Private Ownership

Animal Cruelty Awareness Week

April 22, 2020

Sadie Tiger was privately owned and lived in this dilapidated cage until her rescue.

In the United States, it is often cheaper to buy a tiger or lion cub than it is to purchase a purebred dog. Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge has rescued numerous animals that were owned as pets, a lion cub purchased for $175 at an animal show in Missouri being one of them. Once the lion became too much to handle, the owners decided that they could no longer care for a pet lion and surrendered it to TCWR in 2007. Since being founded in 1992, TCWR has experienced hundreds of similar owners surrendering their animals to us. Every year, people around the country decide that they want a cute, cuddly exotic animal as a pet. By purchasing these animals, it continues to fuel a multi-billion-dollar industry. The real cost comes at the expense of the exotic cats, whose lives will consist of only living in captivity with owners unfit to care for them.

Private buyers quickly realize that wild animals cannot be tamed by simply hand-raising them. Big cats are apex predators, and will inevitably start to use their teeth and claws as they are meant to. They become too much for their owners and are sold to roadside zoos or euthanized. Big cats, and other large exotic animals, cost over $10,000 per year for food and even more for adequate husbandry and veterinary care. Many animals live their lives with minimal health standards due to this high expense. Obtaining a license for private ownership and exhibiting to the public is regulated by a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Class C exhibitor’s license. This entails a $10 application fee in many states and paying an annual fee ranging from $30-300 depending on the number of animals owned. While this might seem like a small price, in some states there are no regulations regarding exotic cat private ownership whatsoever. Making identifying private owners and exact numbers incredibly difficult.

Sadie Tiger now enjoying her new spacious habitat at TCWR

When a tiger is owned as a pet, and not being exhibited to the public, a USDA permit is not required. This is regulated by each individual state and does not protect the animal underneath the Animal Welfare Act or any governmental regulations. The USDA Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has a set of minimum requirements that apply to “certain warm-blooded animals used for research, exhibition, and commerce.” These requirements are not species specific and apply to ALL warm-blooded animals, from rodents and birds to tigers and elephants, and therefore do little to offer protection to these animals. USDA regulations do have an up-side. They allow for the tracking of dangerous exotic wildlife in the United States. This is because exhibitors, any facility possessing animals and open to the public, and private licensees must provide animal inventories and are subjected to inspections by this governing body. Thanks to these reports and inspections, we are able to know that approximately 96% of the big cats in the United States are in private ownership and roadside zoos, with 4% kept in accredited zoos and sanctuaries.

Izzy was one of 3 tigers privately owned. She was declawed and has needed 4 corrective surgeries since her rescue to fix the botched declaw.

Without licensing, there are no requirements for animal inventories, or inspections of the facility where they are kept. Private owners are also not required to provide any information such as sale or transfer of tigers, birth, death, animal welfare, etc. USDA inventories show that there are 341 licensees with the USDA keeping approximately 1,903 tigers in the US since 2016. That means that the estimated other 5,000 tigers are kept by private owners, with very little regulation by operating outside of federal regulation.

It is time NOW to redirect the publics’ attention to legitimate tiger conservation initiatives, and steer away from their exploitation for entertainment and private ownership.

Add your voice to our Advocacy Page to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act. This Federal Bill will BAN all private ownership and cub petting in the entire United States:

Click here and tell your Congress to Protect Big Cats!