Don’t Mistake Big Cats for Pets

By TERRY LINCOLN Bismarck | Posted: Monday, November 1, 2010 2:30 am | (3) Comments

I am responding to the story about the young man who lives outside Hettinger and wants a lion for a pet.

I recently had the opportunity to meet the young man and to visit his farm. I found him to be a pleasant individual, though misguided in his ambition to obtain a big cat for a pet.

In visiting with a staff member of just one of many animal rescue facilities, Tiger Haven, Kingston, Tenn., I was provided with some sobering facts. (Check out their website at

Their rescued animal resident numbers have swelled past 280, many of which were taken from well-meaning people, who found that they bit off more than they can chew … sometimes literally.

While there are many reasons why we shouldn’t attempt to make a pet out of a big cat, here is just one realistic example that will hopefully help people make better choices:

Fantasy: If I show the cat enough love and affection, it would never want to hurt me.

Fact: They know you love them and they may love you, but you can’t suppress the instinct that tells them to jump on you from behind and bite you on the back of the neck.

They are only playing as they would with other cats, but your skin is only paper thin compared to theirs.

Just come to the Dakota Zoo and watch the tigers at play. The “love taps” that they give each other would kill or severely injure a human.

Some people believe that when a cat grows to be too much to handle, there are lots of zoos that will take it. I know first-hand that this is not an option.

The lions found in legitimate zoos are carefully selected for their genetics, and their breeding is closely controlled to maintain the species as part of a Species Survival Plan.

There isn’t room in the ark for a lion that doesn’t know how to act around other lions, is missing his claws and can’t defend himself, or has had his tail frozen off because his winter quarters weren’t adequate.

There is a common misconception that you can declaw a cat and just feed it dog chow and no meat to “keep it tame.”

This is misguided, illegal and cruel.

I appreciate an individual’s desire to learn about animals. All of us working with animals can relate.

Please, just do it in a responsible manner that doesn’t attempt to turn a majestic beast into a house cat.

(Terry Lincoln is the director of the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck.)


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