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For young children, the circus is a magical place. For many individuals, it’s a place to see and experience wild animals first hand. Under the facade of harmless family entertainment, patrons are unaware of what it takes to coerce these animals into performing the elaborate tricks they see before them, and the level of abuse these animals endure when the circus tents come down.

Tigers are such a common staple in any big circus that most people do not realize that these big cats are highly endangered in the wild. In fact, there are currently more tigers in captivity in the U.S. than there are left in their native habitat. While some might think that keeping tigers in circuses is a good way to preserve the tiger population, this is hardly the case. First and foremost, circuses do not even attempt to replicate the tiger’s natural environment and do not have the space available to allow these cats to exhibit any of their wild behaviors. And any tigers that are bred in captivity to stock circuses can never be released into the wild. So really, circuses do very little to protect the tiger species and contribute terribly to their removal from the wild and exploitation.

The Life of a Circus Tiger


Some circus tigers come to life in captivity after being captured from the wild at a very young age. These animals are usually targeted by poachers and bought and sold into circuses, zoos and other sad fates through the illegal wildlife trade. Other tigers are born into captivity, these tigers are also typically removed from their mothers at an extremely young age. This allows trainers to “break” the tigers from a young age to make them complicit.

Circus tigers are often beaten or starved if they disobey their trainers. Broken down and anticipating punishment, tigers perform a number of uncomfortable and unnatural tricks to avoid this. What may seem like a willing participant to the audience is in reality nothing more than a terrified animal that has been beaten into submission and forced to perform.

How Life for a circus tiger compare to the wild


Housing Tigers

When the tigers aren’t performing, downtime entails life in a small cage. The average “beast wagon” size is four to five feet wide and eight feet long. The average tiger can be anywhere from four to ten feet long. Tigers eat, sleep and defecate in these small enclosures where they spend 90 percent of their time when not performing.

How Life for a Circus Tiger Compares to the Life of a Wild TigerAnimal Welfare Taiwan


Being forced to live their lives in such restricted spaces has a profound physical and mental effect on the tigers that can trigger a number of unnatural behaviors like pacing, head-bobbing, and over-grooming. These abnormal and repetitive behaviors serve no purpose or goal and are done out of utter frustration.

In the wild, tigers usually have a territory that can span across 40 square miles. Although wild tigers are not free from harm, they’re at least able to live their lives in their natural environment free of cages or fences that prevent them back from exploring playing and hunting. Their natural habitat usually looks something like this:

How Life for a Circus Tiger Compares to the Life of a Wild TigerKalyan Varma/National Geographic


Natural Behaviors

Wild tigers, like most wild animals, have complex behavioral needs. One of the most inherent behaviors is the need to hunt for their prey. Confining tigers to life in the circus inhibits many of these natural instincts, including hunting and stalking. These behaviors are primitive and fundamental to the welfare of the tiger.

How Life for a Circus Tiger Compares to the Life of a Wild TigerWikimedia Commons


Contrary to what captivity supporters declare, these instincts never truly go away, the animal is never truly tamed, and no, they wouldn’t prefer you to hand them their food. Their instincts in captivity are simply suppressed using abusive methods; this lack of stimulation and enrichment causes circus tigers to become bored, prompting unnatural, zoochotic behaviors. It is estimated that around 60 percent of captive tigers pace obsessively.

How Life for a Circus Tiger Compares to the Life of a Wild Tiger


Interacting With Other Tigers

Tigers are often solitary animals, with the exception of mating season and when females reproduce and give birth to their cubs. For wild tigers, this is a choice.

How Life for a circus tiger compare to the wildNational Geographic


Circus tigers are forced to interact with one another during performances, often resulting in an unnatural level of aggression, particularly amongst males. Aside from aggression towards one another, we’ve all heard the horrific stories of tigers violently attacking and sometimes killing their trainers or patrons. According to a study published by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, there are around nine fatal and 1.75 fatal interactions with circus tigers every year!

How Life for a circus tiger compare to the wildChristianpost

What We Can Do

The current population of wild tigers is a mere few thousand individuals, devastating in comparison to only a hundred years ago when their numbers reached 100,000. With more tigers being held in captivity than in the wild, we as Green Monsters need to support the organizations working to protect these animals and commit to spreading the truth about life for captive circus tigers. More importantly, we all need to take action and boycott facilities that hold wild animals captive.

Share what you have learned about life for tigers in captivity and encourage others to stand up for these majestic creatures by refusing to pay for their abuse and exploitation. It is up to us to keep wild animals wild.

 Lead image source: twaalfdozijn/Flickr

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10 comments on “How Life for a Circus Tiger Compares to the Life of a Wild Tiger”

Click to add comment
Steffanie Byrnes
2 Years Ago

It sucks. Having tigers perform at a circus is wrong. But retiring tigers at BCR BAR is a death sentence. Just ask Keisha.

Sandra Jasprizza
2 Years Ago

No Animal should be caged period

Ross Trimmer
2 Years Ago

ALERT ALERT: 7-2-2016, 3:38 P.M. PACIFIC TIME: The zyca virus is one thing. Microcephaly is quite another. The microcephaly increasing in south America is from DDT exposure while pregnant. This dangerous chemical is very persistent in the environment. Its toxins reverberate through the eco system. DDT banned in many years ago in the USA and some country's has never stopped much of the world from using it. Massive tons are produced in Mexico and China. Its used in the southern latitudes where wet conditions produce robust populations of mosquitoes, they spray tons of DDT. This material has the ability to cause breeding frenzies therefore more useage of DDT. Worst for pregnant women is it is common in south America to burn DDT infused candels to control mosquitoes indoors. This atomizes the DDT to atomic and sub atomic partcles that are very effective but easily breathed in and absorbed dermaly. Please let anyone you know to stay out of Mexico and South America. Its only the beginning of this global event " the Awakening". So buckle up there's lots more to come. Earthlinkinstitute Ross Theoretical Earth science

Esther Fishman
2 Years Ago

All animals do. Don't go to zoos, circuses or anywhere animals are used for entertainment.

Rhea Basista
2 Years Ago

In this day and age, it is unexpectable to have Circuses and Zoos. Circuses and Zoos should be BANNED for good.

Callie Steele
2 Years Ago

There is no comparison.

Suzana Peñaloza
2 Years Ago

Such a dreadful life

3 Years Ago

Circus "life" can hardly even be called a life to begin with. It\'s nothing compared to what animals have in the wild and definitely not something any animal would choose willingly if they were given a choice. I must say there could have been better pictures to be used. The one showing the animals eating is probably from some Chinese tiger farm.

Samuel Hamy
3 Years Ago

Nice article, except for the weird choice of a misleading photograph: the tiger chasing blesbuck. Blesbucks only occur in South Africa. As far as I know, tigers live thousands of miles away from South Africa. So why showing such a "stupid" picture?? I know a guy is raising tigers there for some reason, but still, it is as unnatural as the circus tigers..

Corrine Henn
19 Feb 2015


There are a number of wildlife sanctuaries in South Africa dedicated to conservation the same way there are in the United States, including several that do give refuge to tigers. My apologies for any confusion.

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