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Tigers/Domestication of Tigers


Kai Akagawa wrote at 2009-11-10 23:24:10
Hello, Jimmy.

Have you heard of the fox genome project or the Domesticated Silver Fox? The project took 50 years to be completed in which they selected tamer and tamer foxes from each generation to breed. What they discovered was a connection between tamer species and adrenaline, which is also related to several other chemicals within the animal affecting coat color, ear floppiness, and tail-curling. Lower adrenaline created tamer foxes and also changed the general appearance of the animal and the smells they exhibited.

This said, theoretically, taming a tiger or any big cat would be possible by selecting tamer offspring from every generation to create a more domesticated creature.

The real question is: should this be done? What would the use of such a creature be?

The answers are varied. A domesticated big cat could be a loving pet, a great actor for movies, or a guard animal. The worst possibility: a military animal used in various situations for warfare or as a guard animal for illegal substances.

So that is the basics of it and while Raphael Heng is true in saying they are too large, one could say the same of horses or other large domesticated animals.

Heng pointed also that the tigers in the Save China's Tigers project were still attacking animals and going for the throat despite being more tame. This holds true for domesticated cats. They still kill even if it is smaller prey. They'll hunt birds, mice, even small rabbits. Dogs and domesticated foxes still chase animals and kill them too. The problem with a domesticated big cat is mostly it's size and capabilities. Even if they are domesticated, like Heng said, they can still kill.

Jim Mapes wrote at 2010-05-02 10:24:23
Raphael is mostly correct on their unsuitablility to be domesticated as given.  Though as another follow up noted all our domestic animals still exhibit some of their wild behaviors like stalking and killing.  The difference is they are more controllable in that exhibition.

For the house cat, because of its size, no major effort has been made to eliminate this "tantrum" phenomenon, which dogs have less of a tendency to exhibit though dogs will play and can play rough, they are more susceptable to obedience and can be discouraged from rough behavior from puppyhood which overrides their untrained behavior.  Similarly small dogs are considered more "snippy" etc but in fact its because we don't see them as a threat that they are allowed to exhibit dominant behaviors unchecked as being "cute" where you would correct a Shepherd or Labrador attempting to do the same things (like jumping on you).

Now the ultimate answer in "saving" these large animals thru domestication means breeding for human tolerance and obedience.  Similiar to wolves/dogs, and the Russian fox experiment also mentioned in another follow up answer, if you were to do this, the resulting breed of tigers wouldn't be like the animals they have.  They are breeding to keep a wild animal as that animal.  If they were breeding for domestication, the tigers would start showing variations which they would consider unlike the breed though the base genome would be preserved.  So you might have a wooly tiger with spots instead of stripes, but it would be more affable with humans and the trait for social contact bred up (tigers are more solitary than wovles or lions).  At a later time the domestic stock could be selectively bred to bring out the original traits and wildness then several generations educated on a preserve for survival.  Another obstacle to this currently is the small stock population, there are only a few hundred to couple thousand tigers of any species surviving, so you are looking for a trait that may not show itself but in a few individuals & perhaps not in every generation.  Domesticating most of our other animals friends occurred from plentiful stock from which the forebears of all current domestic animals were selected.

Personally I think this course is the best chance at survival for many threatened species in a long term manner.  The base genome gets preserved even if the wild animals are all wiped out.  Given the fact that some asian cultures consider Tiger Penis Soup a delicacy verility enhancer, wild tigers are always under threat from a rich businessman trying to conceive with his 10th wife - a million dollar ransom will awalys find a legion of poor willing to risk all to poach it.

Personally I think a mountain lion would be a cool pet.  If they were seriously domesticated it would take a few generations to get started on it so its something I'll never see.

H.P. Tesla wrote at 2013-08-10 19:33:21
I agree with everything Raphael has said, however, it is possible to breed a domesticated big cat(keyword being possible).  Selective breeding, as to my knowledge, has never been tried with big cats for an extended period of time.  Captive breeding and selective breeding are not the same thing.  An experiment in Russia involving foxes showed that it took 10 generations of selective breeding(picking only the tamest, non aggressive, human friendly foxes) to produce truly domesticated foxes.  The problem with most big cats lies in their social structure.  The majority of them don't really have a social structure!  Tigers, Leopards, etc. are solitary animals outside of breeding season.  The one major exception is the lion, who as we know, live in prides and are the most social of the big cats.  Selective breeding of lions could possibly produce a domesticated lion, however it would take far longer than 10 generations to accomplish.  

Even domesticated house cats still have a killer instinct like Raphael has said, but the breeding of cats was not as selective as wolves due to their size.  Yes a cat can still harm you, but something that size killing an adult human was never much of a concern.  And while most domesticated cats still show this chasing instinct, not all do - I own a house cat who has showed zero predatory instincts.  He is still alive at the age of 19 and has never even chased a small object, the one mouse I've seen in my home since I've had him, he ran from.  This however is far from normal, but it shows that true domestication in cats is possible.  It would simply take more time, knowledge and dedication than most people have(by "time" I literally mean it would take longer than a human lifespan to breed out these instincts).  So while it is possible, it is highly unlikely anyone will ever accomplish this - and big cats should never be kept as pets.


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Raphael Heng


Anything about Big Cats, especially Tigers. You can also ask me any questions or doubts you have about the organisation Save China's Tigers as i am a volunteer there, How the tigers affect the ecosystem in Africa etc. Questions about any feline re-wilding projects could be ask here, eg: Asiatic lion re-wilding. I can answer questions in both Chinese and English, questions on interspecies conflict regarding felines can also be answered.


I am a volunteer of the Charitable Organisation, Save China's Tigers. The Organisation aims to save the South China Tiger via re-wilding training in Africa and releasing captive trained tigers back into the China's wild.

Save China's Tigers


Student, currently studying about Animal biology, specifically on felines.

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