The Problems with Big Cats in Captivity


There are more tigers in captivity in people’s backyards then there are left in the wild.

Fifty years ago, there were 45,000 tigers in the wild, while today as little as 3,200 tigers remain. Incredibly, there are 30,000 tigers privately owned as pets worldwide. It is estimated that there are 5,000 tigers here in the US, however this number is debatable as experts claim that the state of Texas alone houses more than 3,200 tigers. Some estimates are up to possibly 10-15,000 exotic big cats in private ownership across the U.S..

If you’ve ever seen footage of the way tigers and lions live in the wild, on Animal Planet or Discovery Channel, or you’ve been lucky enough to observe them yourself on a safari, you know that life in the wild and life in captivity vary drastically. In the wild, these animals embody many qualities we respect and admire: courage, strength, beauty, fierceness, resilience, and love for their young. In captivity these animals are stripped of everything that expresses their magnificence.

The problems with captivity:

Photo from Big Cat Rescue in Florida showing the minimum required size by state regulations to house a 400 lb. tiger:

Federal regulations do not even have a minimum cage size. They just have language about being able to make “postural movements.” Unlike federal regulations, Florida law at least defines a minimum cage size: two tigers can be kept for their entire lives in a 10′ by 20′ concrete and chain link box with nothing to do but pace until they are exhausted and then lie down on a concrete floor. And Florida’s law is the most generous we found. A tiger in the wild roams from 9 square miles (Bengal) up to 400 square miles (Siberian) every year. A tiny barren cell is no life for these majestic creatures.” – www.BigCatRescue.Org

In addition to the extreme confinement, cats in private ownership are often subject to abuse and neglect. There are NO federal laws and NO federal regulations for the ownership of these dangerous carnivores; each state operates independently. A summary of these laws and regulations are available here:

This is a danger to the animals, the owners, and more importantly the local community (meaning you). You’re neighbor could be housing one of these animals, in unregulated enclosures, while your children are playing outside in the backyard. What happens if one of these animals escapes, just like the incident that occurred in Zainsville, Ohio just two years ago where a man released over 20 big cats before committing suicide?

In addition, here are 5 of the worst stories with photographs:

Sheba was privately owned. As commonly seen among private ownership, Sheba was declawed and her teeth were filed down to make her “safer”. Sheba was chained outside, starved, and her owners used to fire pellet guns at her as target practice.

Hercules looks as if he was born deformed, when in fact his body was physically unable to grow because he spent most of his life in a 6 x 4 x 6 foot cage. His pelvis is so small and underdeveloped that he requires daily laxatives and special diet to pass his food without creating blockages.

Zeus was an attraction at a roadside zoo. The staff members used to jab Zeus with an electric cattle prong to make him more aggressive and entertain his guests.

Suli has seen some mileage with 4 previous owners! She was chained up in a backyard within a 4 foot high fence (one a cougar can easier jump). One day Suli broke loose, attacking a neighborhood dog. It was then time to find Suli a safer, more reliable home. She now spends her days roaming her habitat at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

India was purchased as a cub and privately owned as a pet. Hr owner was no longer able to take care of his full grown tigress, and drove her into Buffalo National Forest, AR, where he released her. Luckily, no one encountered this dangerous predator before she traveled all the way back home using her tiger senses.


It’s up to all of us to do something to help the tragic big cat situation in our country. These magnificent animals do not deserve a life of confinement and suffering, and we can all help be their voice!

  • NEVER support the “pay-to-pet” industry, where cubs are bred so that people can pay to touch, hold and take pictures with them. We met a rescued tiger at sanctuary that was part of this industry, and as he grew bigger, his owners would drug him to keep him manageable and docile. Once they couldn’t give him enough drugs they would beat him. He is now partially brain damaged on one side of the head, but is thankfully living the rest of his days out at a sanctuary in California. Unfortunately, this is not a rare case, but the norm in this industry.

  • Spread the word! Knowledge is power and people can’t change or help until they know. Awareness is the beginning of change, so have a conversation or share this page, a fact or one of the big cat’s stories on social media.

  • Donate to sanctuaries like the Big Cat Rescue (or of your own choice) and support their work so they can continue rescuing big cats from horrific situations.

  • Donate to GA to help make the public aware and pass the Big Cat & Public Safety Protection Act!