Tigers in our Backyards
By: Kelly Schwab
Contributed by Leigh Henry, Senior Policy Advisor, Wildlife Conservation Program, World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
There’s a shocking fact to share today, on Global Tiger Day: there are more tigers living in American backyards than in the wild.
It is estimated that 5,000 captive tigers are kept in the U.S. — compared with as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild.
Research has shown that the majority of these tigers are owned by individuals, not zoos. What’s even more shocking is that of those people who privately own tigers here in the U.S., most are not trained to care for animals in general, let alone a tiger.
Even worse, there is no complete record of captive tigers in America. The exact number of tigers living in captivity outside of zoos and accredited institutions in the U.S. isn’t clear — some say it could be double what is estimated. No one knows how many there are, where they are, or what happens to them when they die.
What we do know is that it is significantly more than the number of wild tigers in Asia, and that needs to change.
Currently, poaching is the biggest threat faced by wild tigers. Every part of a tiger — from its whiskers to its bones — are traded in illegal wildlife markets. Tiger parts are used for traditional medicine, folk remedies and are increasingly being seen as a status symbol in some Asian cultures. Tiger skins are also used for rugs and other ornamentation.
If parts and products from the estimated 5,000 tigers in the United States are allowed to filter onto the illegal market, this will only serve to perpetuate that market and sustain the demand for tiger parts. This demand, in turn, perpetuates the main threat to tigers in the wild — poaching for illegal trade.
In looking at the issue here in the U.S., captive tigers are also a matter of public safety. Remember the Zanesville case? 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. In some instances, with the current loopholes in regulation, it can be easier to buy a pet tiger than adopt a dog from a shelter.
At World Wildlife Fund (WWF) we seek to be the voice for those creatures who have no voice and that means conserving tigers and their habitat in the wild, where they are meant to be. It’s also important to call on the U.S. government to implement regulations that keep U.S. captive tigers from being a threat to their wild counterparts and regulate private ownership of tigers. You can do your part by signing WWF’s petition to keep tigers out of American backyards here!