Netflix´s hit series Tiger King is back for a new wave of attention since the main zoo (now owned by Jeff Lowe) depicted in the series re-opened during the first week of May to long queues and large crowds. Baby tiger petting sessions – one of the problematic activities portrayed in the show – are still being offered.
When the series first came out, several researchers, zookeepers and committees from serious accredited zoological facilities released statements against the practices it highlighted. The main criticism from animal welfare experts was the lack of information about the animals and their treatment. Some people hoped that shedding light on the problems of for-profit zoos would be a good result of the Tiger King frenzy. But judging from the crowds that the zoo saw on re-opening, that does not seem to be the case.
Humans often react to animals based on emotions and feelings, and forget about logic. There are quite a few studies about why we are fascinated by cute things and are drawn to baby animals. There is even some evidence that we drive artificial selection in pets, like rabbits, based on their cuteness factor. This is a problem.
As demonstrated by the wild popularity of baby tiger petting in the face of its dark backstory, logic goes out the window when a person finds out that they can cuddle a baby tiger. Most people out there are not animal specialists and will not think about questioning this activity. Now in the age of social media, they get to take a picture and brag about this “rare” event, making people want to do it even more. But this is enormously stressful for the baby tigers, who are kept from their mothers and possibly underfed or even drugged.
How can you avoid adding to this problem? Talk about it with your Tiger King-loving friends, and do your own research on the issue. Tigers and other wild animals face so many other threats these days – don't make them worse by supporting facilities that offer baby tiger petting sessions.