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

Would you own a pet that could kill you with the swipe of a paw? A great deal of people do.

Experiences 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 attributes at roadside zoos, these as the one particular depicted in the hit Netflix series Tiger King.

Filmed around the training course of five years, the documentary collection takes viewers into the earth of Joe Exotic — alias of Joseph Maldonado-Passage — a self-declared redneck and aspiring state singer who owned a cub-petting, tiger-breeding zoo in Oklahoma.

At the heart of the collection is Exotic’s ongoing feud with animal legal rights advocate Carole Baskin. Past year, Exotic was convicted of many wildlife violations and for selecting a person to murder Baskin. Heavy on the cleaning soap opera melodramatics, the collection mostly glosses around the conservation troubles tigers confront.

While owning a pet tiger may perhaps seem thrilling, gurus warn that caring for these heavyweight apex predators is considerably a lot more tough, and harmful, than is portrayed in media. For many years, wildlife conservationists and activists have worked to curtail private significant cat ownership in the U.S. — a phenomenon they say is at odds with conservation efforts, and ultimately only provides to the captive tiger surplus in The united states.

(Credit: Valentsova/

Pitfalls of Non-public Tiger Ownership

It’s believed there are as lots of as 10,000 captive tigers in the U.S. — a variety considerably greater than the approximately 4,000 considered to remain in the wild. The majority of tigers in The united states — around 95 percent — are not living in expert zoos that are users of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an accreditation group that requires amenities to adhere to animal card requirements.

As an alternative, most are in private arms that may perhaps, or may perhaps not be, issue to regulation. In lots of destinations, entrepreneurs can lawfully keep harmful unique animals on their houses with no reporting them to nearby officials or neighbors.

Prior to Tiger King, the community obtained glimpses of the odd reality of significant cat and unique animal collecting from information headlines. For occasion, reporters in Houston last year wrote about a handful of people who went into an abandoned household to smoke cannabis — and came throughout a caged tiger.

Catastrophic incidents are inclined to illustrate the inherent security chance that private ownership can pose to the animals and the community. In 2011, an Ohio gentleman set free of charge dozens of unique animals that he’d retained on his farm just before committing suicide. Among the the animals eventually killed by sheriff’s deputies have been 18 tigers, seventeen lions, eight bears, a few mountain lions, two wolves and one particular baboon. In the aftermath, Ohio went from having some of the loosest laws on private unique animal ownership to having some of the hardest.

In Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Nevada, there are no permits needed to own unique animals. Other states have permit demands, though 28 have banned ownership of harmful animals (like significant 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 significant cat attacks are a lot more probable to transpire at unaccredited amenities. Accreditation by the AZA features analysis of a facility’s safety, security protocols and teaching.

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

Enclosures at unaccredited amenities may perhaps not be equipped to stand up to a tiger’s energy, suggests Invoice Zeigler, in an electronic mail to Find. “Many moments, private entrepreneurs do not create enclosures that have the suitable security attributes needed, these as double obstacles, so if an animal escapes its enclosure there is a second barrier to stop it from escaping the residence,” suggests Zeigler, senior vice president of animal packages for the Chicago Zoological Culture, which manages the Brookfield Zoo just west of Chicago.

Probably unsurprisingly, human error — these as not correctly shutting or locking a doorway, Zeigler suggests — has been the most regular trigger of animal escapes. And, for the document, zookeepers only interact with animals with a protective barrier in put they would by no means pet, hug or choose a selfie with a tiger.   

“Tigers are exceptionally robust, and as soon as they get a hold of you, both with their claws or tooth, obtaining free of charge can be exceptionally tricky — and, in most instances, not with no trauma,” suggests Zeigler. “Depending on the sort of barrier, we by no means put a hand, confront or other system element around the barrier.” 

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Unidentified people stroking a tiger at Tiger Kingdom in Thailand. (Credit: saiko3p/

Zeigler and Wild say that some tigers seem to form bonds with zookeepers, in particular if that particular person aided raise them from a cub. But it does not choose a great deal for a tiger’s predatory instincts to arrive out.

“My individual expertise with tigers? I would not mess with them, even the helpful types,” Wild suggests. “I’ve noticed tigers when they are upset, when you are striving to do something with them from a veterinary standpoint … they just turn into even even bigger-looking.”

