It’s hard to pass up a chance to check out animals up close, especially when those animals aren’t easy to find in your neck of the woods. Most of us will never get the opportunity to go on a safari to see a wild tiger in person, much less bottle feed one. Let’s face it, tigers in the wild are pretty dangerous, as well as extremely endangered. Some species of tiger are so threatened that it’s a rarity to find them in the wild at all. Which makes a trip to T.I.G.E.R.S Preservation Station and Safari in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina seem like the perfect trip for a tiger enthusiast!
Not only can you get up close and personal with adorable tiger cubs, you can see rare white tigers and even ligers too. Posing for picture packages helps you to commemorate the experience and the proceeds go toward the Rare Species Fund, a non-profit set up by T.I.G.E.R.S for conservation. That sounds awesome! For the animal lover, this would seem like a spectacular opportunity.
If we look closer, however, it isn’t entirely the wholesome and altruistic venture it leads patrons to believe that it is. For the average consumer, it would seem like spending a couple of hours with a rare tiger while contributing to an establishment that does conservation work would be helping animals. The fact is, the animals at T.I.G.E.R.S are bred solely for profit and some of them are so unsuitable for reintroduction to the wild that their breeding actually has nothing to do with conservation.
Tigers are put on display in small enclosures, removed from their mothers for hours of photo ops and trained to perform in shows, movies, fairs and television while their director racks up a list of USDA violations. The animals here live a life centered around being profit generators, plain and simple. Let’s take a look at all of the reasons that the T.I.G.E.R.S organization is T.E.R.R.I.B.L.E.
1. Where do the T.I.G.E.R.S Animals Come From?
An acronym for The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, T.I.G.E.R.S was founded in 1983 and has two locations, Myrtle Beach Safari and Preservation Station. The first location sits on 50 acres and houses 120 animals, 60 of which are tigers with a variety of them being rare or endangered. The second is located in a busy tourist area called Barefoot Landing and bills itself, “a free wildlife exhibit and living tiger museum” that offers photo packages, for a fee, with a tiger cub or monkey.
Animals living at T.I.G.E.R.S have been either taken from the wild or bred in captivity. A 30-year-old African elephant named Bubbles came to the facility after being orphaned as a baby by ivory poachers. She was trained and put to work in movies, such as Ace Ventura II and currently lives at the Myrtle Beach Safari location.
Many of the animals are bred at the facility, including crossbred ligers, like Hercules. Holding the Guiness Book of World Records designation for largest cat in the world, Hercules weighs over 900 pounds and is used in “educational” shows. Ligers, a cross between a male lion and a tigress, are a completely human construct. They simply do not happen in the wild, which makes the motivation behind their use as an “educational tool” dubious at best.
Ligers are often born with abnormalities owing to their bizarre genetic make-up, are considerably larger than their parents and typically have shorter life spans. Due to these issues, they’re completely unable to survive in the wild, which means that breeding them only serves to create more captive animals for human entertainment. Their “rarity often makes them big attractions, which translates to large profit potential. According to Liger.org, Ligers “are basically freaks bred by unscrupulous zoos in order to make money out of people willing to pay to see them.” The practice is even illegal in some countries as a violation of conservation law.
T.I.G.E.R.S also breeds white tigers, another large draw for tourists due to their rarity. A white tiger has not been seen in the wild since the 1950s, meaning the white tigers seen today are the product of several generations of captive breeding.
Inbreeding is unavoidable when attempting to reproduce another tiger with this and several other color mutations, leaving these animals with severe deficits and no chance of ever being introduced into the wild. If the intent of a breeding program isn’t to boost the numbers of an animal in the wild, it can’t be considered conservation.
2. How are Their Animals Trained?
The animals at T.I.G.E.R.S are used for movies, commercials, fairs and photo ops which all require they be vigorously trained in order to perform their tricks and not harm the general public that get up close and personal with them. This is overseen by the director of T.I.G.E.R.S, Doc Bhagavan Antle.
