What’s worse – Chinese tiger farms or “pet” tigers in Ohio?

Tigers as pets, tigers as medicine

Jack Rodolico By Jack Rodolico

An Ohio State trooper drives by a (malfunctioning) sign that warns drivers of exotic animals loose in the area around Zanesville, Ohio, on October 19, 2011. (Reuters/Matt Sullivan)

Welcome to friendly Zanesville, Ohio! Psst…keep an eye out for 500-pound wildcats.

Life in Zanesville is pretty tame today, but one day last fall it was a jungle. A man named Terry Thompson released a bunch of exotic pets, then committed suicide. Police officers killed 48 animals from Thompson’s menagerie, most of which were large, dangerous cats.

Earlier this week came news that the five remaining animals –a brown bear, a black leopard, a spotted leopard and two Celebes macaques – will be released to Thompson’s widow.

Latitude News talked to Ohioans in Dublin, not far from the Columbus Zoo, and asked if they thought the U.S. had tougher laws on exotic pet ownership than other countries.

Nationally, Ohio’s heretofore acceptance of dangerous pets isn’t all that exceptional. But globally, it’s off the charts – and so is the U.S. for that matter.

A global leader, in more ways than one

Most of the species of large cats kept as “pets” in the U.S. are not native to this country. It is very difficult – and illegal – to import the animals, so domestically bred cats supply the legal and illegal pet trade.

According to Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, 74 percent of all captive cat “incidents” happen in the U.S. To define “incident”: a big cat mauls or kills a person, or simply escapes – although there’s nothing simple about that.

Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, says the U.S. is way behind other Western nations in placing bans on owning these animals.

“In the UK,” Baskin says, “they outlawed owning big animals in the 1970s, so they avoided these problems.”

Exotic pets laws vary by state, but a U.S. Department of Agriculture loophole allows private residents to keep big cats as “exhibit” animals. A 2010 audit of USDA made an unsettling conclusion: of pet owners with four or fewer large, dangerous animals, 70 percent used their “exhibit” license to keep a pet.

If you study the map Baskin created of all the global cat incidents, there’s an obvious trend: so-called industrialized nations lead the pack. A bunch of incidents have occurred in Europe, but the U.S. outshines the rest – with the Sunshine State of Florida accounting for about 8% of global incidents.

One might assume the same problem exists in Africa, Asia and South America, but perhaps the record-keeping is not as detailed. Baskin balks at this suggestion.

Instead, she says that in countries home to wild, dangerous animals, people are less likely to see them as cute and cuddly.

“Those people understand that these are not pets,” she says. “I bet there are no pet tigers in India.”

China is another story.

And on his farm he had a …

…thousand tigers.

Factory farming of tigers in row after row of enclosures at the Guilin Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Farm, Southwest China. (International Fund for Animal Welfare/Sinopix)

This photo was taken during an undercover investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. In an interview with Latitude News, IFAW’s campaigns manager, Paul Todd, said there are thousands of tigers on farms in China.

“We’ve even found advertisements in American Chinese-language newspapers looking for tiger parts,” says Todd.

In China, tigers are used for medicine and farmed like cattle – dangerous cattle. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), tiger derivatives – bones, blood, eyes, penises – are used to treat rheumatism, strengthen bones or arouse vigor. One could also dine on tiger meat and tiger wine, if one were wealthy and so inclined.

The IFAW report indicates that, for the past two decades, Chinese officials have been speaking out of both sides of their mouths. While helping find tiger alternatives for TCM and banning and significantly reducing the domestic tiger trade, the Chinese government has also allowed at least five tiger farms to operate, each with about 1,000 tigers.

The farms supply a fluctuating trade in tiger parts, and they’re open to tourists, who, according to the report, can participate in “re-wilding” shows

“After the tour bus driver…persuaded visitors to purchase a chicken to throw in the tiger enclosure, he repeatedly and excitedly emphasized that ‘the tigers will pluck the chicken’s feather first while it is still alive.’ … A sign erected by the performance site warns away people with high blood pressure and heart disease.”

Other than the obvious, there are reasons both countries may need to crack down on all types of tiger keeping. Tigers are endangered, and are among the thousands of species the U.S., China and 173 other countries have agreed to protect under CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

But Todd says China has refused to shut down its farms until the U.S. cracks down on domestic ownership of tigers. If that is the standard China has set, they might want to start finding homes for 5,000 tigers.

