INSIDE EDITION Investigates Tigers as Shopping Mall Attractions
One attraction holiday shoppers might notice at the mall this year is not a photo op with Santa, but instead, with tiger cubs.
At malls across the U.S. shoppers can pay a fee to have their photos taken with baby tigers and even play with them in their pens.
But Lisa Guerrero and the INSIDE EDITION I-Squad discovered that shoppers might be surprised to learn where these tigers come.
We took our cameras to one such tiger exhibit at the Northgate Mall in Cincinnati, Ohio.
For $55 shoppers got their pictures taken with a cub and played with the babies in a pen. But the eight-week-old cub Guerrero petted and posed with was obviously sick and barely moved during our visit.
"Why do you think he's sick?" Guerrero asked an employee at the exhibit.
"I don't know. Maybe he's just tired or stressed," she said.
Another cub on display was missing a patch of fur and appeared distressed while posing in photos.
Also on display were six-month-old tigers. They were kept behind a cage because by law, the public is not allowed to interact with tigers older than three months. And here's why:
An employee told us he got scratched up by one of the older tigers just the day before.
"There was blood everywhere," he said. "It was just a total, total mess."
INSIDE EDITION showed our video to Adam Roberts from the national animal welfare group Born Free USA.
"There is no excuse for bringing tiger cubs to malls," Roberts said.
He says these traveling tiger shows exploit the tigers and endanger the public.
"Anybody that is putting them in close contact with the public is creating a recipe for disaster," Roberts said.
Roberts said he is particularly disturbed by where these cubs often end up when they're too old for pictures—caged and kept as pets in backyards.
There are actually more tigers living in Americans' backyards than there are left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund, a non-profit animal welfare group.
So where do these cubs come from? They're part of a traveling exotic animal exhibit that hails from a roadside zoo in Oklahoma.
Joe Schreibvogel is president of the G.W. Exotic Animal Foundation, the non-profit that operates the traveling tiger exhibit in the mall we visited. Many of the cubs used in the exhibit were born in captivity at his park in Oklahoma, a roadside zoo that is home to over 200 tigers.
But Schreibvogel's park has had problems in the past. He denied any wrongdoing but paid $25,000 for repeated animal welfare violations in 2006 and is currently under investigation by the USDA for the unexplained deaths of 23 tiger cubs at his park.
In an interview with Guerrero he again denied any wrongdoing.
"How did 23 of your tigers die?" Guerrero asked.
"Bad formula," Schreibvogel said.
"You had to pay $25,000 in fines. You've had 23 tigers die. Are you a responsible owner of tigers?" asked Guerrero.
"I say I'm damn responsible," replied Schreibvogel.
Schreibvogel says he takes good care of his tigers and displays them for educational purposes.