May 29, 2020


Connecting People

Sorry, ‘Tiger King,’ but Big Cats Don’t Make Good Pets

Would you have a pet that could eliminate you with the swipe of a paw? A ton of individuals do.

Stories suggest there are more captive tigers in the U.S. — like as animals and at rinky-dink animal points of interest — than are left in the wild. Many are options at roadside zoos, this sort of as the one particular depicted in the strike Netflix series Tiger King.

Filmed more than the training course of 5 several years, the documentary series usually takes viewers into the earth of Joe Unique — alias of Joseph Maldonado-Passage — a self-declared redneck and aspiring place singer who owned a cub-petting, tiger-breeding zoo in Oklahoma.

At the heart of the series is Exotic’s ongoing feud with animal legal rights advocate Carole Baskin. Very last year, Unique was convicted of numerous wildlife violations and for hiring someone to murder Baskin. Weighty on the soap opera melodramatics, the series mostly glosses more than the conservation problems tigers deal with.

Whilst owning a pet tiger could seem thrilling, specialists alert that caring for these heavyweight apex predators is considerably far more challenging, and harmful, than is portrayed in media. For decades, wildlife conservationists and activists have worked to curtail private big cat ownership in the U.S. — a phenomenon they say is at odds with conservation attempts, and eventually only adds to the captive tiger surplus in America.

(Credit: Valentsova/

Pitfalls of Personal Tiger Possession

It is believed there are as numerous as ten,000 captive tigers in the U.S. — a number considerably better than the roughly 4,000 considered to continue being in the wild. The bulk of tigers in America — all around ninety five % — are not living in skilled zoos that are users of the Affiliation of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an accreditation firm that demands services to adhere to animal card specifications.

Instead, most are in private palms that could, or could not be, topic to regulation. In numerous sites, entrepreneurs can lawfully hold harmful unique animals on their attributes without reporting them to area officers or neighbors.

Prior to Tiger King, the public got glimpses of the unusual actuality of big cat and unique animal collecting from news headlines. For instance, reporters in Houston past year wrote about a handful of individuals who went into an abandoned dwelling to smoke cannabis — and arrived throughout a caged tiger.

Catastrophic incidents are inclined to illustrate the inherent protection chance that private ownership can pose to the animals and the public. In 2011, an Ohio gentleman established no cost dozens of unique animals that he’d retained on his farm before committing suicide. Between the animals inevitably killed by sheriff’s deputies had been 18 tigers, seventeen lions, 8 bears, a few mountain lions, two wolves and one particular baboon. In the aftermath, Ohio went from acquiring some of the loosest laws on private unique animal ownership to acquiring some of the toughest.

In Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Nevada, there are no permits required to have unique animals. Other states have allow requirements, though 28 have banned ownership of harmful animals (like big cats or bears). There are no federal laws prohibiting or regulating private possession of unique animals. 

In accordance to the Humane Culture of the United States, captive big cat attacks are far more probably to happen at unaccredited services. Accreditation by the AZA involves analysis of a facility’s security, protection protocols and instruction.

Tim Wild, the curator of substantial mammals at Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County Zoo, claims he’s noticed tigers and lions in private palms and would not rely on the containments they use.

Enclosures at unaccredited services could not be in a position to endure a tiger’s toughness, claims Bill Zeigler, in an email to Learn. “Many moments, private entrepreneurs do not build enclosures that have the proper protection options required, this sort of as double limitations, so if an animal escapes its enclosure there is a 2nd barrier to avert it from escaping the property,” claims Zeigler, senior vice president of animal courses for the Chicago Zoological Culture, which manages the Brookfield Zoo just west of Chicago.

Potentially unsurprisingly, human error — this sort of as not correctly shutting or locking a door, Zeigler claims — has been the most regular lead to of animal escapes. And, for the record, zookeepers only interact with animals with a protective barrier in location they would hardly ever pet, hug or choose a selfie with a tiger.   

“Tigers are really sturdy, and once they get a keep of you, both with their claws or teeth, receiving no cost can be really difficult — and, in most conditions, not without trauma,” claims Zeigler. “Depending on the form of barrier, we hardly ever location a hand, deal with or other overall body component in the vicinity of the barrier.” 

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Unknown individuals stroking a tiger at Tiger Kingdom in Thailand. (Credit: saiko3p/

Zeigler and Wild say that some tigers seem to be to kind bonds with zookeepers, particularly if that individual assisted raise them from a cub. But it doesn’t choose a great deal for a tiger’s predatory instincts to arrive out.

