Something to Be Thankful For: Ending Private Ownership of Big Cats


Our partners at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are dedicated to ending the private ownership of big cats like lions and tigers. So when we asked them what they were thankful for this year they wanted to share the progress that has been made to end cruelty and abuse of these amazing animals.

The Problem: In the United States, there are as many as 10,000 big cats in captivity–meaning that there are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. than there are in the wild around the world. These animals are at risk for abuse and often live in terrible conditions: in private hands, menageries masquerading as rescue sanctuaries, and at unqualified roadside zoos operating with little oversight or accountability.

Why Can’t The Cats Live in Sanctuaries? That’s the goal, but it takes a lot of work. Working alone, sanctuaries didn’t have enough resources to rescue all the cats in need. But working together, they’re able to do more.

That’s why IFAW formed the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance in 2017, a network of legitimate sanctuaries—those that don’t buy, breed, sell, exploit or trade animals. Now, when cats are surrendered to sanctuaries that can’t place them, the sanctuaries contact each other or IFAW’s hotline—and cats have homes within hours.

Awareness: Most people have no idea that they could have tigers living in close proximity to them. This is one of the issues with unqualified people owning big cats: they can escape and because they’re predators they can attack unsuspecting bystanders. Also, tigers owned by hobbyist owners are often abused and underfed so they are often hungry and will search for food if they escape their enclosures.

Additionally, if people stop at roadside zoos, county fairs, and safari parks to bottle feed tiger cubs and take photos with them they’re probably unaware that they’re contributing to illicit practices. Those cubs likely come from a cub mill and after they’re too big for selfies are often doomed to a life of cruelty or even death.

What’s Being Done: This year, U.S. Rep Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania and Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, co-sponsored the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a bill in the House of Representatives that aims to better protect animals and the public by prohibiting commercial breeding, public handling, and ownership of big cats as pets. The bill was introduced in the Senate recently by Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut. Legislation like this if signed into law would go a long way in protecting captive animals.

Why This Matters: Wild animals should remain wild but for those in captivity they must be treated with respect and allowed to live lives of dignity. Awareness about the plight they face is key, we need more folks to know what’s going on so that they can demand that action be taken to protect captive cats. It’s also why pieces like this one from National Geographic are so important, they spread awareness but also underscore that we’re not powerless to stop this issue. Sign onto IFAW’s petition to ensure that Congress passes the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

Go Deeper: Watch the trailer for the recently-released film Hidden Tiger:

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