Should big cats be allowed as pets?


Jeff Youngstrom

Pet tigers can be unhealthily secured by their owners, through means such as being chained to the floor like this tiger.

While taking a picture of the jaguars at Little Rock Arkansas Zoo, the 3-year-old shrieked as he slipped through the railing and plunged into the enclosure. The jaguars advanced on the child, and the police report describes how “the black cat had bit the child on the foot area and the yellow jaguar had bit the clothing near the neck area.” Keepers rushed to the scene, lowering a ladder and spraying a fire extinguisher at the cats. The boy survived the attack, and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital reports the child will improve.

Even though the child will recover, the event remains a terrifying reminder of the danger big cats in captivity pose, especially those who are less experienced than the keepers in Little Rock.

Officials are not quite sure how many big cats live in the U.S., but they estimate somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 in backyards, circuses, zoos and sanctuaries.

A handful of these cats may have grew up like Izzy, a tiger now at Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary near Ste. Genevieve, who lived as a prop to take pictures with. Since cubs in cub petting industries are handled throughout the day, diseases spread quickly to the cats. It is not uncommon to find cataracts from constant camera flashes either. They are kept in captivity from the age 8 to 12 weeks before the cubs are disposed of, often by being sold in dismantled parts to the black market.

This is not to account for the hazards posed to humans. Since 1990, there have been over 300 big cat accidents. Until America began to cut down wildlife trade in 2007, the U.S. was responsible for 79% of all big cat disasters in the world.

In the fall of 2011, there was a major breakout from a small Ohio zoo. Terry Thomson, the zoo’s owner, did not close the gates to the facility and was later found dead due to a suicide. Over 50 animals were released, roaming the streets and posing threats to the people living in the area. The police shot down the majority of the animals, including 17 lions and 18 Bengal tigers.

Big cat ownership is not fair to the humans. It is not fair for the animals. And yet, for some reason, people continue to own and support these activities of big cat ownership.

Organizations, such as Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary and Big Cat Rescue, do not support breeding or owning big cats in America, but provide a refuge for animals that would be otherwise be put down.

Gracie and Thor, two sister tigers, were rescued from Exotic Pet Paradise where Gracie was born with her eyelashes inverted. However, she was left untreated. Gracie grew 90% blind and starving alongside her sister, being only fed a turkey leg a day shared between them. Now they live at Crown Ridge, and Thor enjoys lounging in a hammock made of donated fire-hoses while Gracie is treated for her eye-conditions.

By helping these sanctuaries and not supporting organizations which keep big cats for entertainment, eventually big cat keeping in America will shrink to leave the cats to their wild habitats, allowing for these beautiful animals to have happy, free lives.

On their website, Crown Ridge explains their mission, and the shared vision across all sanctuaries: “[We just want] a world where wild cats thrive in their natural environments, and the need for sanctuaries does not exist.”

To donate to Crown Ridge, click here, and if you want to support Big Cat Rescue, click here.