young lion

Wild animals are not pets

Species-appropriate keeping is impossible from an animal welfare standpoint

Sadly, exotic wild animals are not only kept in zoos and traveling shows but also in people's living rooms and backyards. From the perspective of animal welfare, wild animals and even many popular "pets" are completely unsuited for private keeping. In contrast to domesticated species like dogs and cats, wild animals have not adapted to life in human care even over hundreds of years. 

Many species have specific needs that a private household will never be able to fulfil. International trade of animals captured from the wild is a major issue that's further contributing to the decline and eventual extinction of many exotic animals. For these reasons, FOUR PAWS says a clear "no" to the keeping of wild animals like big cats, macaws, iguanas, or exotic small mammals like chinchillas. 

Big cats as pets

The private ownership of big cats, such as lions and tigers, remains a huge animal welfare and human safety issue. More than 5,000 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 by private owners. Instead, laws on private ownership of exotic animals fall to state governments, with four states having no laws regulating the private possession of wild or exotic animals, including big cats.

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.

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 big cats as exotic pets, the use of cubs for petting displays and photo opportunities, and the lucrative trade in their pelts and body parts provide dangerous incentives 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. 1380) is so important! The Big Cat Public Safety Act will protect the public and help bring an end to the excessive breeding, mismanagement, and inhumane treatment of thousands of tigers, lions, and other big cats in the U.S. 

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:   


  1. A ban on selling wild animals at fairs and other public exhibitions.  
  2. A ban on the public handling of big cat cubs and bear cubs.
  3. Regulations for the private keeping of wild animals and the compilation of a "positive list" focusing on:
    - Criteria regarding animal protection and appropriate conditions for keeping wild animals
    - Criteria for potential dangers to both people and animals
    - Criteria with regard to risk factors in the areas of nature protection and the protection of species  
  4. Passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which will protect the public and help bring an end to the excessive breeding, inhumane treatment, and mismanagement of tigers, lions, and other big cats in the U.S.
  5. Compulsory registration for private keepers.
  6. A ban on the import of animals captured in the wild.