Tigers, Cats, and All Life Deserve Respect

The Huang Fellows take a virtual visit to the Carolina Tiger Rescue

A beautiful, formidable, orange and black striped cat paces leisurely in front of us. Shaded by a healthy amount of trees, Mila the tiger looks at us briefly before deeming the computer screen boring and returning back to her stretching.

Filled with awe, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would have been like if the Huang Fellows had been able to visit the Carolina Tiger Rescue in person. Even just through Zoom, I was captivated by Mila’s grace and strength but also horrified by her story. This incredible animal had been in a roadside zoo in Colorado, along with over a hundred other animals. She and two other tigers were kept in a cage the size of an elementary school classroom, probably stripped from her mother at birth, brought out for the amusement of people that wanted to pet or feed the tigers.

tiger with logo of carolina tiger rescue

Credit:Carolina Tiger Rescue

Riley, the next tiger we met, had been in the same cage with Mila when they were rescued. He unhurriedly lumbers over to the fence where Ms. Katie Cannon, Education Coordinator from the Carolina Tiger Rescue and our guide for the day, was standing. Lounging in front of us, he licks his paws and shows us massive tongue. (Fun Tiger Fact #1: Tigers have papillae on their tongues, like rough patches, that help with grooming as well as cleaning their prey.)

We listen to Ms. Cannon describing Riley and Mila’s story, about the roadside zoo and the intricacies of rescuing these animals. Before this Zoom call, I had never even heard of a roadside zoo, nor recognized the scope of the problem of exotic animals and private ownership in the US. There are no national laws about owning tigers and in many states, like North Carolina, there are no state regulations either.

You might think, why do we need any laws, surely this doesn’t happen that often? Well, what if your neighbor owned a tiger or a lion that you didn’t know about? What if that neighbor had an emergency and first responders came, but they also didn’t know about the tiger? What if the tiger escaped their enclosure, which was most likely too small for them anyway?But the detriments clearly extend beyond just to humans.

tigers playing

Credit:Carolina Tiger Rescue

These animals are not meant to live in small cages and in such close proximity to humans. They are meant to roam, to eat the foods they need for their diet, to be in their native habitats. Living in a backyard or in a house is by no means an adequate place for an exotic animal. Private owners, who buy these cats on the internet, have no idea what kind of food they eat, or what these animals require.

Ms. Cannon shared that even animal shelters, which sometimes have to rescue exotic animals, often don’t know how to care for these animals. (Fun Tiger Fact #2: They are obligate carnivores, meaning they have to eat meat, not plants. In fact, they don’t even chew their food; instead of flat molars, they have sharp molars that tear through meat and bones.)

Many of us have watched or heard of the Netflix show ‘Tiger King,’ which came out during quarantine in the spring of 2020, but Ms. Cannon cautions people about the reality of this show. Although it serves as an introduction to the problem of private ownership of exotic animals, Ms. Cannon says that the show missed the opportunity to show the full scope of the issue and inform the public on how dangerous it is. The show focused on the humans, but that’s not what coverage of exotic animals should be about… it should be about the animals. They are organisms just like us, deserving respect and fair treatment.

And that is at the heart of what the Carolina Tiger Rescue is about.

Their attention to detail for the habitats that each animal lives in, their precision regarding what they feed the animals and how they feed them (Fun Tiger Fact #3: Tigers actually need to eat animal bones for nutrients!), and the respect and concern that they show each animal, as well as their workers, is the standard with which we should regard all living things. This goes for in regular life and in science too.

Although our visit with Mila, Riley, and the other animals was virtual, I walked away imbued with respect and awe which I am going to bring forward with me. We must treat all living things with respect and dignity, and conduct our science in ways that emulate that too. There is a certain sense of awe and wonder that comes from looking at an incredibly fierce tiger or overlooking a beautiful cliff-coastline, or looking at microscopic organisms, and by sharing that with others, we can create a culture of respect for the natural world, that can hopefully help in putting an end to things like owning exotic animals.

For more information about the Carolina Tiger Rescue, visit their website at https://carolinatigerrescue.org/.

Thank you, Katie Cannon, for sharing the worlds of these tigers with us.

Living in a backyard or in a house is by no means an adequate place for an exotic animal.

Emily Nagamoto, Huang Fellow ’24

Nagamoto_Emily Emily is a prospective Earth and Ocean Science major originally from Southern California.