Doc Antle maintains that he received his doctorate from the Chinese Science Foundation though there is some confusion if this was a PhD in Natural Sciences or an M.D. He is vague about his methods, saying only that he raises the animals by hand to gain their trust and doesn’t use food as most operant conditioning methods do, yet most of the photo ops and pictures from appearances show the animals being rewarded and pacified with a bottle.
Operant conditioning methods that use food and water as a reward for compliant behavior are often used when the animal is hungry or thirsty prior to the reward being offered to ensure effectiveness. This means that in order to get an animal to perform a trained task, food and water are typically withheld for a period of time before hand to ensure the animal will want to earn that reward. This reduces these animals to begging for a sip from a baby bottle when they’d be hunting in the wild.
3. T.I.G.E.R.S: History of Abuse and Animal Welfare Violations.
The list of USDA violations against Doc Antle and T.I.G.E.R.S is lengthy, spanning almost 30 years. He was cited for abandoning deer and peacocks on the property of his zoo in Buckingham, Virginia in 1989 and went on to wrack up 38 more violations between 1988 and 2014. These included allegations that he was beating tigers to get them to comply, evidence of endangerment with sharp wires and nails littering some of the animal pens and providing insufficient enclosures and insufficient water.
He was cited in 2010 by the USDA when a 3-year-old tiger named Mahesh escaped his enclosure and ran around freely, terrorizing patrons. There were no injuries in the incident but Antle was cited twice more in the following months for continuing to keep the tiger in the same type of enclosure he’d escaped from.
For a fee there’s very little that patrons can’t do with the animals under Antle’s care. One example is the opportunity people are given to swim with Bubbles the elephant. Photos showing her covered with people as they swim in a pool at Myrtle Beach Safari depict an image of people using an elephant as a giant raft. Rigorous training must be employed at a young age to ensure compliance when elephants are used for this type of human interaction which involves “breaking” the elephant so they lose their free will.
Again, Antle does not outline his specific methods for how he has trained these animals, but it’s clear that Bubbles has undergone extensive conditioning. Both Bubbles, who risks injury to her vertebrae from people standing on her like a surfboard, and the humans who are in a swimming pool with a large wild animal are put in harm’s way with this kind of activity!
A fairly ominous mystery surrounding T.I.G.E.R.S is what happens to the cats after the establishment can no longer use them. The USDA allows a very narrow window between 8 and 12 weeks of age for handling of tiger cubs. With tiger cub and monkey photo ops being the primary means of income for Preservation Station, one would think that Myrtle Beach Safari would be overrun with cats.
In fact, Antle has claimed to have trained over 400 cats in his career. Yet, there are only 60 cats currently living at Myrtle Beach Safari. Where are these cubs going when they turn into adults? Due to the lack of tracking of tigers in the U.S., the short answer is no one really knows!
One of the few instances that can be tracked took place in 2009 when Antle released two of his cats into the custody of a man in order to transport them who’d lost his USDA license due to abandoning 75 of his own tigers in Palm Bay, Florida. Their final destination was to Zoological Imports 2000, an exotic dealership owned by another individual, a convicted drug kingpin. The result was another USDA citation for violating the Animal Welfare Act.
4. What Kind of Conservation Work are They Doing?
According to their website, the Rare Species Fund was established in, “1982 to provide financial support to on-site wildlife conservation projects and wildlife education programs around the globe.” It goes on to say, “The Rare Species Fund actively supports the African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZAB) in its efforts to improve African zoo collection management, captive animal husbandry and public educational messages.” So, basically, many of their “conservation” funds are being spent on … captivity.
Another example of “conservation” work done by The Rare Species Fund makes it sound as if they released some of their tigers to a wildlife preserve. According to T.I.G.E.R.S they, “donated and personally transported 7 tigers from our Myrtle Beach, South Carolina preserve to the Samutprakarn Wildlife Preserve South of Bangkok.” The announcement went on to say, “A healthy and thriving litter of cubs just heralded the first success of this groundbreaking program.”
