The Tiger Kings of Europe: New Report Details the Captive ‘Tiger Crisis’

There are more tigers in captivity than in the wild


April 24, 2020 / BOSTON, MA – Netflix’s controversial Tiger King has sparked discussions around the globe. While the series reveals more tigers could be living in captivity in the United States (estimated 7,000) than there are in the wild (roughly 3,900), the picture is equally concerning in Europe.

A new FOUR PAWS report, Europe’s Second-Class Tigers, reveals a shocking discrepancy between figures held by European authorities and the results of a recent investigation. The estimated 1,600 tigers revealed by FOUR PAWS is far greater than the 913 suspected by authorities across Europe, and highlights the gaps in data pertaining to the numbers of big cats born, what happens to them during their lifetime and after they die.

Throughout the EU, it is legal to breed and commercially trade tigers both within Europe and for export around the world. The latest research by FOUR PAWS highlights that the exact number of captive tigers is unknown by the relevant authorities. Following Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to 28 EU member states and eight neighboring countries to obtain this information, FOUR PAWS is very concerned that only 17 countries out of 36 were able to share numbers of tigers kept in zoos, private homes, circuses and sanctuaries. With estimations of 400 tigers in Italy alone, the conservative total of 913 tigers revealed via Freedom of Information requests across Europe is brought into question.

This claim is further supported by Member of the European Parliament Martin Hojsík who stated, “This new report paints a startling picture as to the inability of authorities to answer the simple question of how many captive tigers there are in their country. This unfortunately doesn’t prevent authorities from allowing the trade to continue and simply renders the captive-born tiger a ‘second-class tiger’ as it is not offered the same protection as wild tigers.”

In America, Tiger King paints a worrying picture regarding the lack of regulation for keeping tigers and other big cats. In 2018, FOUR PAWS USA sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for information on all tigers (including parts and derivatives) imported into the U.S. and exported from the U.S. for the years 2007 to 2018. It took almost a year to receive this information, which the organization received in 2019 and is currently analyzing.

“Captive tigers are facing the same challenges across the globe, and governments are doing very little to curb this hidden danger. Setting aside the great potential for human harm, tigers are treated as a commodity, being bought and sold to meet any end that results in profit.” 

-Danika Oriol-Morway, Country Director of FOUR PAWS USA 

Private keeping and/or use of wild animals in circuses is still allowed in many countries.[1] Many of which are kept in poor conditions and made to endure cruel treatment. For several months, FOUR PAWS investigated the legal and illegal trade flows across Europe through research on trade data and seizures as well as through requests to authorities to share numbers of tigers kept in captivity in zoos, sanctuaries and at private homes. 

To gather tiger numbers of 36 European countries, a total of 641 authorities (national/regional/local) had to be contacted during that period by FOUR PAWS and many were unable to share any data despite numerous requests. For example, in the UK 410 authorities had to be contacted to receive the numbers and, despite requests and payment of administrative costs, 78 authorities in Germany were unable to reply. Without effective record-keeping of captive tiger numbers in EU member states and control of the trade within the EU, cases of illegal trade and subsequent cruelty will continue to flourish.

FOUR PAWS recommends the issuing of an EU guidance document proposing member states to suspend the export and re-export of live tigers and tiger parts or derivatives – with exceptions in the case of legitimate zoos or sanctuaries – followed by a comprehensive ban on commercial tiger trade. While in America, FOUR PAWS supports and advocates for the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1380/S.2561) that would regulate private ownership of big cats and ban public contact with big cats.

Visit FOUR PAWS International's campaign website here, or you can read the report here. 


[1] It is legal to keep tigers privately in Ireland, UK, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia, North Macedonia, Malta and Luxembourg. It is legal to keep tigers in circuses in Italy, Poland and Lithuania. Finally, it is legal to keep tigers privately and in circuses in Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Albania, Ukraine and Turkey

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organization for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need, and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organization advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy, and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam, as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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