For a few weeks now, photos of fat Siberian tigers have been making rounds on social media. Rather than suspect that the animals’ care has been compromised, many have deemed the pudgy animals to be ‘cute’ and have ignored their plus-size frames. According to Chris Draper, associate director of animal welfare and care at the Born Free Foundation, the condition of the tigers is concerning, as they are dangerously obese and at risk of developing health conditions. In conversation with The Dodo, Draper commented:
“It was like they were almost being circulated for comedic effect, and it’s only secondarily that people are starting to cotton on [to] what the actual problem is being displayed in the pictures.”
The felines live at the Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin City, China. Reportedly, visitors are largely to blame for the cats’ excessive diets, as it is an option to purchase live chickens and toss them to the big cats. Draper elaborated:
“If this facility is allowing live feeding, where people can buy a chicken and throw it them, it’s incredibly cruel and very unethical. I don’t know if it happens in this facility, but it certainly happens in some facilities in China. It’s a visitor attraction. Sometimes it’s not just chickens — it’s goats and cattle.”
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“I’ve never seen tigers overfed to that degree,” Draper added. “While that might not create an immediate problem for them, it would restrict their movement, give them problems with their joints and their limbs, feet and their ability to walk. They’d also have problems interacting with each other. There’d be stress and strain on their physiology, just as being obese does in humans.”
The associate director is also concerned about the tiger park itself.
“The pictures I saw indicated that large numbers of tigers are being kept together, which is a pretty unnatural situation,” Draper said. “Tigers are solitary animals. When you keep them in groups, you’re going to end up with a pretty high-stress environment.”
The animal rights activist noted that because the tigers are being kept in confined spaces, there are few opportunities for them to exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
“If they’re denied the opportunity to work for their food, as they would in the wild by foraging and hunting, you inevitably end up with underdeveloped muscles and deposition of fat,” said Draper. “It’s kind of like couch potato syndrome.”
To remain objective, Draper made sure to note that this isn’t the only tiger park in the world to abuse its animals in this fashion. However, it’s becoming more and more common to learn of animals existing in less than humane conditions in China. For example, this Chinese mall is home to a polar bear who is beyond depressed as he lives in artificial conditions.
“This is a universal problem,” Draper said. “I could go to facilities in North America and Europe and zoos and find this — perhaps not to the same degree, but I’d certainly find overweight cats, or overweight elephants.”
By raising awareness about this conundrum, perhaps enough people will be outraged enough to demand change. Draper hopes for the same. He concluded,
“They need to put an end to this, and get some proper advice on nutrition, feeding and behavior, and how to keep their animals better. And potential visitors to parks in China and the rest of the world need to just stop and think — what is the entertainment value in seeing these fairly grotesque tigers? It should provoke nothing but pity.”
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