Time To Regulate the Unregulated Big Cats of America

tiger at bottom of bed
Tiger at bottom of bed
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

About 3-4 years ago I suggested a new federal statute that I called: Laws on Big Cats (rather crude title). My suggestions are almost mirrored in the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, which is yet to be enacted. It is a bill. Big Cat Rescue and International Fund for Animal Welfare, together with many other organisations, I suspect, are very keen to see it became an effective statute.

To an outsider, the situation regarding the keeping of large wild cats in America seems to be in a semi-anarchic state. No one knows what is happening. Experts estimate the number of captive big cats in America (10,000?). No one can count them. They don’t know where they are or the conditions in which they live. They don’t know how well qualified their caretakers are nor how safe the facilities are etc..

They are sometimes kept as “pets” in the house, basements and backyards or roadside cafes. It is time for change because clearly people obsessed with possessing a tiger can neither demonstrate that they have the skills to care for them properly nor the concern to adequately provide for their welfare. As for safety? Who knows. We read of many “pet owners” killed by their tiger pets. Or it might be a friend or a son. Many people believe it is time for it to stop.

The new act will:

  • make private ownership illegal.
  • make private, ad hoc breeding of big cats illegal. You have heard of hybrid ligers etc. This should stop too.
  • allow the force of the new law to be phased in by making provision for existing private big cat owners to apply – within one year of the statute becoming law – to retain their cats. Their cats will be registered with the US Dept. of Agriculture.
  • allow for exemptions for zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and other organisations and even circuses which comply with the Animal Welfare Act.
  • make it a criminal offence to be in breach of the law with a maximum $20k fine and 5 yrs in jail on conviction.

The reasons why this act is needed can probably be referred to under three headings:

  1. Public Safety
  2. Cat Welfare
  3. Conservation

Public Safety

Privately possessed tigers and large wild cat species are America’s dangerous “pets”. Most Americans would have heard about a private zoo disaster. PoC has mentioned one or two. The most high profile was probably the owner who released all his animals from cages and then killed himself. The cats were shot by police. A total mess and a disaster. What about servals? There are many in homes as pets. Many escape and cause public safety issues. I don’t believe they are covered by this Act.

The archetypal private big cat zoo owner is Joe Exotic. He breeds hybrids too. Horrible as far as I am concerned. Joe Exotic believes that big cats don’t mind living in small cages because they have never known anything different (you are badly wrong, Joe), which leads me nicely to the next heading…

Cat Welfare

The most high profile example of crappy big cat welfare is the tiger in a truck stop care park at Grosse Tete, LA. The tiger is Tony and he is a pet! Great. Horrible. There are many other examples such as using tiger cubs as photo props.


There are absolutely no conservation benefits to private zoos; quite the opposite. There is inbreeding and generic tigers (random bred tigers) and weird hybrids. The best known big cat hybrid is Hercules at 900 lbs (a liger). Captive cats do poorly in cages.

Private ownership of big cats encourages breeding for sale. You’ll see it on the internet. Just yesterday a person in Asia advertised on PoC for white tigers. White tigers are the paradigm case of tiger commercialism over welfare.

Ad hoc private, unregulated tiger ownership leads to a devaluing of the tiger worldwide, unscrupulous trading of the tiger for profit and may encourage international trade. In the US there is interstate trade of big cats. Tiger cubs are worth no more than random bred domestic kittens.

To the above you can add that the law needs to be cleaned up and regularised itself. The law has to be enforceable and if it is a state by state hotch-potch of laws and regulations it becomes near impossible to root about abuses and criminality.

11 thoughts on “Time To Regulate the Unregulated Big Cats of America”

  1. The thought of a wild animal being caged makes me so damn angry because its morally wrong and that animal must suffer every second of its life!! Who do people think they are and why do some think its their God given right to possess another creature?

    For Gods sake American politicians get with it and sort out these laws!!

  2. yep im in total agreement too something needs to be done to protect all big cats in the wild as there will be none left soon. I donate to world wid efund and am happy that the small about of money i pay goes to help saving all animals i.e esp bear baiting. its just devasting hearing on internet and facebook how some hunters will put of a pic of them hunting those animals and being so proud what they done. just makes me sick. 🙁

  3. Michael,

    I couldn’t agree with this post more if I tried. We MUST stop private ownership of big cats. It is truly outrageous. Cute little cubs become BIG WILD animals, and the owners cannot handle them anymore.

    I feel the same way about the F1, F2, F3, F4 hybrids- People gasp at the beauty of a Savannah cat, but cannot care for them. Same with many of the Bengals. They love their appearance and think they will be able to take care of them but many of them end up in very poor condition, and surrendered. Thanks for a very important post.

  4. Michael i have just returned from a wonderful “TIGER SAFARI” at the “Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve” in my home state of Maharashtra in India.We made a total of 4 safari trips into the jungle and spotted 7 tigers.Yes, 7 wild tigers which is rare . Spotted a tigress “Madhuri” with her 4 cubs which were approx 5 month old.The cubs reminded me of kittens, absolutely mischievous and managed to see them from just 20 to 30 meters.I have personally bottle-fed a tiger cub in a zoo in Bangkok and also posed for a photo with two full grown tigers in Bangkok and feel embarrassed of the same. Tigers are definitely not meant to be kept as pets like cats or dogs. It is a totally wild animal and its genuine residence is the natural wild forests of India.The memory of seeing these wild tigers in the forest will forever be etched in my memory besides the photographs.I have posted a photo of one of the 4 cubs taken with my ordinary digital camera.
    Here is a link to my blog to get a understanding of a typical Indian tiger safari : http://tadobaandharitiger.blogspot.in/

    • Fantastic. I envy you. To see 7 tigers must be unusual. Nice photo. Great to see the real thing. I know some people see none when they go to a tiger reserve. Is the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve known to be a good reserve at the moment. By that, I mean a good chance of seeing a tiger?

      • Honestly it is just a matter of luck and being at the “RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME”. The month of May is the best time to sight tigers in national parks in India as they usually come to the few water reserves for thirst or just to lie down the entire day like cats.We were lucky to study the behaviour of these wild tigers by sighting them.Last year i had been to “Bandhavgarh Tiger” reserve and we returned without anyone in the group sighting a tiger ! “LUCK” plays a 70% role while the rest is the expertise of the jeep guide and driver as they know the jungle terrain and habits of the few tigers in the vicinity.

        • If sometimes people can go to a tiger reserve and see no tigers at all then I would have thought that seeing 7 is very lucky indeed and perhaps exceptional. I would love to see a tiger in the wild. There are fewer and fewer of them in the wild and one-day it is quite likely that no one will ever see a tiger in the wild ever again.

    • wow ur so lucky how awesome!! To see those big cats up front be amazing. Just love the big cats esp Cheetahs nad Leopards they are so amzing

  5. I wish there were laws to protect wild cats from being ‘owned’ by people keeping them in cages or basements or any other unsuitable place! It’s very cruel, they are meant to live wild and free, it makes me feel very sad for the poor creatures. Also breeding and interbreeding them in captivity is very wrong, it’s time those cats had rights!


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