Snuggly baby tigers bought online and elsewhere in the exotic pet market quickly grow into large and dangerous animals that few people are equipped to deal with. Some are kept in cramped and unsafe facilities that pose a constant threat to their owners and the general public, while others may end up as body parts sold on the black market, fueling the illegal wildlife trade that drives the demise of wild tigers. Tigers in the wild have territory from at least seven and up to 580 square miles; Restricting them to a cage, house, or backyard is undeniably cruel. As a wild tiger mole survivor, I know the dangers tigers can pose when they feel threatened, whether they were born in an Asian forest or in a forest cage. A scared tiger is just as likely to attack as it is to run away, and a scared cat weighing a few hundred pounds is no small threat. There is no doubt that a thinly-regulated patchwork of laws governing private ownership and exploitation of tigers in the United States has created a public safety, animal welfare and law enforcement nightmare.
The current whereabouts of the tiger in Houston are unknown, but I hope it’s not relaxed yet. In this situation, a wild tiger would seek dense cover like a wooded area. However, captive-bred tigers are much more unpredictable and can focus on people and buildings when it makes them feel safe. If you do encounter this tiger (or any other big cat), stay calm. Don’t run away: Maintain eye contact and step back without turning your back on the animal – as the deputy sheriff did in this cat’s now viral video – and aim for a safe location, such as a vehicle or building.
If law enforcement or animal control agencies find the tiger, they should be reassured and safely moved to an accredited wildlife sanctuary. Unfortunately, without the protection of the Big Cats Public Safety Act, the tiger may instead have to be returned to its rightful owner (if any) and continues to pose a threat to public safety.
With the imminent ban on the South African-bred lion industry in South Africa, authorities around the world are awakening to the cruelty of breeding big cats for commercial purposes, be it as food for hunters, suppliers for the traditional medical market or, as in the USA, objects of being pets and being photographed . The Houston incident was meant to serve as a wake-up call in the United States to ban private property and the breeding of big cats.
In addition to calling on Congress to pass the Big Cats Public Safety Act, the most effective way for Americans to save the endangered tiger is to support and donate to trusted conservation organizations that are committed to protecting tigers in their native wild habitats deploy in Asia, especially organizations that fight the illegal wildlife trade.
The unfortunate truth is that the population of tigers in the wild has declined from 100,000 to around 3,900 in the last century; It is estimated that there are twice as many in captivity in the US. Tigers belong in forests, savannahs and mangrove swamps, not in backyards, not in selfies and certainly not in a neighborhood of Houston.