Don’t Hold That Tiger

Don’t Hold That Tiger

National Geographic November 2009

Conservation page

The image is of Vernon Yates with yet another of his tiger cubs on a leash.

The caption reads: Floridian Vernon Yates charms kids when he shows them his cubs. Tiger experts deplore the practice.

Don’t Hold That Tiger

Vernon Yates took one of his 18 tigers to a party – his fee varies by event. “You can’t trust tigers,” a guest said. To prove her wrong, he told her he’d stick his head in the animal’s jaws and tug its tongue for $20. She had to pay up.

The money goes to Yate’s Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation shelter, licensed by Florida to take in animals in distress. “I deal with the true dirt of society,” he says, telling of emaciated cats in squalid cages. He makes no apologies for his controversial style. He brings leashed cubs to schools for educational talks and takes his tigers on truck rides. Other rescuers are strictly hands-off. Contact can stress the animal and endanger humans, says Carole Baskin, a real estate investor who founded Big Cat Rescue, also in Florida. Indeed, between 1996 and 2008 the world’s captive tigers killed at least 52 people and injured many more, from park guests to zookeepers.

One thing rescuers agree on: Cubs are cute, but a 500-pound cat with $7,500 yearly upkeep isn’t an apt pet. More states are curtailing trade. But Louis Dorfman of the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary says, “There’s always people who’ll sell you a tiger.” – Marc Silver

In the side bar is a graph that says:

A World of Tigers

Privately held tigers far exceed wild ones. Zoos hold relatively few.

Tigers in the Wild Asia: 4,000

Captive Tigers in the U.S. 4,900 and Worldwide 13,000

Source: Ronald Tilson and Philip Nyhus editors of Tigers of the World 2nd edition.


Some of the facts that were not included in this story is that Vernon Yates promotes the practice of keeping exotic animals, including tigers, as pets and frequently refers to them as his “pet tigers.” When he protests Big Cat Rescue events he carries posters that say, Save Our Pets, referring to Big Cat Rescue’s work to make it illegal to keep big cats as pets. The very “dirt of society” that he refers to are the people who share his same ideology that these magnificent animals are property to be bought, sold, used and discarded at whim.

After 16 years in the industry we know that it is the very thing he does; playing with and walking tigers on leashes in front of the public, that makes people want to do the same. With few barriers to keep them from buying a $200 tiger cub, ignorant people sometimes do choose to fuel the trade in tigers and it almost never works out well for the tiger, or any other exotic cat for that matter.

Every year Vernon Yates can be found in parking lots, fairs and other equally unsuitable locations hawking his latest tiger cubs. Every year he says they were an “accident.” If he hasn’t figured out in 20 years what causes tiger cubs to be born, he is in no position to be “educating” anyone.

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