The Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance, representing 17 professional sanctuaries that care for big cats and four partner organizations, applauds the News & Record for its editorial (Jan. 6) that states what should be the obvious: Lions and other exotic animals do not make good pets.
No one needs to own a big cat or other dangerous animal — a practice that causes the animals to suffer and puts people at great risk. Even if hand-raised and trained, big cats are not domesticated; they retain their strong predatory instincts and can inflict serious harm without warning. “Education” about their care is simply not enough to prepare owners, who often underestimate the threats posed by these animals.
Research on captive tigers found that the risk of fatal attacks or injuries is highest in situations where tigers are kept as exotic pets, whether in households, in private roadside zoos or when used as photo props. Private owners often lack the resources to provide the specialized care big cats require, including proper diets and veterinary care, causing the cats to suffer.
At the heart of the problem is the rampant breeding of big cats in this country. There now are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. than are found in the wild. Captive big cats may be sold to private owners or exploited for animal “encounters” such as playing or taking a photo with baby tigers or other wild animals.
Most people don’t know that the cute cubs they just paid to have a photo taken with were ripped from their mothers shortly after birth, subjected to rough and abusive handling, and, once they grow too large to be held by the public, will be sold off to squalid roadside zoos or private menageries, or used to breed more cubs.
The more fortunate big cats find their way to true sanctuaries — those that do not buy, sell, breed or trade their animals, or allow the public to come into direct contact with wild animals of any age. Accreditation by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) or membership in the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance are both signs that a facility is operating according to the highest standards.
It is time for North Carolina to enact a common-sense law to prohibit the private ownership of big cats and other wildlife.
This is one way to stem the out-of-control breeding and demand for these animals that puts both animals and people in danger.
Noelle Almrud (firstname.lastname@example.org ) is steering committee chair, Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance in Murchison, Texas.