The hit show Tiger King gave unaware spectators a glimpse into the ugly side of unregulated zoos. A lack of national laws protecting big cats and the carelessness that some “zookeepers” have towards these beasts gives a false impression of sanctuaries and the work they perform. Everyone should understand the difference between a tiger sanctuary and a roadside zoo. Knowledge enables all animal lovers to spend their money more wisely at locations that help tigers rather than exploit them.
How Sanctuaries Work
Sanctuaries exist to protect animals. The services rehabilitate and release animals when possible and keep any that cannot return to the wild. Some have breeding programs to help prevent the extinction of a species or to create a healthier population.
A genuine sanctuary is a non-profit venture that keeps the life of its feline residents as close to nature as they can. Mothers and babies remain together, and the hand-rearing of any young occurs only when there is no other option. The animals live in enclosures that resemble their natural terrain. Human visitors may have some distant views of the creatures, but the animals are not on display for their amusement.
To qualify as a sanctuary, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department prohibits any involvement in the commercial trade of the species. The organization cannot sell the animals or any part of the animals or allow people to pay to have physical contact with the creatures.
What to Avoid
The owners of roadside zoos claim they protect tigers but often breed (and inbreed) tigers relentlessly and sell the babies. The company may exploit the animals through demeaning public shows that use abusive training techniques like physical punishment and the withholding of food to get the animals to perform. The handlers may have no formal training in caring for the animals, neglect proper veterinary oversight, and offer substandard diets.
The U.S. House passed a bill making it illegal for anyone other than trained staff to have contact with big cats. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill to make it a law. Anyone that loves and respects tigers should contact their senators to urge them to pass The Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 1380. Avoid all roadside zoos and spend the time and money with a non-profit dedicated to saving the lives of tigers.