Netflix's "Tiger King" and the Mistreatment of Animals at Roadside Zoos

Oakland Zoo
December 2, 2021

With the release of Netflix's season 2 of Tiger King, we must address an important issue we and many other AZA-accredited institutions and animal sanctuaries have with this show. The popular, high-stakes drama distracts the audience from the most crucial point – the animals' inadequate care at roadside zoos.

It’s a problem that we, unfortunately, are familiar with. Years ago, our own four tigers were victims of ‘cub-petting’ and photo-ops for a small fee at a roadside zoo in Texas. When they grew too large and dangerous, (and therefore unprofitable) their private owners put them in separate cages and stopped caring for them. Fortunately, neighbors reported the situation to the police and the cats were confiscated. The Gladys Porter Zoo was able to provide them a temporary home until they came to Oakland Zoo. Without a zoo or sanctuary to accept them, they would have been euthanized like so many of their kind in similar situations.

Transporting the four tiger sisters from Texas to Oakland Zoo

So, in 2011, the four tigers sisters, Grace, Ginger, Molly, and Milou, came to live the rest of their lives at Oakland Zoo.  Many of you knew them by name, and through their story, visitors also learned the sad truth inside the ‘big cat’ industry. The girls were all genetically predisposed to health issues because of their inbreeding, bad diet, and lack of vet care before they were rescued. Once they were here, they received the proper care they deserved from our Animal Care and Veterinary Hospital staff and roamed in a habitat designed for their needs. For them, there would be no more confinement to chains or small indoor cages, ever again. We were able to improve their quality of life.

Ginger (photo: Steven Gotz)

Unfortunately – and ironically - due to the popularity of Tiger King, we've seen an even greater increase in private ownership of tigers and big cats in the U.S. Many of these private owners will soon face the harsh reality that these cute cubs will become too large and dangerous to own in a private home. We cringe at these cats’ possible fates. It’s why we support the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a law that would make it illegal for private owners like Tiger King to operate his business. Please contact your legislatures to be sure that they are supporting BCPSA to insure community safety and the protection of animals.

Molly and Ginger (photo: Gage Zamrzla)

With our four tiger girls all recently passing, we are committed to again provide a forever home for tigers rescued from private ownership that are needing sanctuary, and we commend our friends at the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance for their work to help put an end to the private ownership of big cats and commercial exploitation here in the U.S. We’ll keep you posted in the coming months, as we talk with them and other organizations dedicated to big cat rescue and sanctuary.