Due to their limited status, many tigers are in captivity. This is to help researchers learn more about them, as well as allowing a way for humans to see them up close and personal. The hope is that bringing people to see them will get them interested in protecting these animals (Tigers-world.com, 2009). The majority of tigers in captivity are found in both zoos and belonging to circus acts. Others are in captivity due to being injured in the wild (ie. sanctuary). Those that can be cared for and successfully returned to their natural habitat are. Many people are also purchasing tigers as pets. It is estimated there are around 10,000 to 15,000 tigers now kept as pets or in private facilities in the US. Experts estimate that there are at most 7000 wild tigers (Bethge, 2006).
Since less than half of the cubs survive in the wild, there are proper techniques in place to help ensure their survival in captivity. Some tiger cubs are removed from their mothers and cared for by humans to ensure they get adequate nutrition and even medical care that may be necessary (Tigers-world.com, 2009). Tigers-world.com also states that the environment in captivity to be as close to what a tiger would experience in the wild. It helps them to be able to survive as nature intended and to reduce stress levels. This is even more important if the tiger originally lived in the wild.
Taking care of a captive tiger is no easy task. Big cats are unique to their nutritional requirements. They require diets very high in protein and fat, considerably higher than that of other large carnivores or domestic carnivores (Hines, 2012). Vitamin A is also important to a tiger’s diet, as like their small domestic cousins, tigers have also lost the ability to convert carotenoids into vitamin A. The amino acid taurine, is also essential into a tiger’s diet. If they do not receive sufficient amounts of taurine, they will lose their vision and have a short life-span. The lack of taurine leads to vision problems, heart failure, immune system dysfunctions, and blood clotting disorders.
Amino acid deficiencies don’t occur in the wild, when large cats eat fresh, whole prey animals (Hines). But it does happen in captive tigers since the meat fed to them are usually not fresh, since meat for zoo animals is usually meat that has been diverted from human consumption because it has partially spoiled. In the wild, various field studies have estimated that mature wild tigers consume between 10 and 25 pounds of prey a day (4-7% of their body weight). In the wild, tigers will gorge up to one hundred pounds at one sitting, and fast for many days. In captivity, tigers eat considerably less because of sedentary life styles that burn fewer calories (Hines). Captive large cats should eat 9-18 pounds of meat (4-6% of their body weight) when fed five times a week. Because temperature, habitats, and exercise differ at every facility, they should be fed no more than the minimum amount that keeps them in lean condition. Ronald Hines has a PhD in DVM, and he encounters much more obesity among captive cats than excessive thinness.