Surely, rule No. 1 for people who illegally own exotic animals must be "Don’t publicize your unlawful possession of said pets on the Internet."
But that is just what happened in Arizona when in late December a man posted photographs of his two pet tigers to Facebook, kick-starting a hunt for the eight-month-old, 200-pound big cats—one orange, one white—that resulted in their discovery in separate Phoenix-area backyards.
Randy Babb, an Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist, told the Associated Press that the orange tiger was found on New Year’s Eve tethered by a rope to a pole in one backyard. Located three days later in a different backyard, the white tiger was cooped up in a dog kennel. Somewhat surprisingly, both were said to be in good health.
Authorities are still on the prowl for their former owner, whose name has not been released to the public. If found, he’ll be issued a citation, as it is illegal to possess wild carnivores in the state without a special permit from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
"Even though they think they're pets and they're friendly, and there's not going to be any problems, they're unpredictable,” said Babb. “It's not the kind of thing you want to keep in a backyard."
More tigers are kept as pets—between 5,000 and 7,000—than exist in the wild. Globally, the wild tiger population has fallen to below 3,000—less than 3 percent of what it was in 1900.
Though it’s unclear what, if any, dangers the tigers faced in the Arizona backyards, the biggest threat for wild tigers is poaching. Tiger parts—bones for tonic wine, meat for consumption, and furs for decor—are under increasingly high demand in certain parts of Asia.
For those tigers lucky enough to evade the edge of a poacher’s knife, “their modern range has been reduced to small patches, isolating many of the animals in genetically impoverished groups of dozens of cats or fewer,” reports The New York Times.
Avoiding that fate, the Arizona tigers have since been relocated to Out of Africa Wildlife Park, a licensed rehabilitation facility in Camp Verde, Ariz.
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