Big cats need protection from exploitation
A friend recently brought something to my attention that, if you understand animals, was very emotionally disturbing. She was at a popular local flea market hunting for bargains when she saw a sign that said, "Get your photo taken with a baby tiger!"
"Isn’t that illegal?" you may be asking yourself. It is true that the average Michigan citizen cannot own a tiger.
Unless, of course, you have a USDA Class C Exhibitors license, which allows zoos, circuses and self-proclaimed "educators" to exhibit their animals to the public. That’s bad enough, but the license also allows whoever has one to breed and sell their offspring, which inevitably will end up in the wrong hands.
In fact, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that only 10 percent of the 15,000 tigers in the United States are in professionally-regulated zoos and sanctuaries.
According to Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla., 98 percent of all exotic animals die within the first two years of being brought home as pets. Those who do survive are often the victims of cruelty and neglect, and suffer from malnutrition, stress, and behavioral disorders. When the novelty wears off, these big cats and other exotics are either abandoned or brought to over-crowded sanctuaries.
What their owners don’t realize is that these animals are not, and cannot be, domesticated. Experts believe that it took the dog at least 5,000 years, and perhaps more than 10,000 years, to evolve from the wolf. Lions and tigers are truly wild, and even owners with the best intentions simply cannot meet the needs of these complex and highly dangerous animals. Sadly, they end up caged or chained, beaten into submission, or have teeth and claws removed to protect the owners.
Lots more needs to be done to protect these animals. In fact, only 18 states have a complete ban on the ownership of big cats, and Michigan is not one of them. Michigan’s Large Carnivore Act does prohibit the possession of large carnivores (big cats and bears), unless the animals were already owned prior to the law’s enactment in 2000.
But unless this law is strictly enforced — and it hasn’t been — these exotic animals will continue to be bred, sold and exploited in the exotic pet trade until they all end up on the endangered species list like the cougar and lynx.
The Michigan Legislature needs to do the right thing. There’s an election around the corner, and each and every one of us can make a difference by voicing our opposition to the exploitation of any exotic cat and letting our leaders know we need stronger laws.
Jennifer Sullivan is an animal evaluator for a local nonprofit agency that deals with animal welfare. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published May 5, 2006
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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