A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
The Tragedy of Large Cat Ownership
October 20, 2011Posted by on
I write this about three hours from Zanesville, Ohio. As many of you have may have heard, there was a very sad incident there this week. A man held fifty-six exotic animals on a farm, in a private zoo.* This included eighteen tigers, seventeen lions, three leopards, and at least one cougar. On Tuesday, he opened the cages, releasing them, then took his own life. In the interest of public safety, the sheriff’s department, overwhelmed and ill equipped, had no choice but to put down all but six.
For the animals, there is no part of this story that is not tragic. Wild animals are simply not meant to be pets. There are many reasons for this. In part, this is because it actually hinders conservation efforts by removing the individuals from the gene pool. More importantly, especially in this case, is that caring for a wild animal, especially a big cat like a lion or tiger, is simply beyond the capacity of most people. It is very expensive to care for these creatures. Indeed, the owner was deeply in debt. It requires equipment, staff, space, and proper enclosures. This is simply beyond the capacity of most amateurs. Further, there needs to be a plan for the long-term well being of the animals, should their caretaker is no longer able to do so. Unfortunately, these animals lived their lives in small cages, suffered from neglect, and ultimately left on their own.
Ohio has some of the most lax laws regarding animal ownership. The prior governor of Ohio instituted an executive order banning private ownership of such animals. It was never enforced, and the current governor allowed it to lapse. In fact, the owner in the Zanesville case had faced charges of animal cruelty in the past, and would not have been allowed to keep these animals under the old rule. There is now a call for stronger laws in the state.
Zoos and rescue organizations that specialize in big cats have the experience, equipment, and capability for managing wild animals. They will be accredited by an organization such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, which works to ensure the care of the animals is in their best interest. These are things that are beyond individuals.
The tragic lesson is that wild animals, such as big cats, are not pets. Most people are not able to provide them the support they need. Leave them in the wild, or visit them in an accredited facility. The only cat that should be in houses are domesticated cats.
*Some images in links may be disturbing.