Animals Asia’s Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale responds to the Netflix documentary Tiger King.

17 April 2020

The Tiger King documentary has brought a much-needed spotlight to the abusive and dangerous activities of Joseph Maldonado-Passage (nicknamed ‘Joe Exotic’), and the ongoing welfare issues faced by captive wild animals being exploited for personal gain and profit in the US.

Joe Exotic from the Netflix documentary Tiger King

Joe Exotic is an animal trader breeding, utilising and selling animals for profit and perpetuating the keeping of dangerous wild animals such as big cats within private collections across the US.

He has been convicted on charges of murder-for-hire and wildlife violations including the shooting of tigers, following a campaign to expose his activities and to end the commercial trade in big cats led by founder of Big cat rescue, Carole Baskin from her sanctuary dedicated to providing a home for life for big cats and to ending the commercial exploitation perpetuated by Joe Exotic and many others in the US.

While the netflix TV series shows Joe Exotic to be a character it disappointingly does not fully condemn many of the activities that he was involved with and which continue at other commercial facilities. It also does not adequately differentiate between the activities of commercial facilities such as Joe Exotic’s and the work of Big Cat Rescue which is dedicated to providing animals in need with a permanent home and does not participate in any breeding or public interactions with animals.

Tiger 7

The keepers of animals in facilities such as ‘Joe Exotic’s’ Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park are breeding animals for profit and entertainment. Claims that their efforts are in the best interests of the animals or the conservation of the species are not supported with evidence and ultimately the welfare of the animals in such commercial facilities suffer due to the regimes they are managed under and the activities they are forced to participate within.

For the public to be able to handle wild animals such as tiger cubs, the cubs must be removed from their mothers at a very young age. This impacts upon the welfare of both the cubs and the mother with strong parent-infant bonds being broken and animals subsequently being raised in artificial environments where it is not possible for them to learn essential behaviours they would have learnt from their mothers or to develop the skills necessary for them to become effective parents in the future.

Tiger 5

Despite claims of such animals being cared for by staff dedicated to them, it is morally reprehensible to allow an animal to breed with the sole intention of removing its young from it following birth. Animals such as tigers develop strong bonds with their infants and their removal is likely to have a negative impact on their overall welfare as the natural process of infant rearing is taken away from them.

Forcing animals such as tiger cubs into unnatural situations such as ‘cub handling’ photo sessions is also stressful for the cubs and potentially dangerous for the participants. Many individuals are unlikely to enjoy the interaction sessions and if given a free choice they would not participate. As they can not remove themselves from the situation, they are more likely to show their stress and disapproval by biting and scratching out of frustration.

This presents a human health risk as members of the public have little idea of how to safely handle wild animals or the dangers they expose themselves to by being in such proximity.?

Examples of international incidents which have resulted in injuries and in some cases the death of members of the public during such interactions with big cats include.??

Tiger 4

Forcing older animals to perform for visitors is also likely to negatively impact upon an animal’s welfare. If punishment is used to force animals to perform this will impact upon an animal both physically and mentally, if positive reinforcement and food rewards are used the animal's welfare is likely to be higher but it is still likely to suffer a degree of stress as it is forced to perform unnatural behaviours to receive such a reward. Once again it is unlikely that an animal would participate in such activities if given a free-choice and therefore they are forced to participate against their own will.

Animals Asia opposes the activities of facilities breeding wild animals for profit and supports the work of sanctuaries such as the Big Cat Rescue providing animals with a safe and secure home for life, and their campaign to end the breeding and trade in big cats for commercial enterprises and private ownership.