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

Matthew N. Henry

Would you individual a pet that could eliminate you with the swipe of a paw? A great deal of persons do.

Stories suggest there are more captive tigers in the U.S. — including as animals and at rinky-dink animal attractions — than are left in the wild. Many are features at roadside zoos, these types of as the one depicted in the hit Netflix series Tiger King.

Filmed above the system of five a long time, the documentary sequence can take viewers into the globe of Joe Unique — alias of Joseph Maldonado-Passage — a self-declared redneck and aspiring region singer who owned a cub-petting, tiger-breeding zoo in Oklahoma.

At the coronary heart of the sequence is Exotic’s ongoing feud with animal rights advocate Carole Baskin. Final calendar year, Unique was convicted of quite a few wildlife violations and for selecting anyone to murder Baskin. Major on the soap opera melodramatics, the sequence largely glosses above the conservation troubles tigers face.

Although possessing a pet tiger might audio thrilling, professionals alert that caring for these heavyweight apex predators is much extra demanding, and perilous, than is portrayed in media. For many years, wildlife conservationists and activists have labored to curtail non-public massive cat possession in the U.S. — a phenomenon they say is at odds with conservation endeavours, and eventually only provides to the captive tiger surplus in The us.

petting a tiger cub - shutterstock

(Credit: Valentsova/

Pitfalls of Non-public Tiger Ownership

It’s believed there are as a lot of as ten,000 captive tigers in the U.S. — a variety much increased than the roughly 4,000 thought to stay in the wild. The the greater part of tigers in The us — all-around 95 per cent — are not living in experienced zoos that are customers of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an accreditation corporation that requires facilities to comply with animal card criteria.

Rather, most are in non-public palms that might, or might not be, subject matter to regulation. In a lot of spots, homeowners can lawfully continue to keep perilous exotic animals on their homes without having reporting them to nearby officers or neighbors.

Prior to Tiger King, the public acquired glimpses of the odd fact of massive cat and exotic animal accumulating from information headlines. For occasion, reporters in Houston final calendar year wrote about a handful of persons who went into an abandoned household to smoke cannabis — and came across a caged tiger.

Catastrophic incidents are inclined to illustrate the inherent protection danger that non-public possession can pose to the animals and the public. In 2011, an Ohio gentleman established totally free dozens of exotic animals that he’d stored on his farm in advance of committing suicide. Amid the animals eventually killed by sheriff’s deputies were being eighteen tigers, 17 lions, eight bears, a few mountain lions, two wolves and one baboon. In the aftermath, Ohio went from possessing some of the loosest regulations on non-public exotic animal possession to possessing some of the toughest.

In Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Nevada, there are no permits needed to individual exotic animals. Other states have allow specifications, although 28 have banned possession of perilous animals (like massive cats or bears). There are no federal regulations prohibiting or regulating non-public possession of exotic animals. 

In accordance to the Humane Society of the United States, captive massive cat assaults are extra very likely to happen at unaccredited facilities. Accreditation by the AZA contains analysis of a facility’s protection, protection protocols and coaching.

Tim Wild, the curator of big mammals at Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County Zoo, says he’s witnessed tigers and lions in non-public palms and would not believe in the containments they use.

Enclosures at unaccredited facilities might not be equipped to stand up to a tiger’s energy, says Monthly bill Zeigler, in an e mail to Discover. “Many moments, non-public homeowners do not build enclosures that have the right protection features needed, these types of as double limitations, so if an animal escapes its enclosure there is a 2nd barrier to prevent it from escaping the residence,” says Zeigler, senior vice president of animal applications for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the Brookfield Zoo just west of Chicago.

Most likely unsurprisingly, human error — these types of as not properly shutting or locking a doorway, Zeigler says — has been the most repeated trigger of animal escapes. And, for the report, zookeepers only interact with animals with a protective barrier in put they would hardly ever pet, hug or take a selfie with a tiger.   

“Tigers are particularly potent, and once they get a hold of you, either with their claws or teeth, acquiring totally free can be particularly hard — and, in most circumstances, not without having trauma,” says Zeigler. “Depending on the variety of barrier, we hardly ever put a hand, face or other physique aspect in close proximity to the barrier.” 

tiger petting zoo - shutterstock

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

Zeigler and Wild say that some tigers feel to sort bonds with zookeepers, primarily if that individual served raise them from a cub. But it doesn’t take substantially for a tiger’s predatory instincts to come out.

“My own knowledge with tigers? I would not mess with them, even the helpful ones,” Wild says. “I’ve witnessed tigers when they’re upset, when you are striving to do something with them from a veterinary standpoint … they just come to be even greater-seeking.”

