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.