From WWF: Tigers Among US

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Note: Please see the report at: for an interactive map of the United States to learn more about “ Tigers Among US”

Did you know that there are more tigers in American backyards than there are in the wild around the world? The United States has one of the largest populations of captive tigers in the world ? estimated at perhaps 5,000 tigers, compared to as few as 3,200 in the wild. They are found in backyards, urban apartments, sideshows, truck stops and private breeding facilities.

In many jurisdictions, people can legally keep a tiger on their property without reporting it to local officials or neighbors. In some states, it is easier to buy a tiger than to adopt a dog from a local animal shelter. Rarely can officials determine how many tigers there are in captivity within state borders ? or where they are, who owns them, or what happens to their body parts (highly prized on the black market) when they die.

It’s critical that the United States better regulate the captivity of tigers. When tiger ownership and breeding aren’t monitored, captive tigers become easy targets for black market sales, and those sales end up threatening wild populations. Here’s how that happens: The illegal trade in products derived from captive tigers stimulates demand, especially for wild tigers. The more demand there is, the more wild tigers are poached.

The lack of regulation of captive tigers is also a major threat to public safety. Lax oversight means tigers can be held in areas that may not be adequately secured. Let’s not wait for another tragedy to occur before taking action.

There has never been a better time to make it right. In 2010 ? the Year of the Tiger ? WWF is working to close loopholes in regulations for tiger ownership set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We also play an active role in supporting tiger range countries’ commitment to Tx2, WWF’s ambitious goal of doubling wild tiger numbers by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022.

In November, world leaders will gather at a Tiger Summit in Russia to discuss the plight of wild tigers and agree upon a range-wide recovery plan for these big cats. Take action today by encouraging Secretary Clinton to attend the summit and ensure strong U.S. commitment to global tiger conservation.

External resources

  • Sanctuary: Florida-based Big Cat Rescue serves as a sanctuary for abandoned and abused tigers
  • Report: Know of a captive tiger in distress? Take it to Animal Abuse 911
  • Success: An undercover operation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that netted great results Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
  • Watch: The Tiger Next Door, the acclaimed documentary by Camilla Calamandrei

Press Release:

WWF and TRAFFIC Highlight Dangers of America’s 5,000-Plus Backyard Tigers
Weak U.S. Regulations Make Captive Tigers a Target for Illegal Trade

For Release: Oct 20, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC, October 20, 2010 – With more tigers in captivity in the U.S. than survive in the wild, the United States needs a centralized federal database to monitor the big cats, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said today. Weak U.S. regulations could be helping to fuel the multimillion dollar international black market for tiger parts, according to a new review released today by WWF and TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network.

Additionally, WWF released a new online tool that allows users to learn about their states’ captive tiger regulations and how weak oversight puts wild tigers and human safety at risk.

As few as 3,200 tigers are left in the wild across Asia, down from 100,000 a hundred years ago. America’s 5,000-plus captive tigers are mostly kept by private individuals, not zoos. The tigers are often in deplorable conditions and in states that do not have laws or regulations that require close monitoring or regulatory oversight. Lack of sufficient state or federal regulation makes it effectively impossible to determine the number of tigers in the U.S. at any given time, where they are kept and what happens to their body parts – highly prized on the black market in Asia – when they die.

“In addition to being a threat to communities, captive tigers in the U.S. are a ticking time bomb for the illegal wildlife trade,” said Leigh Henry, WWF senior policy officer for Species Conservation. “Demand for tiger parts and products is one of the leading threats to the continued survival of the species in the wild. A nationwide database is essential to ensure that captive cats don’t end up in traditional folk medicine, tiger wine, or as somebody’s hearth rug or wall hanging.”

Among the findings in the review “Tigers Among US”:

  • A patchwork of federal laws governs the possession, sale and exhibition of captive tigers. However, due to a host of exceptions exemptions, and loopholes, federal agencies charged with implementing these laws have no mandate to maintain a current inventory of how many tigers are in the country, where they are, who possesses them, when they die or how they are disposed of.
  • 17 states allow the keeping of tigers by individuals with a state permit or registration (Iowa, Oregon and Washington recently banned tiger possession but have systems in place to regulate tigers that were grandfathered in prior to enactment of the bans).
  • 8 states have no laws on captive tigers.
  • 28 states have laws banning the possession of tigers in private collections.

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • A central reporting system and database for all captive tigers held within U.S. borders should be created under new or existing law. There should be no exemptions or exceptions.
  • Any person or facility owning a tiger should report on the number of tigers held, births, deaths, mortality and transfer or sale.
  • All tiger deaths should be reported immediately and the carcasses disposed of through cremation by a licensed facility.
  • State and federal law enforcement should be provided with resources to conduct undercover investigations to eliminate markets for tiger parts and detect international smuggling attempts.

In November, world leaders will gather at a Global Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia – the world’s first global summit focused on saving a single species from extinction. They will discuss a range-wide recovery plan for tigers that includes how to protect breeding populations, tiger landscapes and address poaching and international trade. The goal of the Summit is to double the number of wild tigers by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022.

“The United States government has been a global leader in promoting the conservation of tigers, but it also has a responsibility to manage the tigers in its own backyard to prevent them from entering illegal trade,” Henry said. “By clamping down on this issue, we can better cooperate with other nations holding large numbers of captive tigers to prevent trade in these animals from threatening their wild counterparts.”

Notes to Editors:

  • Tigers Among US is an updated review of the 2008 TRAFFIC report Paper Tigers?: The Role of the U.S. Captive Tiger Population in the Trade in Tiger Parts. For a copy of the full report, go to:
  • High-resolution images and video to accompany this report are available by request

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