Many people are entranced with the idea of having such a beautiful and powerful animal as a tiger as a pet. It is a shocking fact that there are actually more “pet” tigers in the USA – around 5,000 of them – than exist in the wild. These felines are incredibly graceful, sleek, and gorgeous – and we all get mesmerized by their exotic beauty at places like zoos and big cat rescue and rehabilitation centers. Some people get so smitten that they decide to purchase a tiger of their own, and are stuck with a recklessly wild animal for years and even decades – that is, if they can even afford care for it. Here, we examine the legal aspects of owning a tiger.
First of all, different states have different laws. Owning a pet tiger is considered legal or is unregulated in eight states, all of which have rather lax regulatory laws concerning animal rights in general: North Carolina, Alabama, Delaware, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Fourteen other states require a permit to own a tiger or any other big cat. Meaning that roughly half of the states accept pet tigers on a legal basis.
Tigers are surprisingly cheap to purchase as a pet. People in the USA can purchase a captive-born tiger for anywhere from $900-$2500. Typically people will purchase a female tiger, as the males tend to be more aggressive, more territorial, and more unpredictable in their behavior. This does lead to some questionable behavior regarding the treatment of male tigers that are born to a breeder. Despite this relatively cheap initial purchasing price of a tiger cub, the costs of keeping and caring for a wild tiger are extremely high. A full-grown tiger requires around 6,000 kilocalories of food a day – that is about 15 pounds of meat! However, in the wild, tigers consume a wide variety of animals and plants, and therefore require a diverse diet to ensure they are receiving an adequately nutritious diet. This means that in addition to purchasing enough meat to support a tiger, various nutrients and nutritious additives must be purchased to add to food so that the tiger does not suffer from malnutrition and deficiencies.
In addition, one of the largest issues in keeping a tiger is the issue of space. A male tiger in the wild keeps a territory of around 40 square miles, while a female maintains around 7 square miles of territory. Regardless, few people own this amount of land, much less are even able to enclose a large enough space for their tiger to reside in.
The end result is that often tigers live in decrepit squalor, in tiny pens piled high with their own waste. Tigers living in tiny pens will quite literally lose their minds, becoming hyperaggressive and attacking anything that comes near their enclosure. In the past 10 years, around 21 fatalities have been attributed to big cats. Despite being accustomed to human interaction, the fact remains that tigers associate humans with food, and this association can and has turned fatal. Many animal rights organizations work tirelessly to attempt to overturn the legal status of owning tigers. After a certain incident in Ohio in 2011 when a man released his tigers into the community, along with many other wild animals before committing suicide, Ohio has established a ban on owning big cats.