Over the past few years, many of my friends on Facebook have had posts about how they got to feed a tiger, or a had their photo done with a tiger cub. As an animal lover myself, I understand the desire. Tigers are magnificent creatures—they’ve always been my favorite big cat. So why would anyone want to pass up the opportunity to hold a tiger cub?
On the surface, you think you’re paying to hold/feed/be photographed with a tiger cub. Surely, you think, this shows that I support big cats. I know it’s tempting, but what you are actually doing is the opposite—instead of supporting conservation efforts, you are supporting a terrible breeding industry.
Tiger cubs that are used for display are not bred so that they can be reintroduced to the wild. They are not bred to spread knowledge about tigers to the public. They are not bred to preserve the tiger population. They are bred to make money by exploiting the animals.
I think that there are many misconceptions about the tiger shows and the breeding industry, so I created a list of a few things that you should know:
1) Paying to pet/hold/feed/have your photo taken with a tiger cub does not support wildlife conservation.
Wildlife conservation seeks to help preserve the tiger population in the wild. Roadside shows and exhibits do not breed cats for conservation efforts. These animals will never be reintroduced into the wild; they will spend the rest of their lives in a cage. The infant cubs “ are torn from mothers prematurely, their sleep cycle –necessary for healthy development-- is disrupted, and they are placed under stress from continual public contact and transportation” (The Big Cat Handling Crisis). These shows are not teaching the public about conservation; by allowing their tigers to be handled by the public, they are sending the message that these animals are the same as housecats, not wild animals, and can be treated like photo props. The reality is that these shows are breeding these animals for profit with little concern over the consequences of their actions or the inevitable fate of the big cats.
2) A cub used for tiger exhibits will be used for 4 weeks and spend the rest of its life in a cage.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has banned contact with cubs under 8 weeks old while their immune systems are still developing, and there is a court-affirmed prohibition on contact with cubs over 12 weeks old because they are dangerous to the public. This means that there is legally only a 4-week window that cubs can be on display (though cubs are often taken earlier and kept for longer). Because this window is so small, cubs must be rapidly produced, then tossed aside after they reach 12 weeks. This results in overpopulation, which leads to the cats living the rest of their lives in poor living conditions.
3) Handling a cub is dangerous for you and dangerous for the cub.
Many cubs are taken away from their mothers too soon, meaning their immune systems are not prepared for the intense handling and exposure to germs they will receive during their 4-week window. Their immune systems do not fully mature until they reach 16 weeks. These cubs can also transmit diseases to the public. Cubs are also sometimes kept over the 4-week period, even though the USDA has stated that they are dangerous to the public after this time period.
I’m going to switch gears here and talk specifically about white tigers. They’re beautiful animals, sure, but there are a lot of misconceptions about them that need to be brought to light.
4) White tigers are produced through severe inbreeding.
White tigers are not a separate breed of tiger. They have a genetic mutation that results in their unique coloration. This mutation can only be achieved through severe inbreeding. Because of the inbreeding, many of these big cats are plagued by terrible health problems. For starters, “ALL white tigers are cross eyed, whether it shows or not, because the gene that causes the white coat always causes the optic nerve to be wired to the wrong side of the brain” (The White Tiger Fraud). Other defects include “immune deficiency, scoliosis of the spine (distorted spine), cleft palates, mental impairments and grotesquely crossed eyes that bulge from their skull.” The inbreeding also commonly results in stillborns and early deaths: “Only 1 in 4 tiger cubs from a white tiger bred to an orange tiger carrying the white gene are born white, and 80% of those die from birth defects associated with the inbreeding necessary to cause a white coat” (The WhiteTiger Fraud). This means that 95% of all tiger cubs attempted to be white do not satisfy a breeder’s needs. Many of these die in the process, and the orange cubs are called “throw away tigers” and often killed at birth because the white cubs make the most money. Of the 5% that are white and survive past infancy, many will have other defects or disfigurements that lead to their extermination. In the end, the public only ever sees the very few that meet expectations, while all of the others are eliminated.
5) White tigers cannot survive in the wild.
White tigers are not an endangered breed. Every white tiger is bred for a life in a cage. Even if they were to be released into the wild, they would not be able to survive because of their white coat. In order to blend in with their surroundings, a tiger’s orange hue is essential. Therefore, the breeding of white tigers is not done to preserve a species or to help conservation efforts. They are bred simply for entertainment purposes.
If you pay to see these roadside exhibits, you are supporting an industry that rapidly breeds and inbreeds animals to satisfy customers. Since cubs can only legally be handled for a 4-week period, they must be constantly bred to produce more, which results in thousands of adult tigers that spend their lives neglected and in cages (there are currently more tigers living in backyards in the U. S. than in the wild). For white tigers, this means inbreeding until an acceptable cub is produced, while eliminating the undesirable ones. There is not enough funding or enough sanctuaries for these discarded animals to be offered a protected home, so they are often left in the hands of backyard breeders.
Supporting this industry means supporting the disregard for an animal’s health and well-being. It means supporting the rapid breeding of animals, only for the cubs to be taken from their mothers prematurely and cast aside when they reach 12-weeks. It means supporting severe inbreeding, leading to health issues that the big cat must live with throughout its life. It means supporting the extermination of the hundreds of cubs that don’t meet the breeder’s standards. It ultimately means supporting the exploitation of these animals instead of supporting wildlife conservation. In fact, by supporting this industry, you are acting against all attempts to protect these animals in the wild.
If you care about the welfare and protection of tigers, please do not support roadside shows and exhibits. Even though these are beautiful creatures, you are ultimately hurting them by paying to see them. Instead, put your money towards accredited sanctuaries and conservation efforts.
For more information, please visit bigcatrescue.org.