The captive wildlife crisis is no secret. It is in the news almost weekly. 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 and several facial fractures and is dependent upon a respirator.
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Hundreds to thousands of big cats are sold to roadside zoos and to individuals as pets. A surprising number of people are buying these big cats as cubs, without understanding the difficulties involved in caring for and containing them properly as they mature into adults. The results can be tragic for the owner, the public and the animal. The exotic pet trade causes more suffering for big cats than poaching, and loss of habitat combined.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are as many as 10,000 large wildcats in private ownership across this 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.
Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said in a CNN report, “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 who 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.
As much needed legislation is passed and greater control is brought to the largely unregulated practice of importing, breeding, buying, and selling wild animals as pets, there are likely to be confiscated or abandoned exotic animals in increasing numbers. Critical to this will be the provision of accredited and secure facilities like The Wildcat Sanctuary and other wild animal sanctuaries to provide big cat rescue services and appropriate life-long care for all these animals.
What does it really mean to be called a sanctuary?
Our life-saving work has helped cats from 29 states and two countries.