In 1833 Isaac Van Amburgh became the first person to
bring tigers to the stage. Dressed as a Roman gladiator,
he would enter their enclosure and dare them to attack.
It was the beginning of the American style of big cat
exhibition and he became the most celebrated animal act
for two generations.
Two contemporary views of Van Amburgh with his act
Few would have predicted that Van Amburgh’s theatrics would lead to
an industry of exploitation in this country that has
grown to include 5,000 tigers.
It was Van Amburgh’s idea to go in with the tigers that transformed
a menagerie sideshow into a headline attraction.
The novelty became a spectacle not only because it was different
but because it was dangerous, and we loved it.
One hundred years later the venue changes but the attraction
remains the same -- interactive performance with tigers
is very popular and very profitable.
and Roy began their act
in Las Vegas in 1967 and were an immediate sensation,
combining magic tricks with big cats they came up with
the ultimate in family friendly entertainment.
Until their retirement in 2003 they performed six times a week
before sold out audiences and became the highest
grossing act in the history of Las Vegas. For 35 years
more than 10 million people accepted their exploitation
of tigers as entertainment.
The success of Siegfried and Roy and others, along with their
relentless marketing not only popularized tigers but
gave birth to lower forms of exhibition that sprang up
across the country. Anything that relies on our
fascination with tigers - from roadside zoos to cub
petting operations has become a business opportunity.
The roadside zoo is anything the term implies from a truck
stop to a junk yard. It is an unaccredited facility that
usually houses a tiger and a few other exotic animals to
attract people. The animals are kept in small
dilapidated cages and fed roadkill. After a year or two
the tiger usually gets sick and dies and the zoo buys
another one for $100.
petters run pay-to-play sessions where you pay for a
picture of yourself petting a baby tiger. The cub is
worth $1,000 a day to an exhibitor. After 6 months
the cub is now a tiger and is worth nothing to the
exhibitor. It is dangerous and expensive to feed, so it
is sold as a pet to an unsuspecting owner, warehoused in
a garage until it is discarded into the exotic animal
trade, or disappears into the black market for tiger
These exhibitors operate under the protection of the Federal
government that issues the exhibitor license. In
the last 30 years 10,000 licenses were granted to anyone
who paid the $140 fee and could prove they were 18 years
old. There is no record of anyone ever being denied a
license. And in 30 years only 5 exhibitors have ever had
their license revoked.
In 1998 the
loophole was written into
the Captive Bred Wildlife regulations to eliminate the
requirement to register a tiger. This was, in effect, a
government sanction for unrestricted breeding. That
simple change unleashed the binge in backyard breeding
that currently provides exhibitors with a continuous
supply of cheap tigers.
The tiger has become the most recognizable of all animal images. It
is used to sell everything from Corn Flakes to Gasoline.
It is the Mascot of more than 500 professional sports
teams, colleges, universities and high schools.
What is not recognized is that unscrupulous exhibitors, cheap tiger
breeders and failed laws have combined to become the
perfect storm of tiger abuse. There are more than
5,000 unwanted tigers in America caught in this cycle,
and zoos will not take them. So every day that goes by
another one of these tigers dies from neglect, abuse or
being killed outright.
Together we can stop this abuse. In the past few years a small
number of people aware of this problem have formed
sanctuaries to take in these unwanted or abused
tigers and other big cats. They provide lifetime homes
and care for them.
here for a list
of the very best tiger sanctuaries in this country.
sanctuary, see a tiger, become a member, volunteer
your time or make a donation to help them survive.
You will change their lives and they may change yours.
They haven’t lost their ability to fascinate and we should not lose
our ability to care.