The strange saga of a neglected tiger discovered last February in the garage of a deserted Houston home reached a happily-ever-after conclusion this week. Our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, the tiger’s home since his rescue, has been given full legal custody of the animal. And the woman who owned the tiger was arrested and charged with animal cruelty for failing to provide him with sufficient water, food, care and shelter.

Although the tiger, born in captivity, will never know what it is like to live in the wild, he will spend the rest of his days living peacefully at the ranch, with the grass under his feet and the sun on his belly, as tigers in the wild would. He will never again know the horror that his life was before authorities came upon him on that fateful day after a 311 caller discovered the 350-pound tiger sitting in a cage on rotting meat, mold, maggots and his own waste. The animal’s legs were scalded by urine. It was a terrible thing for an animal so regal and magnificent to be living in such a degraded state of neglect and misery.

After his transfer to the Black Beauty Ranch, life took a dramatic turn for this as yet unnamed fellow (the Fund for Animals is running a contest to name him). Noelle Almrud, the director of the ranch, told me that since his arrival, the two-year-old has settled in nicely and is relaxed and calm. He’s sharing the ranch’s tiger habitat with Alex, a tiger rescued along with about a dozen other wild animals after their owner abandoned them, without food or water. The two tigers can see each other, although they live in separate enclosures (tigers generally prefer a solitary life).

The new resident’s favorite activity is to lay in the sun on his back with his feet in the air, Noelle relates, and he sometimes climbs up on a wooden platform to survey his surroundings.

While this tiger’s life is now as stress-free as can be, there are many tigers -- both captive and wild -- who are not so lucky. On Endangered Species Day today, it is important to remember that tigers are endangered, with fewer than 4,000 remaining in the wild – down from approximately 100,000 a century ago. In fact, it is estimated that there are more tigers now living in captivity than there are in the wild. A big reason for this is the impunity with which this beautiful species has been trafficked, poached and hunted in the wild for trophies and traditional Asian medicine as well as the rampant breeding of captive tigers to supply circuses, roadside zoos, private menageries and the insatiable cub-petting industry.

The tiger will spend the rest of his days living peacefully at the Black Beauty Ranch, with the grass under his feet and the sun on his belly, as tigers in the wild would.
Photo by Mikkaela Scott/The HSUS

At the HSUS and Humane Society International, we’ve made it our mission to fight these threats to tigers and other big cats. We’ve exposed captive tiger breeding within the United States through our investigations of roadside zoos. We’ve pushed for laws to ban the use of wild animals, including tigers, in circuses and in other travelling shows. HSI has long fought to end the international trade in tiger parts. Last November, in response to the Chinese government’s decision to lift a 1993 ban on the sale of tiger bones and rhino horns for medicinal use, we filed a legal petition with the U.S. government seeking a ban on all imports of wildlife and their parts from China until that country amends its law to reinstate a complete ban on the sale of tiger and rhino parts. We have worked to prohibit the private ownership of big cats, and 35 states now have such laws (Texas is not one of them, alas).

At the federal level, we are pushing for the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would ban the possession of big cat species like tigers and lions by individuals and prohibit their exploitation by poorly run roadside zoos that allow public contact with big cats.

Irresponsible owners who keep tigers locked up create a public safety problem, commit the worst sort of animal cruelty, and squander the resources of taxpayer-funded law enforcement agencies and organizations like ours that must step up to respond. It costs approximately $25,000 per year to care for a tiger -- resources that would be better spent on efforts to protect tigers in the wild from the many threats they face.

There is no reason why anyone should be allowed to keep a tiger as a pet. Please ask your federal lawmakers to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act. Tigers are meant to live and breathe in the wild, not suffer needlessly in cages and homes where they were never meant to languish.