The story of the world’s tigers is similar to that of other endangered species. For years, the wild tiger population was relatively stable — about 100,000 tigers once roamed the Asian continent.

However, as a result of human settlement expansion, poaching and habitat destruction via deforestation, the world’s wild tiger population has sustained blow after blow.

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Today, there are only around 3,000 wild tigers remaining, as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reports. That’s a staggering 97 percent decline.

Three tiger species – the Caspian tiger, the Javan tiger, and the Bali tiger — have already been wiped forever off this planet for good with the rest of the world’s species estimated to follow soon if major protection efforts are not undertaken.

Currently, all tiger species alive today are endangered with the Sumatran Tiger of Indonesia listed as critically endangered due to palm oil plantation expansion.

Despite this bleak future for wild tigers, there seems to be a population boom of captive tigers in the U.S.

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IFAW’s Wildlife Rescue Program Officer, Kelly Donithan, tells OGP that there may be around 10,000 big cats, including tigers, lions and other endangered big felines, under private ownership across the U.S.

While certain areas have laws against exotic animal ownership, Donithan tells us that there are still “several states without any regulations on owning big cats” and that “breeders [are] willing to sell them to individuals for any purpose.”

This type of ownership often ends sadly for big cats, who are frequently resold or shipped off elsewhere once owners realize they are not able to care for a dangerous and very expensive big cat.

IFAW is currently working on big cat relocation projects across the U.S. with the hope that one day exotic animal ownership comes to an end.

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Most recently, the IFAW participated in the rescue of nine-year-old Indonesian tiger Sheba, who spent nearly her entire life in a small, concrete enclosure at a Christian camp for kids in Mountain Pine, Arkansas.

Sheba’s owner, an exotic animal enthusiast, procured her when she was just a cub from an acquaintance in rural Oklahoma, but once Sheba became too large to have at home, he decided to transfer her to the campground for a chance at a better life.

© IFAW

However, over the years, Sheba developed chronic arthritis and rarely had access to enrichment or a natural environment. The campground’s new minister noticed her poor condition soon after he arrived and encouraged her owner to work with the camp to move her to a better environment. Not long after, IFAW came in to help.

© IFAW

As Donithan tells OGP, “When IFAW first arrived, Sheba was slightly nervous, but mostly inquisitive and even playful. She seemed to warm up quickly to our presence and even greeted us with ‘chuffs,’ a friendly tiger vocalization.”

© IFAW

After an initial veterinary exam, Sheba was transferred to In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center in Wylie, Texas that over 60 rescued big cats call home.

© IFAW

Here, Sheba will spend the rest of her days in comfort housed in a large, grassy enclosure that has a den, plenty of enrichment, and a large tub for her to splash around in, which Donithan tells us that she is already enjoying. 

© IFAW

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At In-Sync, Sheba will also finally get to interact with other members of her species in an 8,000 sq. ft. playground area that houses a pool, waterfall and lots of toys and enrichment opportunities. What a wonderful start to the rest of her life!

Watch Sheba’s big move from start to finish in the video below!

To help big cats like Sheba, consider:

Lead image source: © IFAW

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