Is Ohio zoo slaughter a setback for tiger conservation?

Eighteen tigers from a private zoo in Ohio have been shot: could you have a pet tiger here? Karl Vernes

Residents of Zanesville, Ohio, woke to the news today that most of the bears, wolves, lions and tigers that had been roaming free in their neighbourhood had been shot by police.

Police believe the animals were released en masse by the owner of a local private zoo just before he took his own life.

Among the animals shot were the private zoo’s 18 Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris), a globally endangered species whose numbers are dwindling in the wild. The latest estimate for India, the species' stronghold, puts the wild population there at less than 1,500 animals.

In Bhutan, where I work with colleagues on tiger conservation, population estimates range between just 67 and 81 tigers. Globally, there are less than 2,500 Bengal tigers, and possibly fewer than 3,200 tigers of any sub-species living in the wild today.

So, the news that 18 Bengal tigers were shot in a small town in Ohio overnight seems to be a real blow to the species. But that depends on just how many of these animals there are in captivity.

How many captive tigers are there?

In Australia, regulations on keeping exotic animals are tightly controlled under federal legislation (such as the EPBC Act) and state legislation (such as NSW’s Non-Indigenous Animals Act).

AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka