Little Lioness PRO 6:26pm, 5 December 2009
Today in the United States, there are more 'pet' tigers in private hands than there are in the wild. Estimates place captive populations between 10,000 and 20,000 captive individuals, a stunning 5,000 of which are believed to be living in Texas alone.

Laws regarding exotic animal ownership vary by state. According a 2005 report released by MSNBC, "Just 14 ban private ownership altogether; eight have a partial ban on some species, 13 states regulate exotic animals and 15 states, including Nevada, have no regulations on many exotic animals whatsoever..."

It is important to realize that there is a huge difference between accredited zoos and roadside menageries or private collections. First off, accredited zoos exist for the sole purpose of education and conservation. They work closely with breeding programs such as the Species Survival Plan to increase genetic diversity in a captive population and work to actively educate the public about the issues many of these endangered species face.
Accredited zoos are NOT allowed to sell their animals into private hands.
They are NOT allowed to breed 'mutant' or non-natural hybrid species such as ligers or tigons.
They are fully-expected to provide proper care and sufficient space for all animals in their charge, or risk losing accreditation.
And they are NOT allowed to let visitors interact with potentially-dangerous species.

Roadside zoos and private owners operate on a totally separate set of rules.
They exist for the sole purpose of entertaining human curiosity, even by cruel means such as forcing their animals to perform in shows or behave in unnatural ways in order to please a crowd.
They are allowed to sell and trade their charges into private hands, often condemning older, weaker animals to CANNED HUNTS.
And the quality of the care they receive and the size of their enclosure is often regulated by state laws which are nearly impossible to enforce. In some states, 'proper' cage size is defined by the animals' ability to turn in a complete circle.
They are also allowed to propagate un-ethical breeding methods, such as hybridizing (to create ligers and tigons) and inbreeding (to create white or golden tabby tigers).
In addition, non-accredited owners of exotic animals are often found to display their potentially-dangerous 'pets' in completely un-regulated settings, letting tourists and guests pose with their big cats for photos, or allowing them to hand-feed them through the bars of cages.
Such practices have led to a massive increase in exotic pet-related deaths in the last decade. According to some sources, there are currently more tiger attacks in the United States than in the infamous Sunderbans of India.

According to studies conducted by conservationists working with the aforementioned Species Survival Plan, most tigers kept as pets in captivity are a cross-bred mix of various subspecies. This may sound fine to anyone with a minimal understanding of conservation and preservation, but consider this: Any tiger whose ancestry is mixed, untraced, or shows possible signs of inbreeding is no longer a candidate for captive breeding programs. This is because such programs operate with the intent of increasing genetic diversity to achieve a more stable population in the highly-probable event of a wild tiger extinction. Thus, anyone who breeds tigers for the pet trade is NOT helping conserve the species; they are instead creating more genetically-unsound tigers whose sole purpose is to satisfy someone else's greed for an exotic pet.

Also, since there are no possible ways to regulate exact populations of captive tigers in the United States, there is suspicion that an underground illegal trade in tiger parts is taking place right under our noses. This suspicion is often supported by such grizzly finds as THIS, a total of 90 dead tigers and leopards (58 of which were cubs) recovered from a so-called 'rescue' center in California. Their bodies were being stored in freezers and their pelts kept hidden in a nearby barn.

Many people will argue that there are a handful of responsible big cat owners in the United States who have 'unique' relationships with their 'pets', and who take good care of them. Siegfried and Roy had 'unique' relationships with their tigers; they were among the best in the business of animal training. But if disaster can strike even the best, it can certainly happen to anyone. And so long as it's legal for one person to own a tiger as a pet, it's just as legal for the next guy--and there is no way to ensure that he will be as responsible as you.

Sadly, many of the big cats I've personally worked with and photographed in captivity are there because they were rescued from the exotic pet trade. Snowshoe is a hybrid lynx who was found starving to death in the woods of California. His fangs and claws had been removed, and the cartilage in his ears had been permenently damaged, telling rescuers that this was no wild cat. Snowshoe had been someone's pet before he was released, probably kept in a cage too small for his size, hence the damage to his ears. When discovered, he was only given three days left to live, but pulled through and now lives at the High Desert Museum in Sun River, Oregon.

In short, the only reason for wanting a tiger or other exotic animal for a pet is to feed the want for something which no one else has; a greed to stand out because you have something unique. But you are not doing any good for any of the players in the resulting equation, least of all the tiger.

If you truly love tigers, you will let the accredited zoos do their part to help preserve the 5 remaining subspecies, and WILL NOT support non-accredited roadside zoos or private owners.

Please take immediate action against current United State laws regarding exotic animal ownership. Just follow the link below to sign the World Wildlife Fund's petition to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, asking them to use their authority to close existing loopholes in the permitting and monitoring of captive tigers in the U.S.:
FuzzyButt 8 years ago
My response to this has been and always will be that there are good private owners and bad private owners -- as is the case for ANY hobby.

The problem with many of these proposals is that they are pushed by people who want to see ALL private ownership banned. And people who don't follow the existing laws and regulations are not going to follow even more laws and regulations. It simply makes things more difficult for responsible private owners. Also, keep in mind that almost ALL breeding programs started private; all early knowledge and experience came from private owners; and one of the best zoos I've ever seen was run privately. We STILL instruct zoos on handling, enrichment and nutrition. There is no college degree that replaces decades of hands-on experience. None! Blanket banning of private ownership is an animal rights agenda -- it's part of a step towards complete abolishment of animals in captivity. This is a death sentence for endangered species. Education is key. I know the pictures of sick animals in cages pull at heart strings and that's exactly the reaction the people pushing this legislation want -- knee-jerk, emotional reactions. Just, please... be careful what you wish for.
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