Why Can't They Go Free?
This question is one of the top five most asked questions so it tells me that people just don't know the laws of nature or the laws of governments.
Law of Nature
In the wild kittens or cubs stay with their mothers from a year and a half to 5 years, depending on the species of wildcat and the environment. During that time the mother may nurse them for a year or more, while also teaching them how to hunt. Being able to kill something does not mean that a cat is a good enough hunter to survive in the wild.
The mother cat teaches them the ways of nature and that you should only kill enough to feed yourself and your family, so that there will be food left for the coming weeks and years. There have been some spectacular failures where people have tried to raise big cats in fenced areas, and have taught the cats to kill, but the cats then proceeded to kill everything that moved, even if they had eaten plenty. That's not good for the environment and the cats were never able to be released to the wild, despite millions of dollars being spent on the ill fated project.
A wild mother cat teaches her kittens and cubs to stay away from people. Even the most gentle natured, captive born exotic cat, who may have been handled since a cub herself, will teach her kittens to despise humans. Instinct, as well as her personal experience with being held hostage, inspires her to encourage her kittens to fight for their lives if they come in contact with humans. In April 2016 USDA adopted the position that cubs should be left with their mothers for at least the first 4 weeks of life, which makes them too feral to handle for cub petting schemes. USDA should follow Nature's guidance, which keeps the cubs with their mothers for well over a year.
Even with this training from their mothers in captivity, the kittens or cubs have so many more life lessons that can only be taught in the wild. These include finding the best mates to insure longevity of the clan and how to protect their territories from those who would run them out or kill them. If you have ever watched shows in the Big Cat Diary series you will see that mothers teach their young about the perils of the wild; from how to hide, how to cover your scent, how to know when to fight and when to flee, how to stalk prey and save all your energy for the pounce and kill. There is so much to being a wild cat that just cannot be replicated in a cage, even if that cage were many square miles in size. Consider that a bobcat will patrol more than 5 square miles and a tiger can maintain a territory of more than 400 square miles.
Law of the Land
It's illegal to release a non native wild animal. That's true in the U.S. and would make sense in other countries. The reason you cannot release a non native animal (an animal that doesn't normally exist in an area) is because doing so upsets the entire balance of nature. Nature is flawless, where man has not intervened, because there is a symphony of interconnected animals and plants that all work together in harmony; even if it also includes predators who maintain the balance.
A perfect example of what goes wrong when non native species are released into an area, that they do not typically inhabit, is the case of Florida allowing people to buy pet pythons, which never turn out well as pets once they are hundreds of pounds and can eat small children and pets. People don't want to euthanize the exotic pets they raised, so they turn them loose, even though it is against the law. Florida has since outlawed a number of pythons as pets, but the damage was already done because scientists and biologists all report that our most pristine forests, in the Everglades, are now devoid of almost all animal life (other than the snakes). The animals who originally lived in the Everglades had never seen predators such as these pythons that were 15-20 feet long and none of the animals who lived there were able to prey on such huge invaders.
To a lesser extent we would see the same thing happen with bobcats. Big Cat Rescue is allowed, by law, to rehab and release bobcats who were born in the wild in Florida, back to the wild in Florida. Florida rehabbers are NOT allowed to rehab bobcats from Georgia (or any other state) for release into Florida. The reason is that bobcats from other states are bigger, have different hunting skills and different instincts than those native to FL, so introducing them could wipe out the Florida bobcat, or infiltrate the gene pool sufficiently to make a mess of things. You could argue that at state lines bobcats may cross back and forth on their own, but you have to draw the line somewhere (for enforcement's sake) so governments draw it at their state or federal lines.
It is only legal to rehab and release big cats to their native land if they were born there. A tiger born in a roadside zoo in South Carolina can't be released back into India, because it wasn't born in India. Backyard breeders, don't know the pedigrees of their cubs because they only want them for photo ops and pay to play sessions. They don't know if their tigers are part Bengal, and part Amur, so they can't be used for any conservation purpose. Even if they could prove their cats were purebred, they still can never go free because if they were born in the U.S. it would be illegal to release them back to Russia or India or China or any other foreign country.
Law of Common Sense
(OK, well there should be such a law) Last, but not least, most of the wild cats in captivity were born from generations of captive wild cats who have been selectively bred for characteristics that do not enhance survival. They have been inbred to create white coats, which results in a plethora of other birth defects and mental retardation. They have been bred to be used as ego props, with breeders preferring the ones who are the least apt to struggle against being held. That's not a good trait when you have to fight for survival in the wild. Many have been mutilated by having their claws and teeth removed.
Almost all captive bred exotic cats suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Since lion and tiger cub pimps want to use cubs for pay to play schemes, they pull them from their mothers when they are only hours old so that they do not bond with their mothers. They are fed a diet that is insufficient for their nutritional needs because you can't get canned tiger milk and tigers aren't puppies, kittens, cows or goats. This insufficient diet often results in bones that are frail and break from a simple jump. It almost always results in nutritional cataracts and no one knows for sure how much damage is done to their eyes from the near constant flashes from cameras as they are paraded as props to hold for selfies.
All of these reasons are why "they can't just be set free"
Captive born wild cats have been dealt a lousy hand. They are hardwired to desire freedom and yet are denied it by those who breed them for life in cages. We hate it and are glad you do too. So, let's put our energy where it can make a difference and end the practice of breeding wild cats for life in cages. You can take action RIGHT NOW at CatLaws.com no matter who you are, or where you live.