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 are privately owned, often by people not trained to care for animals in general, let alone tigers. Alarmingly, there is no accurate record or system to determine the actual number of tigers in the country, where they are, or what happens to them after they die.
Wild tigers at risk
With no way to track captive tigers in the US, WWF and TRAFFIC are concerned that wildlife criminals could be pushing tiger parts and products into the international black market. This will only stimulate demand for tiger products, further threatening wild populations by putting them at increased risk of poaching.
An issue of public safety
Remember Zanesville? In 2011, local authorities in this Ohio town were forced to shoot more than 10 captive tigers and other exotic animals after their owner let them loose into the community. This is a scenario that could easily be repeated and with severe consequences.
Thousands of tigers are kept in backyards, urban apartments, and sideshows, often by those untrained in handling tigers. In some states, it is easier to buy a tiger than to adopt a dog from a local animal shelter and people can legally keep a tiger on their property without reporting it to local officials or neighbors.
Together with TRAFFIC, WWF has raised the alarm on the lack of regulations on the private ownership of tigers in the US. We have called for a ban on private possession of big cats like tigers and lions. We are also asking that owners be required to register these animals.
Last year, President Obama announced a new Executive Order to Combat Wildlife Trafficking. To deliver that goal, we must commit to stricter management of captive tigers and other big cats that are targets of illegal trade. Better laws are an obvious place to start