Captive Wildlife Laws

I_am_not_man's_best friend

They will never know freedom.

Can they at least know compassion?



What is the Captive Wildlife Crisis?

The captive wildlife crisis has plagued our back yards.  We hear about it in the news, see it on our favorite television shows and commercial advertisements, they are at our local fairs. You see the ads for a circuses coming to town, festivals that exhibit wild animals, or tiger cubs presented at a local event.  In Illinois, a man was mauled to death by two tigers he kept in his backyard. A “pet” leopard attacked a woman in Louisiana. In North Carolina, a 10-year-old boy was killed by his aunt’s tiger, which pulled the boy under a fence and into its cage. Near Little Falls, Minnesota, 10-year-old Russell Lala, fought for his life after being attacked by a lion and tiger. The boy’s spinal cord was severed and the injury left him paralyzed from the neck down. He sustained a brain injury, several facial fractures, and is dependent upon a respirator.

tigers_privately_ownedThe Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are as many as 10,000 large wildcats in private ownership across the country.  Ron Tilson, Conservation Director for the Minnesota Zoo, states unequivocally that there are more tigers in backyards across the U.S. than in all of the zoos put together.

In a CNN report Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said, “The exotic animal trade is second only to the drug trade in raw dollars. It’s literally billions of dollars exchanged in the exotic animal trade.” On Internet sites, you can point, click and buy lions and tigers. The motive is profit. Unfortunately, in the end it is the cats that pay the highest price. They often live in cramped, filthy conditions. Many are fed improperly and receive no veterinary care. And most pose a very real threat to public safety.

It is an unfortunate reality for wild animals to end up losing their freedom.  Breeders of exotic animals, like Bengal Tigers and African Servals, play a significant role in placing these animals as pets for private owners, as ‘exhibits’ in roadside zoos and circuses (Contains Graphic Images), as marketing tools for advertisement, as commodities for fur farms,  and sell them as potential trophies for game farms.  Luckily there are wild animal sanctuaries that will provide a natural home for life.

Resources will help you develop a greater understanding of the captive wildlife crisis:

Accredited Sanctuary and Zoos

National Law Information

Newly Introduced Big Cats and Public Safety Act

The “Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act,” will ensure that lions, tigers and other dangerous big cats, which are bred to be sold and kept as pets or for financial gain in the U.S. in alarming numbers, do not threaten public safety, diminish global big cat conservation efforts, or end up living in horrible conditions where they can be subject to mistreatment and cruelty. The bill will prohibit breeding and private possession of big cats exempting only qualified, accredited AZA zoos,  where they can be properly cared for and restrained.  Wild Animal Sanctuaries having given sanctuary and safe haven for big cats who have been confiscated for decades will be asked to take in animals. There is no possibility of determining the numbers of dangerous Exotic Big Cats being kept in private hands and what their condition is in the U. S., through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), state agencies, and local first responders. Only nine states have laws enforcing “no wild animals permitted”, the remaining states have weak or no laws in existence.  This bill will require all persons who currently possess big cats to register those animals with USDA.  After the bill becomes law, it will be illegal to breed any big cat except at accredited AZA zoos where breeding will be allowed for conservation purposes only.  Violators of the law will have their animals confiscated along with any vehicles or equipment used to aid in their illegal activity, and could face stiff penalties including fines as much as $20,000 per animal, and up to five years in jail.

Read the proposed bill (lacey act with changes).

Read TWS’ Director Tammy Thies’ letter on the bill.

You can support the bill here!

Big Cat Laws

  • Privately_owned_tigers_in_MNBig Cat Rescue has their own ‘law library’ for State and Federal Big Cat Laws. This site is a directory for laws regarding wild cats in the United States.  They have resources that explain the legalities regarding ownership of native and exotic cats.  They have resources to animal welfare laws, how to support legislation, searching for your state’s laws, updates on action alerts that can be searched for by zip code, and an interactive map of exotic cat owners in Florida.
  • 911 Animal Abuse is a great site to research exhibitors and learn more about the exploitation of big cats.

