Investigation Exposes Extreme Tiger Cub Abuse and Neglect at Roadside Zoos

Two roadside zoos are in the spotlight this week for their use and abuse of tiger cubs and other animals following the release of an undercover investigation from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The investigations were carried out at Tiger Safari in Oklahoma and the Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia where trouble with tigers is apparently rampant. Investigators exposed problems with indiscriminate breeding, physical abuse and public over-handling of tiger cubs. They have also raised serious concerns about what happens to these cute baby animals after they grow too big to safely handle.

Our draw to these animals is understandable — who doesn’t want to bottle feed a baby tiger? — but the issues surrounding these types of operations should far outweigh any fun that comes from encounters that for us are fleeting, but for them are the start of a lifetime of deprivation.

Both facilities in this case are being called out for taking cubs away from their mothers, despite how harmful this is to their well being, so they can be hand-raised and subsequently over-handled by the public at far too young of an age. The facilities are also allegedly denying the cubs of adequate diets and physically abusing them.

Disturbing footage from Tiger Safari shows one cub, Maximus, being “dragged, punched, choked and slapped.” Along with blatantly mistreating him, the facility is also being accused of improperly feeding him, which resulted in physical abnormalities.

Things at the Natural Bridge Zoo weren’t any better. Two tiger cubs there were also seen being physically abused by their handlers. According to the HSUS, both were also sick, but were denied veterinary care and had food withheld so they would be more cooperative during photo sessions.

Other problems at this zoo also included a “dead giraffe, a dead Mandrill (an endangered primate), a baby camel who accidentally hung herself, a dead capuchin monkey and terrible injuries to other animals, including a bone-deep hand wound suffered by a spider monkey.”

The Natural Bridge Zoo isn’t just in the spotlight from this investigation either. It recently jumped to the number one spot on In Defense of Animals’ (IDA) Top Ten list for the worst zoos for elephants in 2014 over concerns about how it treats its lone African elephant Asha. She has been alone there for nearly a decade, is forced to give rides in unbearable heat, spends winters chained indoors and suffers at the hands of handlers who use a bullhook to control her.

According to IDA, the use of bullhooks at this zoo is so offensive, it sparked complaints from concerned members of the public who witnessed her being hit in the mouth repeatedly. Despite complaints and fines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), she remains there.

Unfortunately, the tiger problem in the U.S. is far bigger than these two shady facilities. It is currently estimated that there are more privately owned tigers here than there are in the wild, but a varied patchwork of laws regulating ownership and care leaves them to suffer. Some facilities are simply not meeting the tigers’ needs while others are blatantly abusive. Because many tigers are classified as “generic,” and not purebred, they are exempt from a rule that would protect them as endangered species, so their whereabouts and living conditions remain untracked.

When they get too big or dangerous to handle, some may get lucky and end up in a reputable sanctuary, but others don’t. According to the HSUS, during the investigation 12 tigers who were born at both facilities were sent to The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S) in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which the organization calls a “substandard facility that breeds, trades and exhibits big cats and other exotic animals” and that basically operates as a tiger warehouse.

A complaint has since been filed with the USDA over violations of the AWA, while the HSUS is also urging the agency to take action on a petition that was filed in 2012 by a coalition of animal advocacy groups urging it to ban the public handling of wild animals for both their safety and ours.

How to Help

Please sign and share the petition urging the USDA to help stop facilities that continue to exploit these species with little regard for their welfare by creating a rule that would prohibit public contact with wild and exotic animals.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Peter F.
Peter F2 years ago

Thank you for sharing this

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Rudica R.
Rudica R2 years ago
Received 'some' good news from the blog. It's too big to post the whole thing. In a nutshell....license has been revoked.

Rayna Joann Driscoll

Any updates on this???

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

K H.
Kate H3 years ago


Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

very sad :(
petition signed

Lisa Zarafonetis
Lisa Z3 years ago

Already Signed & Shared on 1/4/15.

Theresa Hughes
Theresa Hughes3 years ago

So sad. I have already signned

Dawn W.
Dawnie W3 years ago

Signed noted and read...Thank you for the informative post...Cruelty is abhorrent and should not be tolerated and any staff caught must be given their walking ticket. Better still close such inhumane facilities forthwith.

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