African Sand Cat.
Flautist Ian Anderson says the Jethro Tull 1974 hit recording “Bungle in the Jungle” was meant as a metaphor for the dog eat dog world of modern life in the big business ‘jungle.’
Personally, you’d never see Anderson in the real jungle, which is surprising because he supports small wild cat field research. “Are you kidding? I like flushing toilets, and I don’t want to be plagued by mosquitoes or taken away by kidnappers. I’m strictly an arm chair conservationist,” he says by telephone from his home in rural Southwest England.
Anderson, who is 59, has been performing as a musician for 44 years and is known to rap about whatever pops into his head in concert. Tull continues to tour, but in somewhat more intimate venues than the large stadiums they once filled. They’ve appeared live in 40 countries, and have recorded 30 albums selling over 60 million copies. In 2003, Anderson released his fourth solo album, “Rupi’s Dance.”
Anderson loves talking music and about the biz, but if there’s one topic he likes talking about nearly as much, it’s small wild cats. He’s unabashedly passionate about the 26 species of mostly unknown wild felines, including the Margay, Ocelot, Geoffroy’s Cat, Pallas’ Cat, the exceedingly rare Bornean Bay Cat and the African Sand Cat (which may be the progenitor of the domestic cat). He helps to support research and conservation efforts for these cats, most of them endangered species.
“I just received an email from (field researcher) Dr. Jim Sanderson,” says Anderson. “He was the first to photograph the Andean Mountain Cat (photos on Anderson’s portion of the Jethrow Tull Website. It’s a favorite because this cat is such a mystery, living above 12,000 feet. This hardy and adaptable animal is probably threatened on many fronts.” Many small wild cats are being hunted for fur and/or food or sold illegally for the pet trade (decidedly not a good idea since they’re wild animals and make poor pets). In many areas their environments have been taken over by farms or destroyed for development.
But why wild cats as a cause celeb? He explains, “I’ve loved cats since I was a small boy (in Scotland), and since being married (for 29 years) to Shona and living in the country we’ve raised many litters of abandoned feral kittens. We’ve managed to hand tame them, and get them good homes. The extension to wild cats was an easy one. Besides, so many are out there doing ‘the human thing.’ Elton (John) gives huge amounts to AIDS, and Bob Geldoff and Bono are concerned about Africa and Third World debt. I don’t know anyone else in my profession helping small wild cats. When it comes to the little guys, if I don’t, who will?”
Anderson adds that he appreciates the good zoos do for conservation, but he’s quick to admonish. “I can never forgive the Cincinnati Zoo for helping supply a white tiger to Siegfried and Roy. It’s commercialism and exploitation. Then Roy had the misfortune of having one his little darlings try to bite his head off. What happened to Roy was unfortunate, but wasn’t it inevitable?”
He offers a similar explanation for death of Steve (‘The Crocodile Hunter’) Irwin. “I am sorry for his family, and I’m not jubilant about what happened. But then he poked and prodded animals,” he says.
Legitimately, one can’t argue Irwin’s passion and commitment to conservation, donating tons of money, time and expertise to saving wildlife and the places where they live. “True,” says Anderson. “But it’s like you saying I’m a good guy even though I’ve shagged my neighbor’s wife twice, because I’ve also helped a little old lady to cross the road. If you spend your life provoking reactions, ending your life by doing the same thing seems inevitable.”
Anderson walks a bit on the wild side with his own pet cats. He has Bengal cats, originally developed from wild Asian Leopard Cats (another kind of small wild cat) crossed with domestic cats. Today, the spotted Bengal’s are totally domestic, but they retain the look of a small wild cat. He says, “Cats are what a part of us all yearn to be ” free. Free to think and to do as we please.”
Learn more about Anderson’s wild cat efforts at www.jethrotull.com.