The Tigers Next Door
by Steve Winter

project STATEMENT

Few people realize there are between 5,000 and 10,000 tigers living in cages in the United States—more than remain in the wild in Asia. Most live in roadside zoos. Many individuals also keep tigers as pets, as the United States has no federal law regulating big cat ownership. Cubs are mass-bred in “tiger mills,” mainly for cub-petting and photo-op attractions. They are pulled from their mothers at birth, sold before their eyes open, and by four weeks, are passed around to countless tourists who pay up to $700 each. At four months, they reach their expiration date—too big and dangerous to pet—and are disposed of. The dark underbelly of this industry includes rampant criminal activity: widespread abuse, the killing of “excess” tigers, and domestic and international wildlife trafficking—including exports of tiger parts from the United States to Thailand. The United States Department of Agriculture is purposefully not enforcing minimum care standards mandated by Congress. Enforcement dropped 92 percent from 2016 to 2018. This largely unregulated situation in the U.S. has global implications. It provides cover for Southeast Asian “tiger farms” that feed a lucrative black market trade in tiger parts, and drives poaching of the last wild tigers.

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