Cub Petting and Photo Ops

One of the most popular and profitable activities of tiger breeders and exhibitors is cub petting. You can hold, pet, walk, run and in some places swim with a tiger cub for a fee. The facility is usually advertised as a sanctuary with the tigers being rescues, when in fact they are tiger mills that breed, trade and sell the tigers.

Arms holding up a tiger cub
Two teens bottle feeding a young tiger
A person holding two tiger cubs by the scruff

Some exhibitors have mobile units, from two cubs in dog carriers in the back of a pick-up truck to tractor trailers with 10 to 12 cubs. They  travel constantly, often south to north, setting up in state fairs, shopping malls, university alumni gatherings or fast food parking lots, any place they can draw a crowd.

Three young tigers in the middle of a circle of sitting people
Tigers in a cage at a mall

Technology has simplified the business. The operator no longer has to set up a tent or a photo booth and wait for pictures to be developed. Now every phone is a camera and all they do is pull the cub out of the cage and hand it to you. Who can resist the chance to hold a baby tiger cub when it is just so adorable? Your boyfriend or girlfriend takes your picture and you post it on Facebook to share the experience.  The workday for the tiger cub goes on for hours and at $20 per picture, this is a very profitable cash business.

In the wild a female tiger will give birth to a litter of 3 to 4 cubs every 3 years, the length of time it takes for her to teach the cubs how to hunt and become self-sufficient. In captivity the breeders take the cubs when they are two days old, and the tiger quickly becomes fertile again. She is immediately re-bred and can have three litters a year for 10 years, at which point she usually dies of breast cancer. 

Once the cubs are too old or too big for petting, they are sold or leased to a roadside zoo, a breeder or an incidental exhibitor who will use the tiger to attract customers to his primary retail business, which can be anything from a wedding factory to a gas station. Recently, tiger selfies have become a business where tigers of all ages are used as props to feed social media/dating sites.

Two men giving a thumbs-up sign behind a tiger
A tiger cub with his mouth wide open, being held by a person

In a 2012 rescue of 3 tigers from a Mississippi roadside zoo, the cages had to be cut open because their doors were too small for the tigers to pass through. They had been put in these cages as cubs and grew too large for the opening. They had never left the cage.