House Cats Don’t Roar

Big cats like this cheetah belong in the wild, not in someone’s backyard cage. In the U.S., private ownership of such animals is largely unregulated. - Photo by Martin HeiganWho can forget the tragedy and panic in Ohio last year when the private owner of 56 wild animals, including a number of big cats, released them into the surrounding community? As often happens in such scenarios, most of the animals (49) were killed. Sadly, this was no isolated occurrence. In the past 11 years, incidents in the United States involving captive big cats—tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, and lion/tiger hybrids—have resulted in 21 human deaths, 246 maulings, 253 escapes, 143 big cats deaths, and 128 confiscations.

The breeding and sale of big cats as “pets” has long been a problem in this country, where an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 large cats are privately owned. These animals present a threat to public safety and are often mistreated and neglected. Reps. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) have introduced H.R. 4122, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, to prohibit the private possession of big cats except at facilities such as accredited zoos and sanctuaries. H.R. 4122 also addresses the growing concern that these cats—including threatened and endangered species—are being killed to facilitate the illegal trade in their parts.