Private Ownership of Wild Cats

Asian Leopard Cat - looking deeply unhappy in a nasty cage in a Malaysian zoo. Why do we do this?

Asian leopard cat looking miserable in captivity. This species is the wild cat ancestor of the Bengal cat.

We are told that “extreme animal rights fanatics” are causing a crisis in private ownership of wild cats in the United States¹. I don’t believe this. If there is a crisis with respect to wild cat ownership it is due to a realisation (by people generally) that it is not acceptable for individual people to keep captive wild cats for their pleasure when across the planet nearly all wild cat species are gradually dying out.

Efforts of concerned people should be directed towards preserving wild cats in the wild and not pretending that keeping them captive does some good vis-à-vis conservation. Wild cats don’t like being captive and they don’t breed in captivity. For this reason they gradually die out in cages. How can that further conservation?

The report I get from the Feline Conservation Federation (FCF) is that there is a general squeeze on private ownership of wild cats. The good days for these people are over. There were days when a person who wanted to own a wild cat of almost any species could acquire one in the USA. Apparently in 1985, there were many breeders of cougars (mountain lions) and that in many states a person could, without regulation, buy one and “own” him or her.

Likewise a person could acquire a bobcat or lynx from a fur farm. As the demand for fur declined during the 70s and 80s fur farmers decided to sell their bobcat and lynx kittens as an alternative money spinner. Lynn Culver, the executive director of the FCF makes a strange remark about this (sorry Lynn).

She says that fur farmers (people breeding bobcats to be killed and skinned for their fur) must have gone through “emotional conflict” when they were forced to sell their cats rather than kill and skin them. I don’t understand that. If a person is breeding a wild cat for the sole purpose of killing them and skinning them they must be emotionally dead with respect to concerns for their cats. So selling them to someone as pets cannot be an emotional problem. Breeding wild cats in cages for their fur is plainly unacceptable in the modern age. Selling wild kittens as pets is barely any better.

It seems that fur farms are much reduced in numbers since the 70s to 90s. This is good and is due to a change in attitude generally and not from animal rights activists. People are growing up and becoming more enlightened and knowledgeable about fur and wild cat species generally.

This change in public opinion has filtered through to changes in laws governing wild cat ownership. This is work in progress as different states progress faster than others. There have, though, been federal laws, international treaties and state regulations introduced that have put the squeeze on private captive wild cat ownership and breeding. This should be taken as a good development. Focus should be on wild cat conservation in the wild and not playing with wild cat genetics (and failing) within the captive community and justifying it in the name of conservation. This is clearly misguided.

Back in the good old days of widespread wild cat ownership (ownership of “exotic” species – I hate that word) there were less tigers in captivity. It is strange that private ownership of tigers has gone up when the squeeze on ownership generally has been in place. To me it indicates an excess of tigers in private ownership in the US. I think this is a known and agreed fact. FCF members own 1,084 tigers. They also own 338 lions. Margays are almost extinct in captivity in the USA. FCF members own a single cat. Margays are gorgeous, small, athletic wild cats that have been tamed but they don’t like being in cages. They won’t breed.

Another wild cat that is scarce in captivity is the Amur leopard. This is not surprising as there are only 40 or so in the wild. You see, I don’t think keeping wild cats in captivity is good or clever partly because it encourages the taking of wild cats from their habitat as kittens and then shipping them to the USA. Most of these cats die in transit. The whole thing has to be seen as bad and frankly cruel and misguided. I know CITES is meant to control wild cat shipping internationally and of their body parts but how effective is this treaty? As far as I am concerned it is ineffective. Someone needs to convince me that it works.

Lynnn Culver makes the point that the trend against private ownership of wild cats is continuing and will continue. She refers to the current economic difficulties of running private facilities in the USA and the introduction of federal bills (proposed national law) that prohibits breeding of big cats (leopard, tiger, lion and jaguar). These bills are:

  • S3547 (Senate) and;
  • H4122 (House).

I can only sense the wild cat ownership landscape will continue to shrink just as the habitat is shrinking for the all wild cat species in the wild.

