Should There Be a National Tiger Registry?

Candice Gaukel Andrews by Candice Gaukel Andrews | February 16th, 2011 | 7 Comments
topic: Eco Travel, Green Living


There are more tigers in captivity (such as this one) than there are left in the wild. ©John T. Andrews

There are some statistics that you hear that knock your socks off, and you just can’t quite believe them. You think they’re concocted purely to get attention and for shock value. Here’s one I recently came across that fits that category: There are more tigers in American backyards than there are left in the wild throughout the world.

How could that be?! I wondered. After all, the tiger isn’t even indigenous to the United States! It turns out that there is very little regulation on keeping wild tigers here. And because their body parts are prized in Asian black markets for traditional medicines and folk remedies — and because they are popular subjects for photographers and as college mascots — trafficking in and owning tigers becomes a means of making money.

While it’s estimated that there are about 3,200 tigers left in the wild, there could be 5,000 tigers captive in the U.S., making ours the largest tiger population worldwide. Only about 6 percent of those big cats live in zoos or sanctuaries certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The rest are living with private exotic pet owners and in big-game parks. Eight states have absolutely no laws regarding keeping tigers as personal property: Alabama, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Seventeen other states allow keeping the animals with a state permit or registration.

Tiger years

Tiger Registry blog

A federal database to monitor captive big cats may help protect the world’s wild tigers. ©John T. Andrews

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2010 was the Year of the Tiger, and on November 21-24, the International Tiger Forum was held in St. Petersburg in the Russian Federation. It was the world’s first global summit focused on saving a single species from extinction. Leaders of thirteen countries — the last refuges of Asia’s most iconic species — met to endorse a Global Tiger Recovery Program involving actions (such as how to protect breeding populations and natural habitats, and addressing poaching and international trade) meant to double the number of wild tigers to 7,000 by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.

In just the past one hundred years, tiger numbers have dropped from 100,000 to about the 3,200 we think are left in the wild today. So when we know there are 5,000 captive here in the U.S., something seems off-kilter.

Owning what’s wild

While many U.S.-based conservationists and organizations have been working to save wild tigers, our efforts might have more meaning and garner more respect if we took steps to manage the tigers in our own backyards. By supporting the establishment of a centralized federal database to monitor the big cats in captivity here, we’d have more leverage when we ask other nations that hold large numbers of captive tigers to help guard against trade in these animals from threatening their wild counterparts.


Lap cat: content in captivity. ©John T. Andrews

Instead of losing our footwear over the astounding number of captive tigers, perhaps it is time we tried to put a cap on it. Since weak laws regarding having a pet tiger in the U.S. could be contributing to an international illegal market for wild tigers and tiger parts, do you think a centralized federal database to monitor captive tigers in the U.S. should be instituted, or is that too much regulation? Should private citizens even be allowed to own exotic wild animals?

Nearly every one of the 36 wild cat species in the world is considered endangered or threatened. It could be that the only cats we were meant to keep close are the ones we can hold on our laps.

Happy trails,



  1. Personally, I’d like to know where they are.

    travis | February 17th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  2. Yes, I do think there should be a centralized federal datebase to monitor tigers and for other exotic wild animals. This way the authorities would have a idea where and how many are being kept. They could then check if they are being kept securely for their protection and the protection of the people who live around them. They could also check to see if they are being treated humanly and not being raised for illegal markets. If are pet dogs and cats need license and shots every year, why shouldn’t these exotic animals be included ? P.S. What a great looking lap cat !

    John H Gaukel | February 22nd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  3. It’s probably a good idea. And frankly, people shouldn’t be treating wild animals as if they were pets; that’s just asking for trouble.

    NineQuietLessons | February 22nd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  4. Just another example of the negative impact of mankind on wildlife. We must do everything possible to help wild wildlife flourish in its’ native environment rather than in our backyards. Zoos are a poor, but viable second choice.

    Art Hardy | February 22nd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  5. I think tigers should be free! They are not animals like house cats or dogs that depend on us for survival. They deserve the right to be free!

    Tiger Lover | March 19th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  6. I agree with your point. We should not train wild animals like tiger, lion. They should live in the wild.

    alex | March 21st, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  7. First, let me say that NOT all sanctuaries and rescues are licensed with the AZA. Most reputable sanctuaries and rescues are registered with the USDA.

    Second, there are many organizations here in the US that house tigers and work WITH the leading conservationists in India, Russia, etc . We would all love to have ALL tigers living free in their natural environment. However, that is a viable option at this time. There are several obstacles that need to be conquered before this happens..

    There are not as many “backyard” tigers as you may think. There are regulations and policies regarding these animals. Yes, they are different from state to state, and just because you can’t just go to a website and search out an area and find out if there are tigers there, doesn’t mean that the USDA doesn’t know they are there. Private ownership DOES NOT mean keeping a pet in your yard, it means that you are not regulated by the AZA.

    The AZA membership is for federally funded facilities. The government does NOT fund sanctuaries and rescues. They are supported by fundraising and grants. Therefore, rescues and sanctuaries are considered private owners, even though they are regulated, inspected and reputable facilities, they are not AZA members.

    Please do some research..,

    These facilities are all private owners! They work to assure that the genetic line is preserved, while working to stabalize the environment to, maybe one day, increase the populations of natural breeding back into the wild..

    PEOPLE HAVE TO BE TRAINED before this can happen.

    Jetta | August 31st, 2012 | Comment Permalink

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