The recent Netflix documentary, ‘Tiger King’, provided an enlightening insight into the wacky and wild world of tiger parks, particularly showing how many tiger parks’ treatment of the animals they claim to care for is poor, and possess a risk to the welfare of the exotic animals they keep in captivity.
There are more tigers in captivity than those who live in the wild. Large numbers of exotic animals, tigers and lions in particular, are kept as pets or for breeding. It is estimated that there are between 5,000 – 7,000 tigers which are captive within the U.S. alone. Importantly, at least 6% of these exotic cats reside in zoos and parks.
The captivity of big cats is not restricted to the United States, Europe has around 1,600 tigers held in captivity. With Germany having 164 tigers and the U.K. with 123 captive tigers. In all of these countries, the private ownership of tigers is legal.
Many tiger parks, or self-proclaimed ‘animal sanctuaries’ in the U.S. breed tigers and other exotic animals, however there is concern over whether or not the breeding of tigers within these tiger parks can be classed as a conservation effort for an endangered species.
In recent years, tigers have become increasingly popular on social media, particularly photos of people posing with tiger cubs. Here, we have to question if tiger parks are breeding tigers for commercial gain and entertainment, rather than to conserve a species who are endangered. This makes the case that the exotic pet industry drives tiger parks to breed animals, and simultaneously fuels the illegal trade of wildlife and animals.
There is such a demand within the U.S. for tiger cubs, to the extent that exotic animal parks exploit the animals in their care for financial gain. Tiger parks have been known to sell cubs in black markets to those who have succumbed to this societal trend to pose with, pet and ‘own’ a tiger.
These endangered animals are often sold as domestic pets. Many who buy young cubs are unable to provide adequate care for their exotic pets, as they would struggle to provide suitable food, space and care. The evident struggle to keep exotic animals as pets highlights how this activity fuels the illegal wildlife trade, both when the tigers are cubs, but also when households struggle to care for the tigers and give them back to commercial zoos.
Particularly after the release of the ‘Tiger King’ television documentary, tiger parks are ever popular. However, with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, tigers are even more in peril as they too are at risk of being exposed to the virus and contracting the disease. This is just another instance where tiger parks are focussed on their financial profit, rather than providing sufficient care for the cats who are housed in their facilities.
These facilities are constantly criticised for exploiting big cats from their birth until their death. There has been additional uproar from exotic animal welfare advocates and charities such a PETA who argue that tigers are consistently not provided with adequate enclosures, health care or correct nutrition. The National Geographic highlighted how, due to the constant breeding of tigers, facilities have a constant supply of cubs to fuel their petting experiences. Facilities often have large queues of customers waiting to spend time with cubs privately.
It is clear that there are serious and deadly issues surrounding the private ownership of tigers within zoos, ‘sanctuaries’ and circuses. Tigers who live in captive environments are not able to re-enter the wild as they have been domesticated, and thus have not honed their natural abilities. Some are even selectively bred to possess unnatural characteristics. Every American white tiger descends from a single father. As a result, they are often born with deformities. These endangered animals deserve better.