This sounds great, except the Samutprakarn Wildlife Preserve in Thailand is not really a preserve. Actually called the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo, the facility hosts animals for display that include “freak” animals like 6-legged crocodiles. The announcement boasts that four color variants of tiger were included in this donation, which means that these animals are inbred for their mutations and can’t ever be introduced into the wild, so any “breeding program” these tigers are participating in is merely to produce more money makers, not for conservation.
Doc Antle vehemently defends his right to own and exploit exotic animals saying, “I still think this is your right to have your own tiger and be killed by your own tiger; just keep it in a cage forever and don’t let anyone else near you or watch you have it happen.” Statements like these make it seem as though he is more interested in conserving his right to keep wild animals than in keeping animals wild.
5. Life in the Wild vs. Life in a Tourism Center
Animals used for tourism are generally housed in one location and then taken to another in order to perform whatever tricks that they’ve been trained for in the interest of generating an income. This often leads to physical and emotional stress as the animals are forced into unnatural circumstances, taken from their family or social groups and forced to comply with the will of their trainer in order to produce a cute photo. Comparitivly speaking, the life of an animal used for entertaining tourists is vastly different from the one they would enjoy in the wild.
Tigers live in a variety of environments in the wild, from forests to mountain regions and savannahs. When used for tourism, these animals are kept in small enclosures that mimic a zoo and are often transported back and forth in cages from their artificial habitats to the places where personal appearances are booked.
Tigers are nocturnal, which puts them at their most active at dusk and dawn. Able to run between 49-65 mph, they are active swimmers and can leap heights of 16-feet all in the name of hunting for prey. When used to entertain tourists the nocturnal nature of tigers are ignored. Forced to perform or pose for pictures during the day when the paying customers are around, they are then kept in small enclosures for viewing or for transport between their home base and the next paying gig.
Mother tigers give birth to 3 or 4 cubs at a time and raise them alone in the wild. They will typically retreat to their den and stay there with their young, nursing the cubs and keeping them to the safety of the den for the first 8 weeks of their lives. They’re then allowed to venture out, but stay close to their mother as they learn to hunt and survive in the wild.
Tiger cubs used for “Pay-to-Pet” operations and other tourist opportunities are taken from their mothers at eight weeks and hand raised to allow the cub to bond with their human trainers and begin generating profits.
In the wild tigers can eat between 40-60 pounds of meat per day. This consists of game they’ve hunted themselves, running over great distances to find the food and capture it for dinner. Animals held in captivity don’t get near the same level of activity that their wild counterparts do and thusly have their food monitored very closely in order to prevent obesity.
This can include withholding food completely outside of a training exercise or performance as a means of ensuring the animal does the tricks their trainer expects. It’s been reported that the liger Hercules, for example, could easily eat 100 pounds of meat per day, yet he’s given only 25 in order to keep him from gaining the weight that his more confinement would cause.
6. What YOU CAN and MUST do in Order to Stop This Suffering
After reading this we’re sure a Green Monster like you is pretty appalled about the way these animals are suffering and would like to do something about it. The good news is you have the power to make a difference simply by refusing to patronize this establishment.
Boycott T.I.G.E.R.S Preservation Station
Though they don’t charge an admission, T.I.G.E.R.S Preservation Station makes its money by charging for photo packages of patrons’ tiger cub encounters. By refusing to visit this location and purchase these photos and the other items they have for sale that divert proceeds to their operating costs you send the message that breeding animals for the purpose of a photo op or any other form of entertainment is wrong.
Leave a Review on Tripadvisor and Similar Sites
While your individual boycott will make a difference, you can magnify its impact by spreading the word and mobilizing with your fellow Green Monsters. Send the message loud and clear that a tourist destination that breeds animals for profit is not conservation!
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Lead image source: 911animalabuse.com