Back on the farm

A view of Terry Thompson’s ramshackle zoo in Zanesville, Ohio, after the animals were released, October 20, 2011. (Reuters/Matt Sullivan)

Last week, when a few members of Congress were hanging out with staff on Capitol Hill, handling a few tiger cubs and a monkey, they probably didn’t realize they were violating a USDA guideline. The guideline implores the public to handle tigers only between the ages of eight weeks and 12 weeks. The cubs in Washington were only four weeks old. But, hey, that’s just a guideline, not a law.

The cuddle puddle on Capitol Hill might not last much longer. The Zanesville incident is poised to bring down state and federal hammers. Paul Todd is hopeful about a bill proposed last March that would prohibit the private possession and breeding of big cats.

Perhaps the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative has shamed Congress; more likely, some sensible representatives in the House would rather not see another Zanesville incident. Paul Todd says the ban is long overdue.

“The last thing anyone in the U.S. should have to worry about,” he says, “is their child being attacked by a tiger.”

In order of appearance, the voices you heard above belong to Charles Agin (38), Benjamin Diehl (31), Jane Doyle (43), Mike Obert (46), Grace Nguyen (42). Audio recorded by Cynthia Rosi.

  • http://www.facebook.com/carole.baskin Carole Baskin

    Thank you for this insightful comparison between the out-of-control US tiger trade and China tiger farms. I especially appreciate that you shamed Congress for hosting the tiger petting exploitation in the capitol, when you stated, “Last week, when a few members of Congress were hanging out with staff on Capitol Hill, handling a few tiger cubs and a monkey, they probably didn’t realize they were violating a USDA guideline. The guideline implores the public to handle tigers only between the ages of eight weeks and 12 weeks. The cubs in Washington were only four weeks old. But, hey, that’s just a guideline, not a law.”

    • EthicalRehab

      Can you please reference where you acquired the information you posted in this story?

  • Goldielover1997

    I thought nothing shocked me anymore but the picture of the tiger farm in China took my breathe away. The Asians are a sick race using and don’t caring about the welfare of anything. Using animal parts for anything is wrong and I’m sure don’t work.

    • http://www.facebook.com/carole.baskin Carole Baskin

      I have heard that in China they do not believe in euthanasia or taking a life, so the way they get the tiger skins and bones is to raise the tigers up to adults and then put them in even smaller boxes than what you see in the photos and let them starve to death. They do not see that as causing the death and can thus justify that the animal died a “natural” death.

      • truth seeker

        Nice way to start that sentence with ” I have heard..” No fact checking, no way to take responsibility for your statement…what BS..maybe that happens at BCR and you are trying to deflect..I hear that at BCR they have had over 130 cats die…wait, facts bear that out…let me try again, I have heard that at BCR they feed live rabbits to the cats for “enrichment”, wait..that’s a fact too…I’m not as good at the BS as you Carole

      • JungleMan

        I have heard that there’s a so-called “sanctuary” -actually a ramchackle roadside zoo- in Tampa, Florida, USA, that not only kills bobcat cubs, but feeds live rabbits and other small animals to their big cats. Then they claim the cats they’ve bought over the years were all “rescued” from abusive owners and beg for contributions to care for them. They also have a “gift shop,” where they exhibit animal bones and pelts, stating openly that those are from the animals that have died there. I’ve heard that what they don’t put in thier showcases, they sell on the black market. I cannot vouch for the truth to what I’ve heard, tho.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lisa-Holland-Lovelace/1547120958 Lisa Holland Lovelace

          Hmmmm, very interesting indeed

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lisa-Holland-Lovelace/1547120958 Lisa Holland Lovelace

            carole, as far as your comment “I bet there are no pet tigers in India” I just saw a pic of someone in India letting an adult tiger eat from his food dish, he was sharing his meal with this animal, so once again YOU are wrong, but hey what else is new.

          • EthicalRehab
          • Debra

            The bottom line is this: If man has no use for the animals they will cease to exist. Humans have used animals in some way since the beginning. If we keep reproducing and taking more and more of the earth and its resources then there will be no place for the animals. If we cannot use them whether it be for food, clothing or simply companionship there will be NO reason for them to exist. The AR groups are aware of this and their minions are unfortunately to brainwashed to do the research and see what the true AR agenda is. If you really pay attention to the legislation being pushed then you can clearly see that the end result will be that the AR groups will have the ONLY control over ALL animals in the distant future. They will then utilize the built in “loop holes” in these regulations to breed and exhibit animals for their own profit. These groups make billions of dollars off the animals, do you really think they are going to give that up?

