The Netflix documentary miniseries “Tiger King: Death, Chaos and Madness” has rekindled the debate about the big cats that are in captivity, stressing that there are about 10,000 specimens in these conditions in the United States.
The documentary series, which has seven episodes, debuted on March 20 on the streaming platform and has since topped the most watched productions of Netflix in Portugal and a little throughout.
Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, Joe Exotic, is the central figure in the documentary, which shows his private zoo in Oklahoma, one of the largest in the United States – it has more than two hundred big cats and several other wild animals.
The plot, which covers the life story of Joe Exotic and other private zoo owners, brought the debate about big cats in captivity to the public.
But Allison Skidmore, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, in the United States, in the area of wildlife trafficking, fears that the documentary did not draw enough attention to the problem of these animals.
Speaking to The Conversation, the expert says that it is not easy to determine for sure how many of these animals live in captivity, since most captive tigers are hybrid, that is, they are not identified as one of the six subspecies of tiger – the Bengal tiger, the Amur tiger, the South China tiger, the Sumatra tiger, the Indochina tiger and the Malaysian tiger – and were instead categorized as "generic".
Allison points out that less than 5% of tigers – that is, 350 specimens – in captivity are controlled by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a non-profit organization that accredits this type of animals on North American soil.
All the others, he laments, are privately owned tigers, the so-called “generic” tigers, which are not controlled by any specialized institution and are therefore out of federal supervision.
“There are no legal requirements to register these generic tigers, nor a comprehensive national database to track and track them. The best educated guess reveals that there are about 10,000 tigers in captivity in the United States, raising the global tiger population in these conditions to 25,000 ″.
In comparison, there are less than 4,000 tigers at liberty in the wild – well beyond the 100,000 tigers identified a century ago.
Vague and complicated laws
In the same answer given to The Conversation, Skidmore explains that the legislation on the possession of wild animals in the United States is vague and complicated.
In practice, he continues, there are no federal statutes or regulations that clearly and expressly prohibit private ownership of these wild animals. State and local jurisdictions have received authority in this regard, with some banning possession and others requiring specific permission.
In all, there are 32 US states that totally or partially prohibit the possession of these animals. Another 14 states allow ownership as long as a license or permission exists. There are still four US states – Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Nevada – without any regulation or supervision.
Even in states where the ban was enacted, it is possible to circumvent the law, according to Skidmore. “Even in states that prohibit private property, there are flaws. For example, in all but three states, homeowners can apply for the so-called "federal exhibitor license", which is remarkably cheap and easy to obtain and circumvents the most stringent state or local laws in force. "
Finally, the expert also recalls that social networks, where hundreds of images of people have been multiplied with big cats are a problem, since they mask the fact that the species is under threat.
“Posing with tigers on social networks like Instagram and dating apps has become a big problem. Not only can it pose a risk to the health and safety of humans and tigers, it also promotes a false narrative ”.
“If we see thousands of photographs of people with tigers in captivity, we are masking the real problem of tigers in danger in nature (…) The reality of wild tigers has been hidden behind the pomp and circumstance of social networks. And this situation marginalizes conservation ideas and the true situation of tigers as one of the most endangered big cats ”.
The series, which quickly became a worldwide success, will have a new episode next week, revealed Jeff Lowe, one of the owners of the zoo who participated in the production.
As for the debate on the ownership and conservation of these animals, it will certainly continue.