Paper Tigers 2008


The Role of the U.S. Captive Tiger Population in the Trade in Tiger Parts

Flawed U.S. Regulations Make Tigers in Captivity Vulnerable

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2008 – Huge gaps in U.S. regulations for tigers held in captivity could make the big cats a target for illegal trade, wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC and World Wildlife Fund found in the first-ever comprehensive report on captive tiger regulations across the United States.

The report, Paper Tigers?: The Role of the U.S. Captive Tiger Population in the Trade in Tiger Parts, found there are no reliable regulatory mechanisms to keep track of captive tigers in the United States. While the report shows no evidence that these tigers are currently a supply source for the international black market, these weak U.S. regulations could leave them vulnerable to illegal trade unless the issue is immediately addressed.

“As a leader in promoting the conservation of tigers, the United States has a responsibility to effectively manage its captive tiger population to prevent any emergence of illegal trade,” said Leigh Henry, program officer for TRAFFIC North America and co-author of the report. “Any supply of tiger parts into the black market can stimulate trade and consumer demand, which could pose a serious threat to already-dwindling wild tiger populations.”

U.S. government has no way to determine how many tigers there are in captivity within its borders, where they are, who owns them, or what happens to their body parts when they die.

According to the report, the U.S. government has no way to determine how many tigers there are in captivity within its borders, where they are, who owns them, or what happens to their body parts when they die. Captive tigers include animals bred in zoos, used for entertainment in carnivals or promotional exhibits, housed at rescue facilities, and those privately owned.  In many states there are no controls on individuals keeping tigers as pets. Current estimates indicate that there are more than 5,000 tigers in captivity in the United States, more than exist in the wild. A registration scheme for all captive tigers and a means to monitor disposal of dead tigers is urgently needed, according to the report.

Tiger populations are fast declining worldwide due to poaching for illegal trade and habitat and prey loss. One of the leading threats to the species’ survival is the global demand for their bones, skins and other body parts for use in fashion and some traditional forms of Asian medicine.  There are around 4,000 tigers remaining in the wild.

“CITES… decided last year… that countries should      not breed tigers on a commercial scale…”

The international treaty that controls trade in wildlife, called CITES, has agreed to a series of decisions and resolutions for its 173 member governments to implement to help protect tigers from illegal trade.  Since 2000, a resolution agreed upon by all CITES member countries, including the United States, has urged governments to ensure that they had effective management and controls in place to stop captive tiger parts from entering illegal trade. The U.S. lacks a comprehensive management system for captive tigers, which means that the U.S. has not implemented the CITES resolution it agreed to, according to WWF and TRAFFIC.

CITES member countries also decided last year, by consensus, that countries should not breed tigers on a commercial scale for trade in their body parts. The report shows that while no tigers are bred on a commercial scale in the U.S. for trade in their bones or other parts, there is a lack of regulation on the federal and state level, which could leave the door open for illegal trade.

Mahendra Shrestha, director of Save the Tiger Fund, which funded the report, said, “The U.S. federal and state governments have an opportunity to address this vulnerability now to prevent potential abuse and demonstrate their strong conservation leadership.  We must take all steps necessary to protect tigers to ensure their survival into the future.”

“Of an estimated 5,000 + captive tigers in the US only 117 of them are in accredited sanctuaries.”

WWF and TRAFFIC recommend that, among other steps, the federal government rescind exceptions to laws that exempt certain categories of captive U.S. tigers from regulation, specifically under the Captive-Bred Wildlife Registration system, and that all persons or facilities holding USDA licenses for exhibition or breeding and dealing in tigers report annually on the number of tigers held, births, mortality and transfer or sale.

Notes to Editors:

  • CITES ( is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, established in 1973 and overseen by the United Nations Environment Program. More information on CITES is available at or
  • High-resolution images to accompany this report are available by request.
  • Big Cat Rescue polled all of the accredited rescue facilities after this report and discovered that only 117 tigers are in accredited sanctuaries.


Erika Viltz, Public Relations Manager, World Wildlife Fund, 1250 24th Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20037. Tel. 202-778-9542, erika.viltz @

Richard Thomas, Communications Coordinator, TRAFFIC International, 219a Huntingdon Rd, Cambridge CB3 ODL, UK. Tel. +44-1223-279-068, richard.thomas @

About World Wildlife Fund

For more than 45 years, WWF has been protecting the future of nature. The largest multinational conservation organization in the world, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF’s unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level, from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature. Go to to learn more.

TRAFFIC is a joint program of WWF and IUCN-The International Union for Conservation of Nature.  For more information, please visit

About Save the Tiger Fund

Save The Tiger Fund is a partnership program between the ExxonMobil Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It sponsors effective efforts to stop the killing of wild tigers and to enable wild tigers to recover and flourish by fostering cooperation, strategic planning, local leadership, scientific and community-based conservation. To learn more visit

About the International Tiger Coalition

The International Tiger Coalition is an alliance of many organizations representing more than 100 organizations across the globe, united under the common aim of stopping trade in tiger parts and products from all sources. Members listed HERE

Copies of The Lizard King and the 50 page report called Paper Tigers? were sent to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commissioners and top level staff to illustrate the need for a ban on exotics in Florida.

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