    • tfp

      Asia has its own host of problems to be sure, but that is no reason to vilify the entire continent.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001566495604 Azusa Yuhki

      I’m Asian, I can speak better English than you and know better to not speak ill of a whole race just because of some slime of a particular country. Dumb biased people like you is the reason why such acts like breeding/keeping wild animals are still legal in the US, as you little puppies are convinced by the government that it’s not a big problem (in the US), China (or insert some other developing countries here) is even worse. At least the Chinese are not as stupid to get attacked so often while handling wild cats, and while on the short end of the rope they can keep their #&%# together and don’t just irresponsibly set a couple hundred tigers loose.
      And please, shut up about the myths you have heard of Asia, because most of that is untrue and only shows how good the US government is at brainwashing. You’re pathetic. I’ll stop here as any further description you might be deemed insults.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Melissa-S/46304067 Melissa S

        What irony, speaking of how superior your intelligence is toward another and how you aren’t biased, and then say Americans “irresponsibly set a couple hundred tigers loose”. In reality, your moronic and BIASED assertions are not based on any reasonable logic. Why are you letting bad owners, and possibly severe mental illness, shame the responsible owners?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003045068419 Joe Schreibvogel

    Carole Baskin, what a hypocrite. on your website you tell more lies to get money from people than I have ever seen. 300 cubs in a deep freeze, come on, you know that is a lie. 30k to transport a mountain lion from texas to arizona, more lies for profit, now tell all these people that you paid 94 thousand dollars for the cats you claim you rescued and had them as pets. come clean women. stop the scam

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-Kirby/1181561666 Thomas Kirby

    Can’t we all be grown up enough to put up with the risk that we demand that people in India and Africa take? I say that if we force people in India to allow tigers and leopards to run loose in their back yards and people in Africa to have leopards and lions and elephants running loose and not allowed to hunt them, we must allow Americans to keep those animals. Conservation is that urgent that we pay people to point guns at people in India and Africa and sometimes actually shoot at them.

    China actually did something substantial to regenerate the tiger population at far less cost than flailing at the problem and not actually breeding and supporting tigers.

  • Katty_light

    I’m Chinese, and I can tell that the people who are doing this from both sides(US and China) are insane! China is even worse; what a ridiculous prescription of TCM! Although I have to clarify that most TCM are good, this one is not just horrible, it’s terrific!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lisa-Holland-Lovelace/1547120958 Lisa Holland Lovelace

    Wow, did this reporter have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with carole baskin? This woman is no expert, no wait she is an expert at lying & manipulating the public out of their hard earned monies. Big cat expert? Hardly. Black widow? Yes.
    As far as her map of cat incidents, it’s a load of lies, and you will note that HER facility is not included in any attacks/escapes, but it is a well known FACT that animals have escaped & people injured at her facility, come on carole, tell me you haven’t forgot about the woman from… ah I do believe she was from Tx, that had to get over 400 stitches in her arm AFTER being mauled by one of your cats.
    Are you still having people sign your bs waiver after they get attacked. come on carole, try honesty for once, instead of lies upon lies,upon lies, upon even more lies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-Kirby/1181561666 Thomas Kirby

    Those are very nice enclosures at the Chinese farm.

    I’ll tell you what is worse. What is worse is all these violent people who are trying to get rid of homes for exotic animals. They have destroyed habitat for millions of animals.

  • EthicalRehab

    Carole Baskin, there are many responsible private owners that are never in the news.

    I find it interesting that you and AR do not question why records of numerous complaints from neighbors and animal lovers were not acted upon by Sheriff Lutz, Animal Control and Trustees of the Township? Why the USDA is not questioned for failing to revoke T T’s license to exhibit bears after protests and demonstrations on his cruel bear wrestling activities?

    In 2005, TT was convicted of animal cruelty after three cows and a bison died in his care, according to court records.

    During his trial, prosecutor Ron Welch said Thompson had been warned at least 30 times about animals wandering off his property.

