SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: October 11, 2020
SNIP: More tigers are now held in captivity in the United States than survive in the wild in Asia. That is the grim statistic that underpins Americans’ growing appetites for posing for pictures with big cats and their offspring, a desire that is today being met by thousands of tigers that are caged and displayed in private roadside zoos across the US.

Young tigers are taken from their mothers just after their birth and bottle fed and handled by humans. Then they are used as props until they are about 12 weeks old when they become too dangerous to hold. Many develop bone and joint problems because they were removed so early from the adult female and not given proper nutrition. At the same time, mother tigers are returned to cages to provide future supplies of cubs. “This is done repeatedly,” says wildlife photographer Steve Winter. “It’s inhumane.”

For the past two years Winter has tracked the fates of tigers across the US and recorded scenes of their confinement, maltreatment and exploitation. Some of the most powerful of these images will be highlighted this week when a portfolio of his tiger photographs receives a special commendation at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards at the Natural History Museum, London, on Tuesday.

Winter told the Observer last week that some roadside zoo customers will spend several hundred dollars on visits to tiger enclosures where they can handle young animals and pose with older ones. When challenged, these individuals will often justify their behaviour by saying the zoos were helping to conserve animals, he added.

Winter told the Observer last week that some roadside zoo customers will spend several hundred dollars on visits to tiger enclosures where they can handle young animals and pose with older ones. When challenged, these individuals will often justify their behaviour by saying the zoos were helping to conserve animals, he added.

[T]he huge success of the Netflix series Tiger King, which exposed some of the worst excesses of the industry through the story of zoo owner Joe Exotic, has – ironically – only intensified that appetite in the US, it appears. “There was a huge surge in interest after the programme. If it had not been for Covid, things would have gone through the roof,” Winter added.