A Tinder profile can say a lot. A man with a dog says: I'm ready to settle down. A man holding a fish says: I'm a good provider (or at least aspire to be). A Machu Picchu selfie says: I'm well-traveled but not incredibly original.
And a man with a tiger says: I'm unoriginal, and I don't care about the treatment of animals. (If you're unfamiliar with the phenomenon, scroll through "Tinder Guys With Tigers" or "Tigers of Tinder" on Tumblr to get the gist.)
Last month, PETA sent a letter to Tinder asking the popular dating app to ban such photos, comparing tiger selfies to drugging or assaulting a date: "What might, at first swipe, look like a harmless picture actually means that someone was caged, dominated, and tied down or drugged before their photo was taken and uploaded online," the activist group wrote. "If this happened to one of your users on a Tinder date, you'd block the profile of the person responsible immediately. Unfortunately, this is the reality for tigers, lions, and other big cats who are featured in an alarming number of Tinder profile photos."
Tinder responded not by outright banning these kinds of photos (which New York state has done) but by asking users to take them down. "Posing next to a king of the jungle doesn't make you one," Tinder said in a blog post. Instead, the dating app suggested that users upload photos of them doing something more virtuous: planting a tree, walking to work, or "conserving water by drinking rosé." Tinder agreed to donate $10,000 to Project Cat, a partnership between Discovery Communications and the World Wildlife Foundation to protect tigers and their habitat.
Why would someone post a tiger selfie in their dating profile? These big cats are cute and powerful - a seemingly good paradox to conjure up when advertising yourself to potential mates.
But as investigations from PETA and the Humane Society have alleged, these animals are often mistreated in order to create those photo-ops. Lisa Wathne, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society, says that these cats are often taken from their mothers while still very young and fed irregularly. "If most people understood how cruel [these photo-ops were] to the tiger and the bigger problem it was causing," Wathne said, "they wouldn't do it."