By Beth Preiss
Although 2008 is the Chinese Year of the Rat, August may be
remembered as the Month of the Big Cat. In less than three weeks, one
lion, two leopards and five tigers escaped or attacked people in the
United States. Communities from coast to coast were reminded of the
dangers and difficulties of keeping these wild, majestic animals in
On Aug. 3, a tiger jumped out of an enclosure and mauled a volunteer
at a Warrenton, Mo., exotic animal menagerie that previously had lost
its U.S. Department of Agriculture license to operate as an
exhibitor. The man's leg had to be amputated below the knee.
On Aug. 4, a 16-year-old reportedly entered a cage to take a
photograph at a Branson West animal attraction and was severely
injured by three tigers; he remains in critical but stable condition.
On Aug. 5, a man working at an Illinois circus training facility was
bitten and scratched by a tiger.
Animal services personnel responding to a call about a large dog on
the roof of a Nevada home on Aug. 19 instead found two pet leopards
that had gotten loose. On Aug. 20, Florida authorities were able to
recapture a lion and tiger that escaped from an exotic animal
facility, possibly due to a tropical storm. In these two incidents,
fortunately, no one was hurt by these powerful predators.
Due to a lack of regulation, no precise figure is available for how
many big cats are in private hands in the United States, but
estimates range between 10,000 and 15,000. That includes an estimated
5,000 tigers – more than the number of tigers remaining in the wild.
Accredited zoos and responsible sanctuaries may house approximately
10 percent of these animals.
The rest often live in deplorable conditions in roadside exhibits,
traveling shows, pseudo-sanctuaries, basements, barns and backyards.
People purchase cute cubs, and when they grow too large and
aggressive to manage, the animals may be confined to cramped cages,
becoming ticking time bombs in our neighborhoods.
Eleven people have been killed by captive big cats in the United
States since 2001 – more than one per year. These kinds of tragedies
could be prevented by common-sense laws that would keep big cats out
of untrained hands.
Most states prohibit keeping big cats as pets, but Missouri lawmakers
have rejected such proposals. As a result, the state's laws regarding
exotic animals are among the weakest in the nation. Individuals who
keep big cats outside of zoos, refuges, research and circuses only
are required to register the animals with law enforcement agencies at
the county level.
There are no standards for safety and care, and enforcement is
difficult. Some jurisdictions such as Kansas City and Springfield
have stronger rules, but statewide action is needed.
Neighboring states Iowa, Kansas and Kentucky have banned certain wild
animals as pets in recent years. Missouri should follow their lead
and prohibit the keeping as pets of big cats and other dangerous wild
animals before another person is injured or killed. To protect public
safety and the animals' welfare, wild animals belong in the wild.
Beth Preiss is director of the exotic pets campaign for The Humane
Society of the United States, a Washington-based animal protection
organization established in 1954.
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
Sign our petition to protect tigers from being farmed here:
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