Should Tigers and Lions Be Kept as Pets?
Big cats such as lions and tigers are awe inspiring, beautiful animals. People are often intrigued
by keeping big wild cats as pets, but what kind of pets do tigers, lions, bobcats, and other big cats make?
to remember that even the smaller of the non domestic cats, such as bobcats, servals, and lynx, are not at all like domestic
cats. Different species have different temperaments, but all of these cats can exhibit unwanted behavior from urine marking
to aggression. Most of these cats will need spacious outdoor cages in order to thrive. It is a huge commitment and responsibility
to properly care for smaller wild cats such as bobcats.
The large cats such as lions, tigers, leopards, and cougars are even more problematic. Even if they
are not overtly aggressive, their natural tendencies must be remembered.
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They are predators, and even at play their huge size and strength makes them a threat.
people do keep big cats like bobcats, tigers, and lions as pets. Tigers and lions are surprisingly easy and inexpensive to
purcfhase as pets. This means anyone can own a large powerful carnivore whether or not they are equipped to properly care
for them. Pet tigers have been involved in several fatalities and maulings in the US in recent years (see Animals Centers
of Excellence Tiger Facts). However, even more pet tigers and other big cats end up neglected, abused, or given up to sanctuaries
when their owners cannot care for them. I am certain that there are owners of big cats who go out of their way to provide
appropriate housing and diet and have no problems, but there are countless others who are very misguided in their expectactions
and ability to provide the proper care. Case in point: the man in Harlem who raised a pet tiger in his apartment.
The Captive Wildlife Safety Act
The Captive Wildlife Safety Act was introduced and passed in the US House of Representatives
in 2004 to address the problems of availability of wild cats as pets. This Act prohibits the interstate and foreign trade
in exotic cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars and cougars for the pet trade. Circuses, zoos, wildlife
rehabilitators and some other licensed facilities are exempt. This legislation was introduced with the sole purpose of making
these big cats unavailable to the pet trade, although it is not an outright ban on ownership. I am not sure how much of an
impact this law would have, really, but it is a good start in reducing the ownership of pet tigers, lions, and other large
Experts estimate that there are around 10,000 to 15,000 tigers now kept as pets or in private facilities
in the US. For perspective, it is estimated that there are only about 5,000 left in the wild.
Things to Think About
If owning a big cat still intrigues you, here are some factors to consider:
Keeping wild cats such as tigers, lion, bobcats and cougars may be illegal where you live (either
under local laws or by wider regulations - see "Legal Issues").
You will need to find a veterinarian that is willing to
treat your wild cat (not easy!).
All big (wild) cats have sharp claws and teeth and can be quite destructive.
cats eat massive quantities of raw meat (expensive).
Big cats need a lot of space, and usually custom built cages, even
smaller species like bobcats.
You will need to provide lots of intellectual and physical enrichment opportunities, much
like a zoo, for your wild cat.
Big cats tend to spray (urine) and they have a musky odor.
Here are some pages that discuss the issues around selecting a big cat as a pet:
Bobcats as Pets? - by Lynn Culver, a thorough look at the characteristics of bobcats as pets.
Feline Husbandry - from the Feline Conservation Foundation, good information on a variety of exotic felines, their characteristics
and their husbandry along with being a resource on wild felines in general.
General Requirements for Private Ownership
- from Wild about Cats, a good page to look at for anyone who has wondered what would be involved in owning a large wild cat.
Mainely Felids - promoting responsible private husbandry of captive wild felines - good sections on basic care, different
species, books, organizations and equipment vendors.
The Cost of a Big Cat - from Big Cat Rescue, this article covers
the maintenance costs of keeping big cats (housing, feeding, etc.), which many owners don't realize are very expensive compared
to the initial cost of getting a cub.
Animal Abuse - also from Big Cat Rescue, this article discusses how the future for
many big cats is a life of neglect and even abuse when their owners cannot handle them anymore. See the statistics for the
sanctuary with respect to number of calls they get about unwanted cats, the number they are able to take and the number they
can find new homes for. Also see their article on breeding to see why this sanctuary does not breed their cats and why the
casual owner shouldn't either.