Captive Wildlife Safety Act

This Congressional approved amendment to the Lacey Act restricts interstate transport of six species of large wild cat (tiger, lion, leopard, jaguar, cheetah and cougar) to exempted entities only.

The Captive Wildlife Safety Act prohibits existing large cat owners who are not exempted from moving to another state with their cats.

Both commercial (cats being sold) and non-commercial (cats being donated) interstate transport of these cats is restricted by this amendment.

cougar_owned_on_a_farmExempted entities are universities, research facilities, USDA licensed facilities, persons transporting the animals for an exempted entity, and certain 501 c 3 facilities that conform to standards to be written by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These standards include no breeding, buying, selling, public display or public touching of felines.

Persons who have state licenses to possess any of these six feline species, but are not one of the exempted entities listed in this CWSA will not be allowed to receive, or donate, or buy, or sell, or transport these listed felines across state lines.

The Captive Wildlife Safety Act does not prevent the purchase or receiving by donation any of these listed feline species from intrastate locations where the transport does not cross state lines.

The Lacey Act

The Lacey Act provides that it is unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or in violation of any Indian tribal law whether in interstate or foreign commerce.  Violation of this federal act can result in civil penalties up to $10,000 per each violation or maximum criminal sanctions of $20,000 in fines and/or up to five years imprisonment.  All plants or animals taken in violation of the Act are subject to forfeiture as well as all vessels, vehicles, aircraft, and other equipment used to aid in the importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring, or purchasing of fish or wildlife or plants in a criminal violation of this chapter for which a felony conviction is obtained where the owner should have known of the illegal transgression.

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA)

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a branch called the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that has been granted the authority of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act and inspecting institutions that are covered under the Animal Welfare Act. On the APHIS website, they have tabs down the left side of their page that takes you to different branches of the organization.  Most information you want to know concerning possession and exhibiting wild animals is listed under the tab ‘Animal Welfare’.  This section will give you information about obtaining investigation/enforcement documents on specific facilities, an annual report of research facilities, inspection reports, and give in-depth fact `sheets on exhibitors, Animal Welfare Act Q&A’s, the complete Animal Welfare Act bill, big cat information, elephant information, marine mammals, and much more animal related material.

The USDA adopted several American Veterinary Medical Association animal welfare policies in August 2006. Declawing and removing canine teeth from wild/exotic carnivores and nonhuman primates is no longer allowed for USDA license holders and registrants, except when required for medical or scientific reasons.

Details at:

Here are some key facts to understand before surfing through the documents on APHIS’s website:

  • The Animal Welfare Actwas passed by Congress in 1966 to protect the welfare of animals on a national level.  It sets minimum standards of care and treatment to be provided for certain animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public.  The regulations are MINIMUM STANDARDS as follows:
    • Provide their animals with adequate care and treatment in housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures.
    • Animal fighting is prohibited
    • Pet protection was put in place to help prevent lost or stolen animals
    • All animals covered under the law must be licensed or registered with APHIS
    • Research facilities are required to provide dogs with exercise and promote psychological well-being
    • APHIS ensures that all regulated commercial animal breeders, dealers, brokers, transportation companies, exhibitors, and research facilities are licensed and registered.
      • They are also in charge of searching for those organizations that are NOT licensed and registered with APHIS.
      • Inspection reports are posted under APHIS’s website.  The reports have detailed information of each inspection issued for each site they visit.  The inspection report lists the violations and any noncompliance with the regulations under the Animal Welfare Act.  You can search for the businesses and people, who have possession of regulated animals, in the USDA Inspection Reports for:
      • You will search under each category for the State then by the Name (person or business)
      • Breeders: person(s) who breeds animals
      • Dealers: those who receive compensation or profit, transport, buys, sells, or negotiates the purchase of animals for use as research, teaching, exhibition, or use as a pe
      • Exhibitors: those who exhibit animals to the public for compensation (includes carnivals, circuses, ands zoo
      • Registered Exhibitors: an exhibitor that obtained animals through donation/trapping on own premises, exhibits only native animals, animals are not transported for exhibition purposes, not disposed of into commerce, and no compensation is received from exhibition of the animal
      • Intermediate Handlers: those who receive custody in connection with their transportation in commerce
      • Carriers: those engaged in transporting animals for hire (airline, railroad, shipping line, motor carrier, etc)

