Wild Tiger Health Project
Created by Dr John C M Lewis

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Guidelines: Tiger management

Everything possible should be done to minimise stress during a tiger’s stay at any rehabilitation facility. All phases of rehabilitation from capture to release are likely to be extremely stressful which may predispose animals to developing disease due to depression of immune function. Rigorous stress management is fundamental to successful rehabilitation.

  • Stress reduction starts with careful enclosure design. (See Facility design)
  • Prompt and effective evaluation and treatment of wounds or disease are essential.
  • Adult tigers should generally be kept alone in enclosures. Sibling juvenile tigers can be kept together with or without their mother, but they should be separated before they reach sexual maturity.
  • Newly caught tigers should be confined to a dark den at least for the first night. They should then be given access to the outdoor enclosure where food and water are available unless clinical needs require longer confinement.
  • If a tiger does not calm down adequately after admission the short-term use of anxiety-relieving drugs such as diazepam or buspirone can be considered.

Monitoring and general daily management activities should be as indirect and discrete as possible.

  • Personnel around a tiger should always be kept to a minimum – both to reduce stress and to ensure that the tiger does not associate its care with humans.
  • Keepers walking around the enclosure should be silent and should not talk or whistle etc.
  • No smoking, eating or spitting should be allowed in animal areas.
  • Where possible tigers should be monitored remotely using CCTV cameras, with monitors situated well away from  the facility’s core area.
  • If the unit is secure from unwanted people entering, staff should withdraw from all animal areas during the period of maximum tiger activity.
  • If direct vision is the only option for monitoring, use carefully constructed hides at one end of each enclosure.
  • Keepers should always appear non-threatening and avoid direct eye contact with tigers.

If a tiger is going to be in an enclosure for many months, it will be necessary for keepers to safely enter the enclosure from time to time to remove accumulating faecal matter and any uneaten food. It is also important for the animal’s health to periodically check its faeces for parasites. In order to clean an enclosure or collect faeces for analysis, the resident tiger(s) will have to be moved out and locked into an adjacent enclosure. Cleaning and faeces collection should be done quietly, as quickly as possible and out of sight of the tiger(s). 

As far as possible, tigers with the potential for release should not be exposed to unnecessary man-made objects or scents nor any food of domestic origin. Ungulate faeces, large sections of deer skin, urine from appropriate prey animals would be appropriate enrichments if thought necessary.

Tigers should not be bred in rehabilitation facilities as these do not provide a suitable environment.