Dangerous animals in captivity: Ex situ tiger conflict and implications for private ownership of exotic animals



The risks associated with tiger attacks on people in the wild are well documented. There may currently be more tigers in captivity than in the wild, but relatively little is known about the risks of injury or death associated with owning and managing captive tigers and other large carnivores. The purpose of this study was to conduct a global assessment of attacks by captive tigers on people, with particular emphasis on cases in the United States. Our analysis of 30 international media sources and additional documents uncovered 59 unique incidents in 1998–2001 in which people were reportedly injured or killed by captive tigers. In the United States, seven people were reportedly killed and at least 27 were injured—a rate of 1.75 fatal attacks and at least nine nonfatal attacks per year. All but one fatal attack in the United States occurred in situations where tigers were privately owned or held in private facilities. Forty-two percent of the victims were classified as visitors, and almost one-quarter of the victims were under the age of 20. These results suggest that the victims underestimated the dangers posed by direct contact with these animals. In this work we review current legislation regarding captive ownership of tigers and other large exotic animals, and contradict claims by those who support private ownership of tigers and other large felids that the risks associated with owning and viewing these animals are insignificant. We conclude that the growing number of people who own tigers and other large exotic animals is cause for concern because of the danger to the animals, the handlers, and the public. The problem of private ownership of dangerous exotic animals has broad implications for tiger and large-carnivore conservation, public health, and animal welfare. We support the regulation of private ownership of dangerous exotic animals, and encourage scientific analysis of this contentious issue. Zoo Biol 22:573–586, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.