• Taylor Hendrickson

Lessons from the Sanctuaries of Tiger King

The animals of the popular Netflix documentary series, Tiger King, are outsized and overpopulated by their caricature caregivers who warp the narrative into a true-crime meets truly weird story that becomes too big for its should-be-beneficiary, the tiger. Setting aside the absurd, we can glean some insights from the series.

Part exposé, Tiger King uncovers a lot of animal abuse that goes on at small zoos behind the scenes, despite their overwhelming popularity with volunteers and the public. One of the most obvious observations is that uncertified “roadside zoos” or “pseudo-sanctuaries” are often harmful for animals and unacceptable replacements for certified conservation programs.

But isn’t it a good thing to take in abused animals? Aren’t these ‘sanctuaries’ preventing extinction?

Kind of. Sanctuaries aren’t quite like proper conservation programs that wean animals back into the wild (like San Diego Zoos’ pandas). Tigers taken into these sanctuaries are often of mixed or unknown origins. Accordingly, their survival is compromised by both their genetics and domestic upbringing. Providing relief for abused animals is a substantial philanthropic endeavor — if the animals are properly fed, caged with similar species, and play stimulating games — but pseudo-sanctuaries fail to check all the boxes by not reintroducing animals back into the wild, or protect their natural reserves.

How do I know if I’m making ethical decisions?

I’ll admit, as a South Floridian, I’ve been to Mark McCarthy’s animal sanctuary, one of the brief interviewees in Tiger King. The series presents him as one of the few good guys, and though my memory seems to confirm this, I’ve forced myself to reconsider. This started a series of google queries and existential ruminations — ranging from an overwhelming sense of guilt for all my interactions with wild animals during school trips, to frustration that I couldn’t form a full opinion on McCarthy’s sanctuary, a fleeting wave of comfort when I discovered Beyonce once visited a zoo connected to Tiger King, and an earnest apology to the bird I’d been angrily blaming for biting my finger for several years.

During my due-diligence on roadside sanctuaries, I found it incredibly difficult to decipher reality from sentimental reviews, 5-stars, shady certificates, and stock photos. A lot of information was not publicly available, and what I did find was often conflicting and misleading. The research process was tricky, took time, and left me uncertain about key details.

If research is so difficult, how can I identify companies with moral hazards and invest in ways that are aligned with my values?

Investigating the businesses you interact with can guide your financial decision-making. But as I discovered in my Tiger King tailspin, researching companies and their commitment to beneficial environmental social governance (ESG) practices is rarely straightforward, and it’s hard to find the data needed, let alone make direct comparisons between investment options.

Don’t be discouraged: when it comes to researching companies and identifying the impact of your financial investments, Newday’s got you covered. We know it’s not always easy to label the good and the bad, and our scalar system rates and identifies investments for a portfolio that reflect your values. With a sophisticated ESG rating system, Newday only stands behind the companies that offer demonstratable social returns.

Investing with Newday is one way to protect wildlife.

Human actions have contributed to a 60% decline in wildlife populations since 1970, and the wildlife trade follows habitat loss as the second largest threat to biodiversity. Our financial decisions have huge impacts, and together, add up to drive system-level transformations. Investing in businesses with strong values helps push the bad guys out: know your contributions matter.

Newday’s Animal Welfare Portfolio puts your money in firms that advance biodiversity and conservation efforts and supports companies that avoid inhumane animal testing. Fret not! Roadside zoos aren’t making it into this portfolio! Let’s appreciate wildlife from afar, remain amazed that so many people care about tigers, and promote efforts that help them flourish.

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