    “The trustees of the township received numerous complaints, the sheriff’s office received complaints along with animal control,” Welch said at the time. “The director of animal control also received numerous complaints that the animals were starving to death.”

    Why was this County and Sheriff not prepared for an emergency when they all very well knew the dangers of this facility? Why did they do nothing for many years? Why did it take so long to arrive at the facility the afternoon of the tragedy and why were Professionals not called who knew how to use knock down agents prior tranquilizer use, instead of Jack Hannah and Local Vets; while the police officers were forced to gun down these animals in front of their cages?

    I also find it very interesting that Sheriff Lutz turned down 3 different offers several months before this tragedy to rescue and re-home these animals which would have prevented this sad unnecessary slaughter. I have not found that BCR was one of those who offered to help re-home the animals, please advise if I am wrong?

    Instead of receiving an award Sheriff Lutz should have been fired, for the irresponsible failure to make the public safe many years before this tragedy as well as all authorities who did nothing. I find this entire story a total disgrace and you using it to further your agenda of shutting down all private owners is not honorable. Bans will only make people go underground and the animals will suffer from lack of medical care and proper housing, and people will be in danger, obviously none of this is a concern to you. Why would it be, when you so coldly and unnecessarily throw Live innocent domestic animals into big cat cages?

    Can you please advise when Meredith Zahara FWC Biologist was a volunteer at BCR?
    I believe that is a conflict of interest and against regulations, as well as her posting references on BCR on the internet.

    Regarding your Captive Cat Accident Report, why did you leave yourself out of this report?

    http://www.rexano.org/BCR/ocelot_2003%20Lowry_vs_WOES.pdf

    http://www.rexano.org/BCR/Dixon_Release_cougar_BCR.jpg

    http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/tampabay/offers.html?url=%2Ftampabay%2Faccess%2F33672363.html%3Fdids%3D33672363%3A33672363%26FMT%3DFT%26FMTS%3DABS%3AFT%26date%3DSep%2B4%2C%2B1998%26author%3DTIM%2BGRANT%26pub%3DSt.%2BPetersburg%2BTimes%26edition%3D%26startpage%3D4.B%26desc%3DCaged%2Bleopard%2Battacks%2Bsanctuary%2Bvolunteer

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1003305557 Vera Newberry Chaples

    Just gotta love this hype. Tiger attacking your child. Hmmm.. got a better chance of your kid getting electrocuted by a grocery store freezer.
    They do quote the CITES act which is good, but what they fail to tell you is that a result of this these cats are NOT taken from the wild. They are captive breds and the private owner/zoo has a better safety record than your AZA zoo’s.
    Carol’s maps and compilation of attacks if you would bother to read are padded with POSSIBLE SIGHTINGS of an animal that could not be identified. Please stop slanting this

  • Strwbrrylox

    This whole issue got me thinking….With having children and dogs, I would be furious if I had any neighbors who had animals such as these. I would never feel any of us could be safe! People [who privately own these animals in their home and keep them as pets] get a false sense of security with these wild animals.. If people truly love these animals, they would not keep them confined, taking the “wild” out of these animals, and risking the lives of the very creatures they love… It’s happened so many times where the large cat will have to be put down because it ends up attacking someone or gets out. All that says nothing about the owner risking their own life and the lives of anyone who goes around that person. Everyone who owns these animals believes they have a “special connection” or a “special love” with these animals, even the owners who end up being attacked by those same animals. It’s actually quite selfish.

  • Edwina_hilner

    Thomas Kirby, you are an idiot. “those cages are nice in china” ???? You idiot, do you realize that they are being farmed for parts? Thats not a petting zoo. Oh and the forcing people in africa and india to put up with wild cats in there back yards , hello ???? These people live in the wild plains , where the animals live. If your going to move in with the animals, dont be bitching that they are there!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Julie-Walker/1008308770 Julie Walker

    Again another propaganda story. How could you possibly compare Tigers in Us to the the hundreds of Tigers raised and slaughtered for their parts in Asia??? Why does everyone keep quoting Carole Baskin, she is delusional and tells lies to get donations? Slanders and harasses more reputable facilities to further her own agenda?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Exotic/854099496 Joe Exotic

    at least this tiger farm does not have round rusty cages with dead Christmas trees for enrichment, like Big Cat Rescue does. and at least they admit to what they do unlike the 130 dead cats you have that has been mostly skinned and mounted for your museum