Big Cats Not For Private Ownership, Expert Says

Vet expert says exotic animals such as lions and tigers are best left to be cared for by zoos or preserves, not individuals.

Posted: February 18, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Bonnie Beaver, DVM
Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a professor at Texas A&M University, with her cat Trapper, discourages the public from owning big cats or other exotic animals.
It’s the Chinese Year of the Tiger, which might tempt some people to fulfill a dream to buy one, or a similar exotic big cat.

But animal-behavior expert Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, says that exotic animals such as lions, tigers, cougars, bears and chimps, are best left to be cared for by zoos, not individuals hoping to make them pets.

“Wild animals do no adapt well outside their native habitat,” Beaver says. “They tend to retain their basic characteristics and their wild nature, and people who try to make pets out of them often get hurt, some very badly. I would strongly urge anyone considering buying an exotic animal to think twice about the idea. There is not one good reason to own one.”

Beaver adds that there are some stories of individuals who have owned a wild animal for many years, and for no reason, the animal turns on them and attacks, sometimes with fatal consequences.

“These animals can turn from a loving creature to a potential killer in a split second,” she says.

Actress Tippi Hedren, founder of Shambala Preserve in Acton, Calif., takes in exotic animals that people have given up after discovering they didn’t have the means to care for them. In a video, Hedren urges private citizens not to purchase or take in big cats.

Texas is believed to have more exotic animals than any state, so that numerous counties have passes stricter regulations in the ownership and care of exotics.

“Animals are made for a certain environment,” Beaver said. “And when you change that environment, the animal usually suffers in the long run.”


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Reader Comments

Tim    Reno, NV

2/20/2010 8:34:46 PM

Gloria, you shouldn't stereotype, either. I have 8 years experience working with a variety of big cats, and in a number of different settings. All the cats I have had the pleasure to work with are happy and healthy, not pacing all the time or licking their fur off. They receive lots of mental and emotional stimulation. And some of the very best cats I have been around are those who are 'working cats', trained for magic shows, etc.

Gloria    Havana,, FL

2/19/2010 10:00:58 PM

Obviously you have no experience with exotic cats. I have for 12 years and learned they are much more intellegent and need mental stimulation more than domestics. Zoos are the worst. That is where they are ignored, pace, and groom their own fur off. I used to be against circuses until raising hundreds of baby tigers and know first hand how important and happy they are when they are taught new things each day with a trainer they have bonded with closely. Please don't prejude without first hand experience

Tim    Reno, NV

2/18/2010 11:47:37 PM

People that don't think that people should keep big cats as pets should go spend some quality time with someone who does keep them as pets or in a small zoo, etc. The bond these animals form with you is nothing short of amazing, and will change your life. With the rate these animals are disappearing in the wild, captive husbandry is their only real long-term hope for survival.

Anon    City, CA

2/18/2010 7:42:50 PM

Do people still not understand this? Seems quite obvious to me that a WILD cat should remain in the wild!

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