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

Would you possess a pet that could get rid of you with the swipe of a paw? A good deal of individuals do.

Reports suggest there are more captive tigers in the U.S. — which includes as pets and at rinky-dink animal attractions — than are left in the wild. Many are attributes at roadside zoos, these as the 1 depicted in the strike Netflix series Tiger King.

Filmed about the course of 5 yrs, the documentary sequence will take viewers into the world of Joe Unique — alias of Joseph Maldonado-Passage — a self-declared redneck and aspiring country 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. Last year, Unique was convicted of a number of wildlife violations and for employing someone to murder Baskin. Hefty on the soap opera melodramatics, the sequence mostly glosses about the conservation problems tigers face.

Despite the fact that owning a pet tiger may perhaps seem thrilling, authorities warn that caring for these heavyweight apex predators is significantly much more difficult, and perilous, than is portrayed in media. For decades, wildlife conservationists and activists have labored to curtail private significant cat possession in the U.S. — a phenomenon they say is at odds with conservation initiatives, and ultimately only provides to the captive tiger surplus in The usa.

petting a tiger cub - shutterstock

(Credit rating: Valentsova/

Pitfalls of Private Tiger Ownership

It is estimated there are as quite a few as ten,000 captive tigers in the U.S. — a variety significantly better than the around four,000 considered to keep on being in the wild. The majority of tigers in The usa — all-around ninety five percent — are not living in expert zoos that are members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an accreditation business that demands facilities to adhere to animal card expectations.

Alternatively, most are in private fingers that may perhaps, or may perhaps not be, matter to regulation. In quite a few places, entrepreneurs can legally preserve perilous exotic animals on their qualities without the need of reporting them to local officers or neighbors.

Prior to Tiger King, the community bought glimpses of the odd reality of significant cat and exotic animal gathering from information headlines. For occasion, reporters in Houston past year wrote about a handful of individuals who went into an deserted home to smoke marijuana — and came throughout a caged tiger.

Catastrophic incidents are inclined to illustrate the inherent protection risk that private possession can pose to the animals and the community. In 2011, an Ohio guy established absolutely free dozens of exotic animals that he’d stored on his farm in advance of committing suicide. Between the animals ultimately killed by sheriff’s deputies had been eighteen tigers, seventeen lions, 8 bears, a few mountain lions, two wolves and 1 baboon. In the aftermath, Ohio went from obtaining some of the loosest guidelines on private exotic animal possession to obtaining some of the hardest.

In Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Nevada, there are no permits necessary to possess exotic animals. Other states have allow prerequisites, even though 28 have banned possession of perilous animals (like significant cats or bears). There are no federal guidelines prohibiting or regulating private possession of exotic animals. 

In accordance to the Humane Society of the United States, captive significant cat assaults are much more most likely to occur at unaccredited facilities. Accreditation by the AZA involves evaluation of a facility’s security, protection protocols and schooling.

Tim Wild, the curator of massive mammals at Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County Zoo, claims he’s witnessed tigers and lions in private fingers and wouldn’t belief the containments they use.

Enclosures at unaccredited facilities may perhaps not be equipped to stand up to a tiger’s strength, claims Invoice Zeigler, in an electronic mail to Discover. “Many times, private entrepreneurs do not develop enclosures that have the suitable protection attributes necessary, these as double boundaries, so if an animal escapes its enclosure there is a 2nd barrier to prevent it from escaping the house,” claims Zeigler, senior vice president of animal applications for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the Brookfield Zoo just west of Chicago.

Probably unsurprisingly, human mistake — these as not properly shutting or locking a doorway, Zeigler claims — has been the most frequent induce of animal escapes. And, for the history, zookeepers only interact with animals with a protecting barrier in position they would in no way pet, hug or get a selfie with a tiger.   

“Tigers are extremely solid, and once they get a hold of you, both with their claws or teeth, obtaining absolutely free can be extremely difficult — and, in most conditions, not without the need of trauma,” claims Zeigler. “Depending on the type of barrier, we in no way position a hand, face or other body aspect near the barrier.” 

tiger petting zoo - shutterstock

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

Zeigler and Wild say that some tigers appear to type bonds with zookeepers, specially if that particular person aided increase them from a cub. But it doesn’t get much for a tiger’s predatory instincts to come out.

“My private encounter with tigers? I wouldn’t mess with them, even the pleasant kinds,” Wild claims. “I’ve witnessed tigers when they are upset, when you’re making an attempt to do a thing with them from a veterinary standpoint … they just turn out to be even even bigger-wanting.”

