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Big Cats: Caged & Confined in the Land of the Free

The first thought that came to my mind when it read an article about “Pet Big Cats in the US” was how stupid un-educated people can be to try to keep these wild animals as pets. Then the next instant I felt sorry for them, that they couldn’t differentiate between a domestic animal and a wild beast, and in the next, my head filled with questions that if there are no laws governing the keeping of these big cats as pets, which also includes  tigers, the U.S. could become the next big source for the illegal trading of tiger parts.

A Captive Tiger in the US
© Doug Williamson

First reported (at least the first I found) in 2003, by National Geographic, the estimates showed that there were approximately 15,000 exotic big cats living in neighborhoods and road-side zoos in the US.

There was also a reported case of confiscating a 400 lbs. full grown Siberian-Bengal tiger from a New York apartment.

Then in 2008, The California based Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition had estimated that there a total of 7000 tigers kept as pets in the United States. That’s more tigers then what are present today in the wilds of Asia.

Other than that, today, there are as many as 20,000 big cat pets which include mainly include tigers, lions, cougars and leopards and off note, around 3000 great apes.

How It All Began:

America’s zoos and to some extent, their circuses are to be blamed for it. Aound 25 years ago, the zoos, freely bred these big cats, to keep a constant flow of cute cubs to display in their zoos. But this over-breeding, led to overabundance in the wild cats. According to the Ultimate Explorer documentry, in the US, for every lion and tiger in the zoo, there were 10 owned privately.

With an ever increasing demand for these exotic pets and with only a license required from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more breeders started trading to the booming trade.

Tiger on a leash
Tiger on a leash

Who Keep Them As Pets?

Everyone from the low income groups, to the high income groups to even teenagers have pet big cats. It’s a prestige issue.

Where Can You Get One From?

You can find may breeders who trade in exotic pets, many of the local pet shops trade in them, these days you can even buy one off the internet with your credit card. I found many websites who sell “Exotic Pets” but this one, was the only one which had pictures and the prices. I will not share the name of the website, as I don’t want to publisize their cause, but you can see a screenshot of the page here. They have on display, a 4 day old female tiger cub for $2500, a 6 week old female tiger cub for $2500 and a female lion cub for $3000. Also not to be missed, is the discalimer that they have on the top of the page and the poll that they have below it, which states that 84% of the voters are against the Captive Primate Safety Act.

What Can Be Done?

As a leader in promoting the conservation of tigers, the United States has should be  responsible to effectively manage its captive tiger population to prevent any emergence of illegal trade and if any tiger parts are supplied into the black market, it can stimulate trade and consumer demand, which could pose a serious threat to already-dwindling wild tiger population.

According to a TRAFFIC report, the U.S. government has no way to determine how many tigers there are in captivity within its borders, where they are, who owns them, or what happens to their body parts when they die. Captive tigers include animals bred in zoos, used for entertainment in carnivals or promotional exhibits, housed at rescue facilities, and those privately owned.

In many states there are no controls on individuals keeping tigers as pets. Current estimates indicate that there are more than 5,000 tigers in captivity in the United States, more than exist in the wild and a registration scheme for all captive tigers and a means to monitor disposal of dead tigers is urgently needed in the country.

7 thoughts on “Big Cats: Caged & Confined in the Land of the Free

  1. Took me a forever to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the blog. It proved helpful to me and I am sure to all the members who have seen this blog It’s always nice when you’re not only informed, but also entertained! I’m sure you had fun creating this article.

  2. I know this might not be the most appropriate place to post this but for other readers living in the USA are you concerned about the debt? It just seems like it is getting to the point where the country is going to go bankrupt and my husband and I are just a little concerned that our kids and grandkids are going to have some big problems in a few years. Thanks for letting me vent, Sara

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