Tinder Just Cracked Down On Tiger Selfies, And With Good Reason

"That snapshot, that selfie really represents a lifetime of cruelty for these animals."

The dating app Tinder has asked its users to stop taking tiger selfies, a significant call to action for an issue most Americans probably don't fully understand.

Though what makes these so-called "tiger selfies" possible may not be common knowledge, almost anyone who has spent time on a dating app has seen them: users, typically men, pictured relaxing alongside unrestrained tigers, lions, and other exotic animals. Most swipers understand the selfies as an effort to advertise their subjects as particularly daring or adventurous. In fact, the phenomenon is so common there is an entire website dedicated to it called Tigers of Tinder.

Apparently, Tinder has seen quite a few of them, too. The app's call to action was posted on the official Tinder blog and titled "Take Down the Tiger Selfies." The post advised the app's users that "posing next to a king of the jungle doesn't make you one."

"It's time for the tiger selfies to go," Tinder explained. "More often than not, these photos take advantage of beautiful creatures that have been torn from their natural environment. Wild animals deserve to live in the wild."



Aviva, a 41-year-old from Long Island, told A Plus she was glad to hear Tinder was considering taking action on the photos. So far, the app hasn't actually restricted them, it's just asked its users to refrain from posting.

Fortunately for newly tiger-less Tinder users, there's a good chance the selfies aren't doing much to help them find the love of their life.

"The tiger photos... are a total turn-off," Aviva wrote. "I think people use them to show they are adventurous but it really shows their lack of concern for the animals that are drugged just for a photo op. For me, it suggests a larger lack of concern for social issues on the whole."

But selfies with exotic animals aren't just a bad way to get someone's number. As it turns out, a huge number of the "tiger selfies" come from people taking pictures with drugged animals in roadside shows and petting exhibits that expose adult cats and cubs alike to horrific living conditions. 

One man I spoke to, who uses Tinder in Australia and asked to remain anonymous, said the practice was pretty popular in Australia too, even amongst women. Although stereotypically men are more likely to pose with exotic animals, he said had seen several women in photos with tigers as well. Fortunately, awareness about the issue is growing — including in Australia.

"'Drugged tiger pics' is what the girls call them here," he said. "I've seen girls with the same pics though... now when I see girls with those pictures I just wonder if they knew if that's animal cruelty."

One girl whose profile he came across explicitly said she would be "swiping left" — or declining — if she came across a "drugged tiger pic" in a man's profile.

A Tinder user in Australia.
A Tinder user in Australia.

Representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Animal Defenders International (ADI) both said that there are now more tigers in backyards across America — after being discarded from these petting or photo operations — than there are in the wild across the globe. The United States government and several wildlife conservation organizations estimate that anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 tigers exist in American backyards, homes, circuses or roadside exhibits alone. Compare that to just 3,000 endangered tigers left in the wild worldwide.

Dr. Heather Rally, a supervising veterinarian for PETA, told A Plus that it's tough to know where to begin when explaining why the practice is so cruel and inhumane.

Many of the tigers are trapped in traveling circuses, frequently separated from their families and confined in spaces that are far too small. They are often sick due to mishandling from their caretakers who usually lack the training to adequately keep them healthy, and drugged to keep them calm. Worst of all, though, is that in many cases the tigers are only useful for entertainment purposes from birth until they are about four months old. After that, they're far too dangerous and big to be taken care of.

"That has resulted in thousands of grown big cats that are no longer useful to these folks that have essentially been discarded to roadside zoos or tiny backyards or dingy basements and then are in tiny cages for the rest of their lives," Dr. Rally told A Plus. "So that snapshot, that selfie, really represents a lifetime of cruelty for these animals who are typically stolen from their mothers within days if not hours after birth."

Vistors play with a tiger cub at a Slovakian zoo. Schlachta Stanislav / Shutterstock.
Vistors play with a tiger cub at a Slovakian zoo. Schlachta Stanislav / Shutterstock.

Matt Rossell, the campaigns director at ADI, framed the issue in nearly identical terms in a separate call. He's worked on several investigations, sometimes undercover, of traveling exhibitions or roadside circuses. With ADI, he's exposed troubling practices and broken national stories that have been featured on Nightline, on CNN, and in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

"Seeing these selfies with tiger cubs and whatnot actually increases demand for the pet trade of exotic animals or the private ownership of these animals," Rossell told A Plus. "And it actually decreases people's awareness of conservation. It makes it appear these animals are in abundance."

But the news of Tinder's announcement was encouraging for Rossell, who is hopeful it represents another step forward in raising awareness around the issue.

"I think it sends the right message that this is inhumane and it's not safe for the animals and the public," he said. "We would hope that more companies will have an exotic animal policy that prohibits contact like this."

Taking a selfie with a lion in Russia. Shutterstock / StanislavBeloglazov.
Taking a selfie with a lion in Russia. Shutterstock / StanislavBeloglazov.

Still, it's an uphill battle. As Dr. Rally explained, there are federal laws like the Animal Welfare Act that prohibit certain kinds of public contact and exhibition, but some of the regulations are vague enough that exhibitors interpret them to their benefit. For example, one statute allows public contact with cubs between the age of eight and 12 weeks, but exhibitors operate in much broader ranges because it's difficult for a regulator to show up and determine a cub's age. She described it as "vaguely" legal from a federal standpoint. 

"There are also state laws that regulate the private ownership of these animals," she said. "The federal government doesn't regulate the private ownership at all. There are some states where you can go online and buy a tiger cub for less than you would pay for a purebred dog and keep that animal in your house and nobody would ever know and you don't have to have a permit."

Organizations like PETA are doing their best to change the laws and restrict exotic animal ownership nationally, along with stopping breeding and exhibition practices. Ultimately though, Dr. Rally said PETA was "thrilled" to see Tinder's statement. 

"They have so much influence, so many users and so much reach," she said. "I think a lot of our challenge with respect to the cub petting industry is really just awareness. Most people aren't aware that this is even going on in this country or that it's a problem. We hope that people will rethink it and educate themselves and go out and learn about what's happening to these animals."

Cover image via Gina Smith / Shutterstock.



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