APHIS Animal Care contact information

The Animal Care program of APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) is in charge of executing the enforcement and inspections that pertain to the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding animals or animal regulations, direct your inquiries to the Animal Care Office in your region.

HSUS Legislation and Laws

  • Quick Link to HSUS :
  • The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is an animal protection organization established in 1954.  They fight against cruelty, exploitation, and neglect of pets, wildlife and habitats on a national and a global scale.  HSUS is a household name across the nation.  Both animal lovers and their adversaries know HSUS well for their interventions on behalf of animals in cruelty cases, on small- and large-scale platforms.
  • This organization’s website has great resources to campaigns that pertain to the welfare of animals.  They have sectioned off their sight as follows: Pets, Wildlife, Farm Animals, Animals in Research, and Horses.  There is a state search for legislative efforts and elected officials with their contact information.  HSUS’s site gives a rundown of their focus of legislative efforts for the current year.  They also have a nifty search engine that will find bills by entering in keywords (dolphins, elephants, etc.) or bill numbers.

Born Free USA

  • Born Free USA(‘about us’ is a nonprofit organization driven by their desire to “end the unnecessary suffering of wild animals in captivity, rescue individual animals in need, protect wildlife in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally.”
    • Born Free USA’s website has resources for laws and ordinancesthat currently hold their focus.  Their legislative activities involve the welfare of companion animals, exotic animals, animals in entertainment, and wildlife in the United States.  This site helps you to understand the laws that are in place so you can help to change them.

Animal Defenders International.

  • Animal Defenders International (ADI) is a London-based organization that just helped passed laws in Bolivia that makes it illegal use animals in traveling circuses, including domestic animals (July 2009 News).  This is the first national law, IN THE WORLD, to ban the use of both domestic and wild animals in circuses. So far, similar bans on animal use in traveling circuses (in Austria, Costa Rica, Finland, and Denmark) only prohibit the use of wild animals or certain species.  ADI has devoted their time to many areas of cruelty and exploitation concerning animals: animals in entertainment, experiments, rescues, farm animals, fur, conservation, primates, and discusses research without animals.  They have a media center that provides up to date news, photos, and videos from the animal world.  They have resources to help you find your Members of Parliament, Members of European Parliament, and resources to help you search animal cruelty laws by state.



The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals(ASPCA) was founded in 1866 by Henry Bergh; “on the belief that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and must be protected by the law.”  The ASPCA is headquartered in New York City and is privately funded not-for-profit corporation.  This organization has been granted the legal authority to investigate and make arrests for crimes against animals.  They have programs for resources for pet parents, at-risk animals, and victims of animal cruelty.   There is a direct link to an Advocacy Center.  They also provide viewers with legislators that support their cause.  They are resourceful in keeping the public updated on animal precinct issues, ways to help fight cruelty, Animal CSI, connecting with the Animal Poison Control Center, adoptable pets and adopting tips.  The ASPCA website has become a community of animal lovers by providing pet photo contests, discussion boards, blogs, a ‘pressroom’, Facebook applications, and a store to buy ASPCA apparel to help support their cause.

ASPCA has an animal control database to help search for community SPCA’s, humane societies, and animal control organizations.  You search by zip code to find your nearest animal control office or shelter.

