Home News Tigers Dethroning of the Tiger King as a human-drama mockumentary

Dethroning of the Tiger King as a human-drama mockumentary

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Finding light relief in a time of crisis, people often find themselves drawn to entertainment as a form of escapism. Tiger King, the new Netflix documentary series, which rotates around the bizarre, ludicrous and often extreme has proven to be the escape most of us didn’t even know we needed!

The world seems to have developed a morbid fascination with the obscene characters of the shady American big cat world.   Whilst viewers might regard the series as a light form of entertainment, the harsh reality behind the tiger breeding industry is one of death and unimaginable cruelty.  Tigers are solitary animals and are not meant to be kept in cages with seven other tigers. Three-hour old cubs should be bonding with their mother not having selfies taken with visitors.

The exotic array of characters operating in the lucrative big cat captive industry window dress their desire for money and fame, the true motivation behind their actions, as a deep-seated ‘passion’ for big cats.

Breeding exotic cats are not helping endangered species in the wild

There are more than double the number of tigers living in American backyards than there are in the wild.

At a point in the series, a big cat breeder claims he is breeding tigers for conservation.  The breeding of big cats in captivity does not help save the species in the wild. Tigers are critically endangered, but domestic or ‘tame’ tigers cannot be released back into the wild to help bolster numbers.

There are nine subspecies of tiger, each subspecies has adapted to survive in their native range. The larger Amur tiger, for example, thrives in the snow and cold, white India’s Bengal tiger lives in the jungle. Tigers bred in captivity are generic, meaning they are ‘mixed breeds’ and cannot positively contribute to wild tiger genetics or populations. These generic tigers are no longer adapted to survive in their natural habitats. This begs the question of why breeders are commoditising big cats; it is certainly not for conservation.

What happens to that baby tiger you played with once?

When the cubs grow beyond a ‘useful’ age and are no longer the cute little cash cows, they are euthanised. We are treating a critically endangered species, the tiger, as a disposable commodity. A six-month-old tiger cub is no longer safe for human interaction. The cost, and risk, of keeping an adult tiger is too great and so many of these captive big cat breeders neglect or dispose of the older cats.

The human drama of Tiger King detracts from the abuse of big cats

The characters, Joe Exotic and ‘Doc’ Antle, among others, seem to be plucked from a black comedy cast, and highlight all that is wrong with the industry.  Not only putting ego before compassion but money before the basic welfare of staff and animals.  How anyone can condone the captive breeding of big and exotic cats and condemn them to life in a cage is beyond us.

And so while the documentary is a highly recommended watch it is a shame that so much airtime was devoted to the human drama, all while neglecting the larger conservation issues at play.  Now, is the time to play on the success of ‘Tiger King’ in pushing for serious legislative reform and implementation in order to close this abusive industry down.

Abysmal laws allow for the private ownership of big cats in Tiger King

Whilst ‘Tiger King’ is a must-watch for a brief insight into the shady underworld of people, politics, and egos, as the plot develops the series sadly loses sight of the true-crime, the abhorrent abuse and utilisation of wild animals for entertainment.    

The harsh reality of captive breeding and petting facilities for human entertainment is out of control in American and other parts of the world. This is a result of woefully inadequate laws protecting endangered and vulnerable species.  The lack of awareness from individuals, media, and governments is also shocking.

According to legal experts from the Animal Legal Defence Fund “There are currently no federal laws prohibiting or regulating private possession of big cats in the United States.”

Big cat ownership and cub petting worldwide

The practice of cub petting and big cat ownership for commercial purposes is sadly not isolated to America alone and is prevalent across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The lion cub petting industry remains a massive problem in South Africa and cheetahs are stolen from the wild to become house cats in the Middle East. Until people start putting the survival of a species before their next selfie opportunity, we could see tigers, lions, snow leopards and many other big cats condemned to extinction.

Tiger King, in conclusion

There is also growing hype around the upcoming mini-series and which celebrity will be cast as who.  What is far more imperative than casting calamities, is ensuring that no real tigers and other big cats are used in any ongoing filming, further perpetuating this abhorrent industry.

Tiger King was not made to shed light on the abusive tiger breeding industry in America, it was made to get eyeballs on screens, but it could be the catalyst that puts policy into place that shatters the exotic big cat captive breeding empire.

How you can help?

  • Do not visit and financially support exotic big cat breeding facilities where you can touch wild animals.
  • Educate, and encourage friends and family to do the same.
  • Refuse to cuddle or touch any captive wild animal, including tigers, lions and other cats, regardless of whether the organisation seems credible. This includes elephant-back riding.
  • Try, if possible, to see wildlife in their wild homes in national parks and game reserves across Africa and Asia. Tourism is a vital way of saving species in the wild.
  • Support non-profits working to change legislature and wildlife laws around the breeding of captive-bred animals.

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