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Petting a lion or tiger – would you do it?



As an animal lover, if someone were to make you this offer, would you accept? 

You can pet, play with and bottle feed this cub and we’ll take a DSC_1450LRpicture of you so you can share it with your friends – BUT, it means one of the following will happen to this cub once he/she is too big for this anymore:

Sabrina’s cage before rescue
  • this cub will suffer the rest of his/her life in a cage without proper food or care
  • this cub will be shipped off to a hunting ranch to be shot for a price
  • this cub will be slaughtered for the exotic meat market
  • this cub will be sold off at auction to the highest bidder, fate unknown
  • this cub will be killed for parts and bones for the medicinal market
  • this cub will be lost in the illegal black market trade of exotic animals

We know you’d never say “yes” to any of these.  You love animals.  That’s why you want this experience. But, that’s exactly what you agree to when you say “yes” to this thrill-of-a-lifetime offer.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about tourist attractions in South Africa, Mexico, or the United States, sadly, this is the fate for so many cubs bred for money-making ventures like these. A former exhibitor of our white tigress Nikita said her owner could make $5000 each week offering animal interactions like this.  It’s obvious, money is what drives the industry – and the breeding.

But someone is surely regulating this, right?

FB fan Melinda Dyson 5
Ekaterina used as photo prop before rescue

In the United States, the USDA feels there should be no contact with cubs under the age of 8 weeks, since that’s when they receive their first disease-preventing injections.  They also feel there should be no contact with cubs over 12 weeks old, since they can be dangerous even at that young age. But these are just guidelines, not regulations. 

If breeders/exhibitors were to follow these guidelines, it means a cub used for public contact would have a “shelf life” of only 4 weeks! 

What does this encourage? Rampant breeding and not following these guidelines.  Where do they all go when they’re too old and can no longer be used for public contact?  Go back and read the list above!

Don’t inspectors make sure everything’s ok for these cubs?

Nikita used as photo prop 1st owner BEFORE RESCUE
Nikita before rescue, used as photo prop

In 2011 in the United States, there were only 105 USDA inspectors to monitor almost 8,000 facilities, ranging from slaughterhouses, pet stores, pet breeders and dealers, farm, laboratories and other animal-related businesses. That’s nearly 1 inspector for every 80 facilities!

When traveling exhibitors often move these cubs all over the country to fairs, festivals, and malls, relying on inspectors to ensure quality of care for them is unrealistic.  And even when cubs are being exhibited when they’re too young or too old, violators aren’t cited unless an inspector is there to personally see serious harm to the cub – screaming and squirming isn’t enough.

Doesn’t touching a tiger or lion help promote conservation since we’re losing them in the wild?

asha_PCML 17 JUNE 2012_130As more and more of these cub petting attractions spring up everywhere, guess what?  Tigers and lions in the wild are endangered and becoming nearly extinct.  In fact, touching a cub does nothing to conserve their cousins in the wild.  Tragically, it may be doing the opposite.

If you can visit a facility to pet a tiger cub, then why protect them half a world away where you may never see them?  Studies have shown that public interaction with captive wild animals has done very little to cause the public to donate to conservation in the wild.

And there’s been no successful release of a captive born tiger or lion to date.  When a cub needs to be with its mother for at least two years to learn survival skills, this simply isn’t something humans can duplicate.

So, the answer is “no,” touching a lion or tiger cub in no way helps save them in the wild.

What can we do?

  • Contact the USDA by emailing them at:  [email protected]  Let them know you want to see an end to physical contact with big cats, to prohibit public handling of young or immature big cats, and to stop the separation of cubs from their mothers before the species-typical age of weaning.
  • Never, ever give in to the temptation of public contact with a wild cat.  It’s dangerous for you and sentences these big cats to life in a cage – or far worse.
  • Educate friends, family, and media about the reality of this cruel practice.  So few know this is an insidious form of animal abuse – but now you do.  Share it through social media channels, too.
  • The next time you see a cub in your town or at some of the tourist attractions you visit while on vacation, we hope you’ll remember the truth and you’ll help raise awareness.  When the demand ends, so will those who profit by supplying these experiences. 


Together, let’s be their voice and assure no more cubs suffer an awful fate.





A huge thank you to John Gleim of HDMG for volunteering his time to produce this public service announcement for The Wildcat Sanctuary!

Don’t miss any future rescue announcements, get the latest news HERE.

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