Is Captivity Viewed as Conservation?

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

Non-public significant cat breeders contend they are supporting preserve tiger populations in circumstance they go extinct in the wild. In reality, no captive tiger has at any time been produced into the wild — and probable by no means will.

Tigers born in captivity however have the instinct to kill, but they aren’t outfitted to fend for themselves. Wild tiger moms expend a year educating their cubs how to hunt, something that would be extremely hard to mimic in captivity. Big cats in captivity also never discover to concern or prevent humans. If these animals have been set free of charge, they may perhaps be attracted to people, which could confirm lethal.

“Even with nominal interaction between keepers and tigers, there is some imprinting, some consolation amount around humans, and you just never want to enable a tiger go with that amount of familiarity,” Wild suggests.

One more issue with private tiger breeders is that they normally generate hybrid tigers — or subspecies crosses — that are of tiny genetic worth in conservation efforts.

Genuinely conserving these significant cats implies preserving the 6 distinctive subspecies of tiger that exist in the wild. Accredited zoos adhere to the species survival prepare, which is a breeding system that pays close consideration to the genetic makeup of the many subspecies. This do the job supports tigers in the wild by serving as a genetic reservoir, suggests Zeigler.

“A great deal of tigers in private arms, we never really know what they are,” Wild suggests. “The document holding is not there, there is not a great deal of genetic testing, and there are not a great deal of family tree data out there.”

The hybrid tigers also may perhaps absence the characteristics needed to thrive throughout a huge vary of habitats. The genetic makeup and evolutionary background of every subspecies is distinctive, which gives tigers qualities and characteristics that assist them adapt to their organic environments.

In other text, not all tigers are the similar — a Sumatran tiger is genetically various from a Siberian tiger. So you cannot just drop off a random blend of tiger in the wild and assume it will survive.

What Big Cats in Captivity Will need

Professionally caring for a tiger is not an easy activity. For starters, tigers are obligate carnivores with significant appetites. The typical tiger in captivity eats thirteen to 15 pounds of meat a day, but they can effortlessly eat a few to 4 moments that amount.  

“Feeding substantial cats cannot just be about giving plain meat or items like rooster
— which, by themselves, with no suitable micronutrients, can trigger items like rickets and other metabolic conditions,” suggests Zeigler.

Tigers also have to have possibilities to training, express their organic behaviors and interact with their setting. Accredited zoos have enrichment packages intended to physically and mentally stimulate tigers in captivity and insert some unpredictability to their times.  

“[Examples of] these items [may incorporate] placement of food items puzzles, wherever they have to actively look for for food items, many scents like perfumes or musks to examine out, like they would when marking their own territory, objects they can manipulate like trees to claw, balls of various shapes and dimensions to have interaction with,” Zeigler suggests. 

Wild factors out that just since a facility is unaccredited, that does not indicate that it’s a lousy zoo, or that it’s not focusing on animal enrichment — there is just no way to validate it. 

Nonetheless Just a Cat in a Cage?

There is developing community skepticism of animal captivity in normal, alongside with newfound being familiar with that lots of animals are considerably a lot more smart and a lot more sentient than we have supplied them credit rating for.  

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(Credit: T.Dallas/

Researchers also have identified that some animals are vulnerable to expertise anxiety in captivity. In 2003, researchers concluded that huge-roaming carnivores, like tigers, are not well suited to captivity. Some gurus say the top quality — or complexity of an animal’s living area — is a lot more vital than the amount.

There is also an emerging subject of science identified as conservation physiology, which tries to comprehend and deal with the consequences of environmental stressors on animals. For occasion, a zoo may try out to keep tabs on an animal’s anxiety amount by monitoring its hormones and adapting its life style in reaction.

At the stop of the day, proponents of accountable zoos say the animals generally stay wholesome life and offer an possibility to discover about animals, which can assist their counterparts in the wild. The conservation worth of unique animals as individual animals or financial gain-driven breeding packages and petting zoos, having said that, is considerably considerably less clear.

“Some of the explanations around the pleasure of owning a substantial, harmful animal is really becoming self-centered, and a lot more about the personal than the cat alone,” Zeigler suggests. “However, there are some [people] who really treatment about tigers. To those people, I would say guidance zoos and other conservation companies who have the means to do a lot more in the prolonged operate for tiger conservation.”