Quick link to ASPCA’s shelter search:

MN Resources

The MN Regulated Animal law prohibits ownership of exotic cats, bears and non-human primates and any hybrid of the above and domestic animal. It grandfathers in SOME private owners and licensees who meet ALL of the following requirements:

  • The owner must have had possession of the animal prior to January 1, 2005.
  • The animal is legally registered with local animal control authority and the Board of Animal Health. If the animals are not on record as being registered with the local animal control AND the Board of Animal Healthy as of 2005, these animals cannot be legally possessed.
  • The owner has a written escape plan on file.
  • The owner has a proven vet of record and the vet will visit the animal at the animal’s location at least once annually.
  • The owner meets all USDA requirements for caging, vet care, feeding, etc.  (This means it is illegal for exotic cats, bears and non-human primates to be defanged and/or declawed in MN – see USDA rules above).
  • The owner/licensee is NOT allowed to increase the number of animals they have. If 15 were registered with the state, they can only possess 15.
  • Penalty is a gross misdemeanor per occurrence and seizure of the animal(s).
  • Exemptions can be found in the full law.
  • The MN Law also outlaws any domestic/wild hybrid cats that are F1-F3 generations including Savannahs, Safaris, Chausies and Bengals.  Only cats recognized by TICA and CFA as DOMESTIC CATS are legal to own.  Even though these breeds are recognized by TICA and CFA, they are not recognized as a domestic cat until THE F4 generation.

Definition of animal sanctuary in the MN law.

(c) “Wildlife sanctuary” means a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that:
(1) operates a place of refuge where abused, neglected, unwanted, impounded, abandoned,
orphaned, or displaced wildlife are provided care for their lifetime;
(2) does not conduct any commercial activity with respect to any animal of which the
organization is an owner; and
(3) does not buy, sell, trade, auction, lease, loan, or breed any animal of which the
organization is an owner, except as an integral part of the species survival plan of the American

TWS supports and helps draft legislation that restricts breeding and selling of exotic animals as well as keeping exotic animals as pets. In 2004, Minnesota, took a huge step forward by passing an exotic animal law that became effective January 1, 2005. The Wildcat Sanctuary played an integral role in getting this important legislation passed. Nancy Minion of Second Chance Animal Rescue coordinated the effort. Other organizations that supported the bill include the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Board of Animal Health, Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Animal Control Association, Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association and the Minnesota Zoo along with a few very dedicated individuals. Then, in 2006, the law was strengthened by improving public safety requirements.

MN Board of Animal Health:  Exotic Animal Ownership

  • Quick Link:
  • The Minnesota Board of Animal Health is a state agency involved in programs for controlling animal disease in Minnesota’s animal populations.  The Board is made up of agricultural specialists and district veterinarians that work alongside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine.  They are responsible for the regulating of importing and exporting of animals, quarantining or euthanizing animals with contagious or infectious diseases, as well as licensing and regulating of specific animals within the state.
  • The Minnesota Board of Animal Health (MNBAH) has an introductory website with the rundown of Minnesota exotic animal ownership laws.  There is an FAQ section discussing the animals that need to be registered, who needs to register, and how to register, fees that may be involved in the process, and tips on how to transfer ownership of registered animals.  MNBAH has online forms for registering regulated animals and a form for ‘change of location’.  They also have direct links to Minnesota statutes for regulated animals and definitions.

MVAP: (Minnesot Voters for Animal Protection)

Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection (MVAP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization incorporated as a 501(c)(4) that works to protect Minnesota’s animals by promoting humane legislators and humane legislation in Minnesota.  Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection achieves its mission by lobbying elected officials, calling supporters to action on important issues, tracking and publicizing the voting records of incumbents and the positions of candidates on animal protection issues, and endorsing favorable candidates and mobilizing voters to give grassroots support to them.

Animal Rights Coalition

The Animal Rights Coalition is dedicated to ending the suffering, abuse, and exploitation of non-human animals through information, education, and advocacy. We believe that animals matter for their own reasons and that they should not be used by human beings for profit, pleasure, amusement, or simply because it is our habit to do so.