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Help protect big cats

© FOUR PAWS | 2015

As part of FOUR PAWS’ work for wild animals in captivity, we focus on the situation of big cats in zoos, private keeping, and in the entertainment industry.

Big Cats in the U.S.

The private ownership of big cats, such as lions and tigers, remains a huge animal welfare and human safety issue. More than 10,000 big cats are estimated to be in private ownership in the U.S. However, the actual number is unknown, as there is no federal law or comprehensive regulatory system in place to document how many captive-bred big cats are kept as pets by private owners. Instead, laws on private ownership of exotic animals fall to state governments, with at least six states having no laws regulating the private possession of wild or exotic animals, which includes big cats.


Big cats often live in inappropriate and unhealthy conditions, housed in small cages in backyards, roadside attractions, traveling exhibitions, and sub-standard zoos. To make matters worse, the public handling of tiger and lion cubs – who have been cruelly removed from their mothers at an early age, is allowed at many of these inhumane facilities.


As naturally wild animals, owners attempt to “tame” big cats through cruel handling and barbaric treatment, including declawing and defanging them, thus crippling and subjecting the cats to a life of chronic pain and debilitation. Even with these extreme measures, big cats retain their wild instincts and many accidents and deaths have occurred over the years involving the owners and general public. Too often such incidents result in the big cat’s death.


Sanctuaries today are filled to capacity with big cats who were either: relinquished to them by owners who could no longer afford to feed and care for the animals; confiscated by law enforcement due to neglect, abandonment, or animal cruelty; or rescued from roadside attractions, circuses, exotic animal auctions, and other public exhibits.

Take Action Now!


Contact your legislators today to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act!


Currently there is no U.S. federal law regarding the private ownership of big cats as pets. Therefore the fate of these big cats, like their population numbers, remains an unregulated mystery. In sub-standard zoos and backyards across the country, big cats live in deplorable and unsafe conditions without proper veterinary care, nutrition, and enrichment. The demand for them as exotic pets and the lucrative trade in their pelts and body parts provides dangerous incentive for their continued exploitation. When things go wrong, law enforcement officers and other first responders are put in harm's way to protect the general public and the animals.


The captive big cat crisis is why passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1818) is so important! The Big Cat Public Safety Act will protect the public and help bring an end to the excessive breeding and mismanagement of thousands of tigers, lions, and other big cats in the U.S. by prohibiting the private ownership of big cats.

What You Can Do:


FOUR PAWS urges people to please contact their U.S. Representative and ask them to cosponsor this important bill today!


To find your House Representative visit 


Contact your legislators today to support the Animal Welfare Accountability and Transparency Act! 


In the beginning of 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deleted from their website all inspection reports, enforcement actions, annual reports, and other key records regarding enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act (HPA). These documents provide crucial information that reveals poor living conditions and inhumane treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, roadside zoos, animal circuses, and puppy mills across the country.  


The Animal Welfare Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 503) will ensure that the USDA no longer withholds important information to the public by requiring the agency to publish animal welfare documentation (such as inspection reports and Animal Welfare Act violations) on its website.

How does this effect big cats?


When big cats are exhibited to the public (like at zoos, circuses, or other entertainment venues) the owner/business is required to have a USDA license. This allows for inspections of the animals and their environment and the creation of a paper trail of any violations that occurred under the AWA, such as dirty housing conditions, lack of veterinary care for the animals, etc. Many state governments plus law enforcement agencies depend on these documents to stop animal abuse and enforce regulations that protect people and animals from offenders of the AWA, like roadside zoos that allow dangerous public interactions with big cats. 

What You Can Do:


FOUR PAWS urges people to please contact their two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative (a companion bill will soon be introduced in the House) and ask them to cosponsor this important bill today!


To find your U.S Senators visit: 

To find your House Representative visit