Is Captivity Regarded as Conservation?

With shrinking numbers in the wild because of to poaching and habitat decline, tigers are recognized as an endangered species by the Entire world Wildlife Fund and other companies.

Private significant cat breeders contend they are serving to conserve tiger populations in situation they go extinct in the wild. In reality, no captive tiger has ever been introduced into the wild — and most likely in no way will.

Tigers born in captivity even now have the intuition to get rid of, but they are not outfitted to fend for by themselves. Wild tiger mothers spend a year educating their cubs how to hunt, a thing that would be difficult to mimic in captivity. Huge cats in captivity also never understand to concern or stay clear of human beings. If these animals had been established absolutely free, they may perhaps be captivated to individuals, which could show lethal.

“Even with minimum conversation among keepers and tigers, there’s some imprinting, some ease and comfort amount all-around human beings, and you just never want to allow a tiger go with that amount of familiarity,” Wild claims.

One more dilemma with private tiger breeders is that they generally deliver hybrid tigers — or subspecies crosses — that are of minimal genetic worth in conservation initiatives.

Really saving these significant cats usually means preserving the six unique subspecies of tiger that exist in the wild. Accredited zoos adhere to the species survival program, which is a breeding plan that pays close focus to the genetic makeup of the different subspecies. This operate supports tigers in the wild by serving as a genetic reservoir, claims Zeigler.

“A good deal of tigers in private fingers, we never really know what they are,” Wild claims. “The history retaining isn’t there, there’s not a good deal of genetic testing, and there are not a good deal of relatives tree information out there.”

The hybrid tigers also may perhaps deficiency the attributes essential to thrive throughout a extensive assortment of habitats. The genetic makeup and evolutionary history of each subspecies is special, which presents tigers traits and attributes that support them adapt to their natural environments.

In other words, not all tigers are the same — a Sumatran tiger is genetically different from a Siberian tiger. So you just cannot just fall off a random blend of tiger in the wild and believe it will survive.

What Huge Cats in Captivity Need

Professionally caring for a tiger is not an straightforward task. For starters, tigers are obligate carnivores with significant appetites. The normal tiger in captivity eats 13 to fifteen pounds of meat a working day, but they can quickly consume a few to 4 times that sum.  

“Feeding massive cats just cannot just be about offering simple meat or issues like chicken
— which, by by themselves, without the need of suitable micronutrients, can induce issues like rickets and other metabolic disorders,” claims Zeigler.

Tigers also need possibilities to exercising, specific their natural behaviors and interact with their atmosphere. Accredited zoos have enrichment applications intended to bodily and mentally encourage tigers in captivity and insert some unpredictability to their days.  

“[Examples of] these issues [may well include] placement of food items puzzles, where they have to actively lookup for food items, different scents like perfumes or musks to examine out, like they would when marking their possess territory, objects they can manipulate like trees to claw, balls of different styles and measurements to interact with,” Zeigler claims. 

Wild details out that just due to the fact a facility is unaccredited, that doesn’t mean that it’s a undesirable zoo, or that it’s not concentrating on animal enrichment — there’s just no way to confirm it. 

Nevertheless Just a Cat in a Cage?

There is developing community skepticism of animal captivity in standard, alongside with newfound comprehending that quite a few animals are significantly much more intelligent and much more sentient than we’ve supplied them credit for.  

caged tiger shutterstock

(Credit rating: T.Dallas/

Researchers also have located that some animals are prone to encounter stress in captivity. In 2003, scientists concluded that extensive-roaming carnivores, like tigers, are not well suited to captivity. Some authorities say the high quality — or complexity of an animal’s living room — is much more crucial than the quantity.

There is also an emerging industry of science named conservation physiology, which makes an attempt to comprehend and address the consequences of environmental stressors on animals. For occasion, a zoo may well consider to preserve tabs on an animal’s stress amount by monitoring its hormones and adapting its way of living in reaction.

At the end of the working day, proponents of accountable zoos say the animals commonly reside balanced lives and supply an possibility to understand about animals, which can support their counterparts in the wild. The conservation worth of exotic animals as private pets or gain-pushed breeding applications and petting zoos, however, is significantly less crystal clear.

“Some of the good reasons all-around the exhilaration of owning a massive, perilous animal is really staying self-centered, and much more about the unique than the cat itself,” Zeigler claims. “However, there are some [individuals] who really care about tigers. To those people individuals, I would say assistance zoos and other conservation companies who have the capability to do much more in the lengthy operate for tiger conservation.”