William Blake’s famous poem expresses incredulity that such an animal could ever have been created.
“Tyger Tyger, burning bright”
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
In “The tiger next door: America’s backyard big cats” (The Guardian, 10 November 2019), Alex Hannaford expresses his own surprise that tigers are treated like domestic cats:
“An oft-quoted statistic is that there are more tigers in American back yards than there are left in the wild. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, there are between 3,200 and 3,500 tigers remaining in the wild globally. By some estimates there are 5,000 in captivity in the US, though there might be more.”
That’s potentially 100 tigers in every US State. In comparison, India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) says that India is home to 70% of the world’s tigers, where in 2018 there were just 2,967.
There are no consolidated records of how many tigers are on American ranches, in unlicensed zoos, apartments, truck stops, or private facilities, because of a stupefying lack of oversight at federal, state, and county levels. Alex Hannaford’s article goes on:
“According to the World Wildlife Fund, only 6% of America’s captive tiger population lives in zoos and facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums; the rest are in private hands. Some are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture and others by state laws, but some are not regulated at all. ‘In some states, it is easier to buy a tiger than to adopt a dog from a local animal shelter,’ says the WWF.”
This seems to be another example of the frontier lawlessness of a country where few states have regulations covering assault weapons and where in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and New Mexico, there are currently no regulations about owning either assault weapons or machine guns.
In Texas, its 254 counties independently regulate the ownership of dangerous wild animals, and in that state people are “entitled” to carry AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and to bring concealed handguns on to some parts of university campuses. The right to bear arms has been extended to the right to own a tiger.
In the USA, the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance (BCSA) opposes the private ownership of all wild cat species; the commercial breeding of wild cats; and the use of captive wild cats for cub petting encounters and photographic opportunities or any similar public interaction.
In February 2019, BCSA reintroduced to the U.S. House of Representatives a bill preventing unqualified people from owning big cats such as tigers, lions, leopards and cougars. In October 2019, the Big Cat Public Safety Act was laid before the Senate. It remains to be seen if it will become law and how much notice will be taken by states.
Mahatma Gandhi is supposed to have written, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Apparently, the quotation is spurious. But whoever said it has a point. A nation that allows its children, its senior citizens, its prisoners, and its animals to be treated inhumanely needs to think again.