It does not matter whether you are writing about wild cats in the wild or in captivity; the picture is uniformly bleak. All of us know why.

Associated: Noise stress of wild cats in captivity.

Reference: 1. FCF magazine Sept/Oct 2012.

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Private Ownership of Wild Cats — 12 Comments

  1. Humanity is appalling – I’m ashamed to no end. I just spent the morning reading about Japanese killing whales – I’m depressed. It does seem hopeless. The only thing left is revenge – to give people involved in all this a piece of my mind and a fairly hard kick in the head where possible. I used to frown on the over active measures of animal activists but now I kind of don’t blame even if they do get it wrong from time to time. I’d love to see poachers suffer horrible painful deaths alond with the people who create the endangered species market. Thank god for animal activists. People wont wear real fur in public anymore because they are scared of repercussions. GOOD. I tell you one thing I will be the first to stand up in the middle of a crowded restaurant and shout at somebody for wearing the wrong thing. I’m just sick of it. I’m ready to be pulled kicking and screaming out places – I don’t care anymore.

    • Anarchist..! I think the time is fast arriving when we have to be a bit anarchistic. The vote for the Italian comedian in the elections recently is a form of anarchism – rejecting the status quo. It is time to really do something big to change the way people in general relate to wild animals. We seem to headed for a time when they will all be in zoos or reserves. There is a story in the papers this morning about how pesticides are killing bees in the millions in the UK. Big commerce destroying nature. Without bees we’ll have to pollinate plants by hand or something. There is a sort of madness about human behavior.

  2. Keeping wild animals captive is CRUEL and WRONG as is breeding from them for money or fame.
    There are domestic cats desperately needing homes and being killed daily for lack of them, but ordinary cats aren’t enough for some, they want to OWN wild or semi wild cats for their own selfish satisfaction.
    It’s very hard to be a peaceful animal rights person Marc, I know because I’ve done it for 47 years now, but there is no point in being aggressive, what good would we be if they put us in prison?
    I could very easily turn violent at anyone abusing animals, I feel my insides and head are about to burst sometimes at the stupidity, ignorance and cruelty of some people.

  3. Yes Micheal the picture is bleak but most people won’t admit it. Wild animals should be left alone,not captured,not killed,but left in their natural state. I agree we’d be better giving homes to the poor cats sitting in cages on death row because no one wants them. I used to be an anarchist until I had the kids and needed to be responsible and yeh I got arrested but it was well worth it lol

  4. It seems to me to be nothing more than an ego trip for an emotionally immature animal owner: ‘See what a potentially vicious animal I have and how it submits to my power and authority!’ It reminds me of a man I used to know who owned a female Doberman dog. To be sure, she was a reliable guard dog, real threat to anyone who had intentions of harming her owner. But she was easily able to distinguish between people who meant well and those who meant harm. Toward those who had good intentions, she was as gentle and playful as a puppy. But that was *not* what her owner wanted. He wanted an animal that was threatening and intimidating at all times to everyone, and he was clearly irritated and annoyed when she displayed gentleness toward harmless people. People like that definitely need to grow up, but whether they will or not remains an open question.

    • It seems to me to be nothing more than an ego trip for an emotionally immature animal owner:

      I agree it is about people who consider themselves to be expert wild cat keepers but who are in reality are just satisfying their desires. It is self-indulgent and has little or nothing to do with conservation.

        • Totally against a cat’s wellbeing. We know that because they are dying out in captivity. We need to import cats from the wild to support captive cats, which is obviously crazy.

  5. The thought of a wild cat (any wild animal for that matter) caged for human pleasure makes me sad and angry 2 very familar emothions for me when I read about animal abuse. This IS aniaml abuse to take a cat from its home confined to a small cage it must go out of its mind!! And for what!!! For some egotistical idiot with more money than sense that wants some status symbol! Yeah look at me (beats his chest) look at this scary cat that I’ve got!

    I hate every aspect of it none of it is good and I for one am glad that its coming to an end.

  6. More haste less speed please don’t think me illiterate with my spelling I was just typing too quickly out of sheer anger 🙁

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