Tigers have declined precipitously over the past century and then some, popularly considered to have declined from 100,000 in 1900 to about 3,000 today. They're poached to the brink of extinction for their bones, skins, teeth, claws, and internal organs. And, humans stood by and watched ... until it was, perhaps, too late.
We talk all the time about the fact that there are thought to be more tigers in captivity in America (roughly 5,000) than there are in the wild. There are more tigers in Chinese tiger farms than exist in the wild, too: all being bred, confined, and forced to languish, as their parts are drip-fed into the consumer market, keeping demand alive until a full reopening of tiger trade can happen.
It's kind of hard to protect tigers in the wild, in places such as India, when demand is robust. But, it also seems a bit hypocritical to tell China to stop keeping tigers cruelly in captivity when America has a rather embarrassing record in this regard.
Visitors to the state fair in Missouri, for instance, have emerged with shocking reports about the performing tigers: a popular attraction. Pictures of these cats show jutting hip bones, prominent spines, and vanishing waists. It doesn't take a veterinarian to see that these cats are deprived. One visitor described the cats as "skeletons" and observers saw the cats move lethargically through their routines. Even a former employee of Robert Mullen, the cats' trainer, claimed that Mullen was notorious for mistreatment.
While this is a clear and visible case of abuse, the sad truth is that big cats in shows are often trained with cruel, punishing tactics, including food deprivation. Even in animal shows in which you can't see hip bones spiking under the skin, the cats are still suffering in captivity.