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Chances are when you hear the word tiger, you picture a large, elegant and graceful jungle cat.  A predator we both fear and admire, stealthily searching for its next meal.  In reality few tigers ever see or get to prowl Asian jungles.

Most tigers today live in captivity; but, they are not living in zoos as you might imagine.  They are privately owned.  No one is certain how many tigers live in North America, but some experts estimate that the number of tigers living in the United States is nearly double of those in the wild. What's life like for the American tiger?

Unlike their wild counterparts these privately owned pampered American tigers are fatter, live longer and have never had to hunt for their dinner. Many wildlife experts believe their only purpose is to entertain their owners, while others hope that their unique genetic make-up could help save their endangered wild cousins.  But, no one really knows if captive bred tigers could be taught to hunt, and whether they would survive in the wild. 

In The American Tiger celebrity veterinarian Martin Dinnes remembers a time in the 1960's when owning a tiger was a sign of success, when celebrities would drive around the city in their convertibles with their pet tigers in the back seat.  At the Shambala Preserve in Southern California, home to nearly 50 large cats, we meet Tippi Hedren, an actor famous for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds.  Tippi Hedren once shared the golden screen with dozens large cats, but now she's campaigning against private ownership. 

Ron Tilson, a world renowned tiger expert, calls the American Tiger a 'junk tiger', a top predator that has lost its 'tigerness'.   He would also welcome a federal ban on private ownership, and does not think that the American Tiger will save the six sub-species of tigers that are on the verge of extinction.  Meanwhile, Zuzana Kukol and Scott Shoemaker, who are raising their six tigers in Nevada, would rather see the exotic cat have a home in captivity than nowhere.

In this fascinating portrait of the American Tiger we explore the relationship between human and beast in the context of the 21st century's wild tiger crisis.

The American Tiger is directed and written by Francis Delfour & Sébastien Tétrault and produced by Yanick Létourneau, Périphéria Productions Inc. in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

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