WAZA Statement on Netflix’s Tiger King

Date: 07/04/2020

The Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness has gripped viewers around the world. The seven-part true-crime documentary series brings to light the atrocious standards of “roadside zoos” and the problems with keeping tigers, big cats and other “exotic animals” as pets.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) distances itself and its members from these types of poorly managed “roadside zoos” which are not held to strict regulations and not accredited or validated through WAZA Association members. We would like to ask people to only visit zoos and aquariums which are members of WAZA and/or of one of WAZA’s recognised regional and national associations.

WAZA would also like to say to these roadside zoos, shown in Tiger King, to look to the standards set by WAZA’s recognised regional and national associations, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in the United States, to ensure they change their ways and provide higher standards of welfare and care to the animals.

WAZA and its association members are a valuable network. Our community has a wealth of resources, including strategies, policies and best practice manuals, that can guide substandard facilities aiming to improve their standards.

WAZA members and accredited members of WAZA regional and national associations are held to high standards of animal welfare and care, and participate in both in situ and ex situ conservation efforts around the world. Our members play an important role in education and in connecting people with nature and wildlife, while also tackling some of the world’s leading sustainability issues such as plastic pollution, illegal wildlife trade and sustainable palm oil.

WAZA’s longstanding commitment towards animal welfare and conservation was highlighted through the publication of the ‘World Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Conservation Strategies’ in 2015, which provides guidance and a framework for WAZA members to achieve high standards of animal welfare in support of their conservation, educational and research goals. These strategies are also openly available to non-members.

WAZA has an ongoing commitment to the continuous improvement of animal welfare standards globally and as a result, last year set an animal welfare goal, which states that by 2023:
• WAZA national and regional associations must have an animal welfare evaluation process in place and the process must include specific elements approved by WAZA.
• All WAZA institutional members must be compliant with this process.

Through this goal, WAZA would like to assure people that when they visit a WAZA member zoo or aquarium, they know that they are visiting an accredited institution which has met a series of rigorous standards and which has an ongoing commitment to providing the best care for animals.

The other highly problematic aspect of Tiger King is the keeping of wild animals as pets. WAZA, however does value efforts in which animals are kept in professional private hands for conservation purposes aligned with the One Plan Approach to Conservation. But wild animals should not be privately kept as pets. This poses significant animal welfare concerns and is highly dangerous both to the animals and people. Every year animals are taken from the wild and sold in the illegal wildlife trade, to live in people’s backyards and basements. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be valued at around USD$ 7-23 billion dollars annually and is responsible for decimating animal populations globally for the entertainment of people. WAZA calls for this illegal trade to be ceased and for private ownership of wild animals to be stopped.

WAZA asks the community to refrain from visiting zoos and aquariums which are not WAZA members and/or a member of one of WAZA’s 24 regional and national zoo and aquarium associations. By visiting WAZA members or accredited zoos or aquariums you are supporting vital conservation efforts to save species around the world in conjunction with the very best animal welfare standards.

Signed: Prof. Theo Pagel, WAZA President and Karen Fifield, Chair of WAZA’s Ethics and Animal Welfare Committee

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the global alliance of regional associations, national federations, zoos and aquariums, dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world.

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