Most people are surprised to learn that there are an estimated 5,000 captive tigers in America. That’s more than all wild tigers across Asia. Almost 95 percent of captive tigers are privately owned, often by people not trained to care for animals in general, let alone tigers.
In April 2016, the US government tightened regulations around captive tigers and made it more difficult for these animals to filter into and bolster the illegal wildlife trade. More than 450,000 WWF supporters called on the US government to help make these new federal rules happen.
It was a significant win for tigers. But more needs to be done.
The new rules protect some tigers and not others, and remaining legal loopholes leave captive tigers vulnerable to wildlife traffickers and the international trade in tiger parts – the same trade that is the primary threat to wild tigers.
The current practice of allowing public contact with tigers -- specifically with young cubs -- for “tiger encounters” or photo opportunities means that private owners have a financial incentive to breed a constant stream of tiger cubs to supply their operations. However, once those tigers reach a certain size and age, they become less desirable for public contact and less profitable, while at the same time becoming vastly more expensive to feed and house.
Most US sanctuaries capable of caring for unwanted big cats are full to overflowing and must turn unwanted animals away. Because there is still little federal regulation requiring the tracking of captive tigers in the US, these animals can be easily exploited by wildlife criminals pushing tigers and tiger parts into the illegal wildlife trade. When that happens, their availability helps to sustain a market that also drives the poaching of tigers in the wild.
WWF is calling for greater oversight and protection of all captive tigers, and you can help.