Activists document, decry conditions of big cats

by Catherine Komp

Aug. 24 – Animal-welfare advocates have documented numerous cases of big cats held in filty conditions, fed rotten food and not given veterinary treatment for parasites and open sores, even at facilities licensed by the federal government.

Video footage captured by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and reviewed by The NewStandard shows a jaguar, a 7-year-old panther and a 700-pound Siberian tiger locked up in small, outdoor cages at a facility in Christmas, Florida. The jaguar repeatedly snarls and the tiger, jumps against the cage wall and sprays onlookers with urine.

According to IFAW, which released a report on the issue today, an estimated 15,000-17,000 big cats are held in captivity in the United States, and their numbers are increasing with the demand for exotic pets.

About a third of these animals are housed at facilities accredited by the US Department of Agriculture, which includes sanctuaries, “roadside” or “amateur” zoos, and even fenced-in backyards at private residences. IFAW said it conducted an 18-month investigation of 42 USDA-licensed facilities in eleven states.

According to the report, “Poor housekeeping and animal hygiene were observed at the majority of facilities, including dead animals, filthy water buckets – which often [contained] urine and feces – vermin, and grossly inadequate sewage disposal.”

IFAW criticizes the USDA for having lax licensing requirements and inadequate oversight and enforcement of regulations.

The group also takes issue with state regulators, which oversee laws governing private ownership of big cats as pets, for having weak or no regulations. The IFAW wants big cats banned as pets in every state. Currently, about fifteen states have such laws.

According to the Animal Protection Institute, an animal-rights advocacy group, the trade in exotic animals is a multi-billion-dollar industry.

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