Is Captivity Regarded as Conservation?

With shrinking numbers in the wild owing to poaching and habitat loss, tigers are regarded as an endangered species by the Entire world Wildlife Fund and other organizations.

Non-public massive cat breeders contend they’re serving to preserve tiger populations in scenario they go extinct in the wild. In fact, no captive tiger has ever been unveiled into the wild — and very likely hardly ever will.

Tigers born in captivity continue to have the instinct to eliminate, but they aren’t geared up to fend for themselves. Wild tiger moms invest a calendar year instructing their cubs how to hunt, something that would be unachievable to mimic in captivity. Huge cats in captivity also never discover to anxiety or stay clear of human beings. If these animals were being established totally free, they might be attracted to persons, which could establish deadly.

“Even with minimum interaction in between keepers and tigers, there’s some imprinting, some comfort stage all-around human beings, and you just never want to permit a tiger go with that stage of familiarity,” Wild says.

Yet another difficulty with non-public tiger breeders is that they often make hybrid tigers — or subspecies crosses — that are of small genetic worth in conservation endeavours.

Truly conserving these massive cats signifies preserving the six distinctive subspecies of tiger that exist in the wild. Accredited zoos comply with the species survival strategy, which is a breeding system that pays near attention to the genetic makeup of the a variety of subspecies. This work supports tigers in the wild by serving as a genetic reservoir, says Zeigler.

“A great deal of tigers in non-public palms, we never truly know what they are,” Wild says. “The report preserving is not there, there’s not a great deal of genetic tests, and there are not a great deal of family tree records out there.”

The hybrid tigers also might deficiency the qualities necessary to thrive across a wide array of habitats. The genetic makeup and evolutionary heritage of each subspecies is exceptional, which gives tigers characteristics and qualities that support them adapt to their pure environments.

In other phrases, not all tigers are the identical — a Sumatran tiger is genetically diverse from a Siberian tiger. So you can’t just fall off a random mix of tiger in the wild and suppose it will survive.

What Huge Cats in Captivity Have to have

Professionally caring for a tiger is not an simple undertaking. For starters, tigers are obligate carnivores with massive appetites. The average tiger in captivity eats thirteen to 15 kilos of meat a day, but they can very easily eat a few to four moments that sum.  

“Feeding big cats can’t just be about giving basic meat or issues like chicken
— which, by themselves, without having right micronutrients, can trigger issues like rickets and other metabolic conditions,” says Zeigler.

Tigers also require options to exercising, specific their pure behaviors and interact with their natural environment. Accredited zoos have enrichment applications supposed to bodily and mentally stimulate tigers in captivity and incorporate some unpredictability to their days.  

“[Illustrations of] these issues [may possibly incorporate] placement of food items puzzles, in which they have to actively search for food items, a variety of scents like perfumes or musks to verify out, like they would when marking their individual territory, objects they can manipulate like trees to claw, balls of diverse designs and sizes to engage with,” Zeigler says. 

Wild points out that just for the reason that a facility is unaccredited, that doesn’t suggest that it’s a terrible zoo, or that it’s not focusing on animal enrichment — there’s just no way to confirm it. 

However Just a Cat in a Cage?

There’s growing public skepticism of animal captivity in basic, alongside with newfound being familiar with that a lot of animals are much extra smart and extra sentient than we’ve given them credit score for.  

caged tiger shutterstock

(Credit: T.Dallas/

Researchers also have discovered that some animals are vulnerable to knowledge stress in captivity. In 2003, scientists concluded that wide-roaming carnivores, like tigers, are not well suited to captivity. Some professionals say the high-quality — or complexity of an animal’s living room — is extra critical than the quantity.

There’s also an rising subject of science called conservation physiology, which tries to recognize and handle the outcomes of environmental stressors on animals. For occasion, a zoo may possibly test to continue to keep tabs on an animal’s stress stage by checking its hormones and adapting its lifestyle in reaction.

At the close of the day, proponents of accountable zoos say the animals frequently stay nutritious life and supply an prospect to discover about animals, which can support their counterparts in the wild. The conservation worth of exotic animals as own animals or gain-pushed breeding applications and petting zoos, on the other hand, is much much less crystal clear.

“Some of the reasons all-around the enjoyment of possessing a big, perilous animal is truly becoming self-centered, and extra about the individual than the cat itself,” Zeigler says. “However, there are some [persons] who truly care about tigers. To those persons, I would say guidance zoos and other conservation organizations who have the skill to do extra in the very long operate for tiger conservation.”

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