Date of Graduation

Fall 2022


Master of Science in Biology



Committee Chair

Alicia Mathis


Tigers and cheetahs are common in the pet trade, public exhibits, and hands-on encounters with the public. Poor regulation of these experiences has resulted in numerous incidents worldwide in which a person was seriously injured or killed by captive big cats. Additionally, concerns for animal welfare have been raised by industry professionals. Prior research on primates has demonstrated exposing people to photographs of cats in different backgrounds can influence their attitudes about animals in captivity, but no study has addressed whether visual images affect human attitudes toward big cats. I used a survey that asked a series of questions about the suitability of keeping tigers and cheetahs in captivity, with each survey accompanied by a picture of tiger or cheetah in one of several backgrounds. Adult tigers were assessed as least happy when pictured in a circus, naturalistic zoo exhibit, or hard-surface exhibit, and adult cheetahs were evaluated as least happy when pictured on a leash or zoo background. In addition to the influence of the image characteristics, survey responses identified many significant trends in public perceptions of big cats as it relates to human physical interactions, exhibition, and conservation. For example, the majority of respondents believed that: scenarios where human interaction is permitted with tigers or cheetahs are unsafe, tigers and cheetahs are not appropriate to keep as pets, it should not be legal to own a big cat as a pet, and it is inappropriate for a tiger to perform tricks for the public’s entertainment. Although our findings show limited influence of image characteristics on attitudes about tigers or cheetahs, the compiled survey results indicate that the public is concerned about the safety of people and welfare of big cats both in captivity and the wild.


big cat, tiger, cheetah, public perception, conservation, zoo

Subject Categories

Other Life Sciences


© Abbie Knudsen

Open Access