“My personal practical experience with tigers? I would not mess with them, even the welcoming types,” Wild claims. “I’ve noticed tigers when they are upset, when you are hoping to do some thing with them from a veterinary standpoint … they just develop into even even bigger-wanting.”

Is Captivity Considered Conservation?

With shrinking figures in the wild due to poaching and habitat decline, tigers are regarded as an endangered species by the Environment Wildlife Fund and other organizations.

Personal big cat breeders contend they are serving to conserve tiger populations in circumstance they go extinct in the wild. In actuality, no captive tiger has at any time been released into the wild — and probably hardly ever will.

Tigers born in captivity however have the intuition to eliminate, but they aren’t equipped to fend for by themselves. Wild tiger moms invest a year teaching their cubs how to hunt, some thing that would be unattainable to mimic in captivity. Huge cats in captivity also really do not discover to panic or stay clear of people. If these animals had been established no cost, they could be captivated to individuals, which could establish lethal.

“Even with nominal conversation amongst keepers and tigers, there is some imprinting, some comfort amount all around people, and you just really do not want to permit a tiger go with that amount of familiarity,” Wild claims.

Yet another challenge with private tiger breeders is that they frequently make hybrid tigers — or subspecies crosses — that are of minor genetic worth in conservation attempts.

Actually conserving these big cats means preserving the 6 unique subspecies of tiger that exist in the wild. Accredited zoos adhere to the species survival approach, which is a breeding application that pays shut attention to the genetic makeup of the different subspecies. This do the job supports tigers in the wild by serving as a genetic reservoir, claims Zeigler.

“A ton of tigers in private palms, we really do not truly know what they are,” Wild claims. “The record holding isn’t there, there is not a ton of genetic tests, and there are not a ton of family tree documents out there.”

The hybrid tigers also could deficiency the features needed to thrive throughout a extensive selection of habitats. The genetic makeup and evolutionary background of every single subspecies is exceptional, which offers tigers qualities and features that support them adapt to their purely natural environments.

In other terms, not all tigers are the very same — a Sumatran tiger is genetically distinct from a Siberian tiger. So you just cannot just drop off a random blend of tiger in the wild and assume it will endure.

What Huge Cats in Captivity Need

Professionally caring for a tiger is not an straightforward job. For starters, tigers are obligate carnivores with big appetites. The ordinary tiger in captivity eats 13 to fifteen lbs of meat a day, but they can effortlessly consume a few to 4 moments that quantity.  

“Feeding substantial cats just cannot just be about providing simple meat or things like hen
— which, by by themselves, without proper micronutrients, can lead to things like rickets and other metabolic illnesses,” claims Zeigler.

Tigers also require possibilities to work out, specific their purely natural behaviors and interact with their surroundings. Accredited zoos have enrichment courses intended to bodily and mentally stimulate tigers in captivity and insert some unpredictability to their days.  

“[Examples of] these things [may possibly involve] placement of meals puzzles, where they have to actively search for meals, different scents like perfumes or musks to look at out, like they would when marking their have territory, objects they can manipulate like trees to claw, balls of distinct shapes and measurements to interact with,” Zeigler claims. 

Wild details out that just simply because a facility is unaccredited, that doesn’t signify that it’s a undesirable zoo, or that it’s not concentrating on animal enrichment — there is just no way to validate it. 

Nevertheless Just a Cat in a Cage?

There’s rising public skepticism of animal captivity in typical, together with newfound comprehension that numerous animals are considerably far more smart and far more sentient than we have provided them credit for.  

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(Credit: T.Dallas/

Researchers also have uncovered that some animals are prone to practical experience anxiety in captivity. In 2003, researchers concluded that extensive-roaming carnivores, like tigers, are not properly suited to captivity. Some specialists say the quality — or complexity of an animal’s living place — is far more important than the amount.

There’s also an rising industry of science referred to as conservation physiology, which makes an attempt to realize and tackle the effects of environmental stressors on animals. For instance, a zoo may possibly try out to hold tabs on an animal’s anxiety amount by monitoring its hormones and adapting its lifestyle in reaction.

At the finish of the day, proponents of liable zoos say the animals generally reside healthy life and supply an possibility to discover about animals, which can support their counterparts in the wild. The conservation worth of unique animals as personal animals or profit-driven breeding courses and petting zoos, even so, is considerably less distinct.

“Some of the explanations all around the enjoyment of owning a substantial, harmful animal is truly currently being self-centered, and far more about the particular person than the cat by itself,” Zeigler claims. “However, there are some [individuals] who truly care about tigers. To people individuals, I would say support zoos and other conservation organizations who have the capability to do far more in the very long run for tiger conservation.”