2020 Photo Contest, Contemporary Issues, 2nd Prize

The Tigers Next Door


Steve Winter

For National Geographic

12 July, 2019

Owner Pat Craig and his dog Little Bit make the rounds of The Wild Animal Refuge, in Colorado, USA. The accredited carnivore sanctuary includes a 4,000 hectare refuge for rescued animals that is not accessible to the public.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 tigers live in captivity in the US. Roadside zoos and other businesses breed tigers and charge guests to pet and pose with them. Individuals also keep tigers as pets. By contrast, there are only 3,900 wild tigers in Asia and 1,659 in accredited zoos worldwide. Many of America’s exotic pets are not covered by the 1973 Endangered Species Act, which applies only to those taken from the wild, not those bred in captivity. Four US states have no laws on keeping big cats as pets, and in ten others, although a permit is required, once secured for a small pet it can be used to acquire a larger animal such as a tiger. By the time cubs bought as pets are four months old they become too large and dangerous to keep domestically, and are sold on, opening concerns that this feeds the highly lucrative illegal international trade in tiger parts. Investigations by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is tasked with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, dropped by 92% between 2016 and 2018. In June, the US House of Representatives reprimanded the USDA for redirecting its focus from active enforcement to providing “teachable moment” interactions with the public. A federal Big Cat Public Safety Act has now been proposed. It will address the gap in state laws and prohibit the private ownership of big cats, and ensure that if they cannot be returned to the wild, they can be transferred to accredited sanctuaries.

About the photographer

Steve Winter

American photographer Steve Winter started taking photos as a child while growing up in rural Indiana. After graduating from the Academy of Art and the University of San Francisc...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

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