the time it did not occur to me that the jaguar in question, the one that this female wanted to pose with, was a real, live jaguar, one that skulked around on four legs. After I recovered from the shock of learning about this, I wondered why anyone with a functioning brain would be foolish enough to get into a cage with a dangerous animal.

But, in all fairness, I might not be the right one to pass judgment. It’s not that I don’t like animals; actually, I do. I find some of them to be very cute, just so long as there is a fence, or some type of sturdy barrier, between the animal and me. I think they’re particularly adorable when I see them on television. And I feel sincere compassion when I see mistreated dogs that are starved and left out in the cold. But for me, that’s as far as it goes, because I am fearful and have been since early childhood. I cross the street when I see an ordinary house cat in my path. Things get even more hairy when I see a dog, even one on a leash and accompanied by an adult. On such occasions, I have been known to run into traffic. The only animal that doesn’t frighten me is an aquatic one. I am proud to announce that I have no fear of goldfish! But I’m not here to talk about my fear of animals. Rather, I have a question.

Why in the world would a normal person voluntarily get into an enclosure with a jungle animal? The woman who did this is not a teenager or even a very young adult. Since this female is in her thirties, one might think she would have exercised a modicum of caution. Clearly, she did not. The fact that the jaguar in question is on display and is visited daily by countless people does not make it safe to get close to, much less to climb into a cage with. A jaguar has the strongest bite of any big cat relative to its size, and, pound for pound, a jaguar packs a stronger punch. The strength of its bite is due to the arrangement of its jaw muscles, which, relative to weight, are stronger than those of other cats.

For three days, I pondered this information as I continued to be amazed about the incident. It was on day four that I read another account and learned that, according to the woman, the story was inaccurate. She held a press conference during which she said that she never entered the jaguar’s enclosure. However, she did admit that what she did amounted to a foolish risk. She explained to the assembled reporters that she had climbed over a cement barrier in order to get close to the encaged animal. She then leaned up against a fence to take the picture.

Once again I questioned if I ever would have done such a thing. But I know full well that I would not have. Even discounting my fear of animals both domestic and wild, at this point in time, I couldn’t have climbed over a barrier even if I wanted to. Climbing is no longer my thing. I’m happy when I can successfully climb over my bathtub rim to get in and take a shower!

Knowing that she didn’t actually get inside the enclosure, but that she positioned herself right up against the fence, did not change my mind about her. It didn’t make me think she was any brighter than I had thought when I read the earlier account. When posing for a picture, it is often suggested the subject should say “cheese!” The coincidence can’t be ignored. “Cheese” is the optimum word here because if the jaguar had its way, the subject might well have been turned into cheese — that would be Swiss cheese.

This woman did make the news, but there is no picture or pose in the world that is worth what she did. That’s just the way it is.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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