Tigers have long been renowned for their breathtaking beauty, power, and strength. In the wild, these animals live in a wide variety of habitats, including evergreen and tropical forests, mangrove swamps, savannahs, grasslands, and mountainous areas. Most wild tigers are found in Asia, especially throughout India, China, Korea, and Southeast Asia, as well as parts of Russia. They are solitary animals by nature, who require a great deal of space in which to hunt. Shockingly, tigers’ habitats have shrunk by 93 percent since the year 2000! As humans take over the land once occupied by these animals, wild tigers’ survival has been increasingly threatened.
While wild tigers are being steadily pushed to the brink of extinction, a number of commercial tiger breeding operations have sprung up with the intention of exploiting these animals as photo props, tourist attractions, and even as household pets. It is estimated that – thanks to lax regulations around the keeping of exotic pets – 7,000 tigers are currently living in American backyards. This is more than the total amount of these animals left in the wild!
In recent years, Thailand’s Tiger Temple has emerged as one of the most egregiously abusive captive tiger facilities to be investigated by animal protection groups. Multiple investigations carried out at the facility between 2005 and 2008 found that at least seven tigers had disappeared from the facility without any explanation and five more had arrived – again, without any reason being given. This took place despite the fact that under Thai law, the international exchange of tigers is banned.
The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries: Standards for Animal Care of Felids stipulates that enclosures housing two tigers must be a size of at least 1,200 square feet, but the enclosures at Tiger Temple were found to be much smaller than this. A report from Care for the Wild International found that the tigers spend 20-21 hours per day in their cages, and interact with guests in direct sunlight for three hours at a time, even in temperatures of up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Thanks to irresponsible breeding practices and the fact that the facility’s tigers have had their wild instincts quite literally beaten out of them, they will never be suitable for release into the wild.
Repeated attempts by officials to remove the tigers from Tiger Temple and retire them to reputable sanctuaries have been foiled. And now, a new photograph by Steve Winter, on behalf of National Geographic, reveals exactly how sad the situation truly is for the animals who are held in this facility.
The room in which this tiger has been placed may look sumptuous and elegant, but it masks the grim reality being faced by all tigers who are forced to live in captivity.
Winter said, “Tigers are the largest of the big cats. They deserve to live free in the forest. Our animal family is so much like us – they find mates, they have kids, they have to feed themselves and their families. If we can find a way to believe that they think, feel, and have emotions, we can treat them better and find a way to ensure their future on this planet. They are a keystone species in their ecosystems, though we as humans are not.”
This statement shows the reality of what we’ve done to tigers and their natural environment for the sake of our entertainment. By poaching them from the wild and holding them captive, we’ve completely altered the natural way of the tigers ecosystem. Although tigers have long been regarded as dangerous, kings of the jungle – they are, in fact, no match for the most aggressive predator of all: humans.
As we’ve seen with many other top predators, when they are removed from their ecosystem, it causes a trophic cascade and can impact everything from the balance of other animal life to the plants and eventually comes back to impact human life. Sadly, in the case of tigers, we continue to put our want for entertainment above the future of many natural habitats.
National Geographic has launched a Big Cats Initiative to raise awareness about these animals’ plight and spearhead initiatives to save them … before it’s too late. To find out how you can help, click here. Other organizations dedicated to helping these majestic animals include The Tiger Foundation and Panthera’s Save the Tiger Fund.
You can also share this article and some of the others below to help spread the message that it is in our best interest to keep tigers wild:
- Where Are the World’s Tigers?
- Big Cats are Beautiful, But This Is Why They Should NEVER Be Pets
- Keeping Tigers in Captivity: An Ideal Conservation Solution or Selfish Sham?
- No, That Tiger in the Zoo Isn’t Saying ‘Hi’ to You: Commonly Misinterpreted Captive Animal Behaviors
- The Truth About White Tigers and Why Their Breeding Needs to Stop
Image source: Steve Winter/Instagram