IFAW’s History and Participation in Captive Big Cat Issues in the U.S.
In the past decade, IFAW has had a growing concern for the issue of private ownership of wild animals, especially big cats. In 2003, a new initiative was launched through the Animals in Crisis Campaign to directly address this popular trend. IFAW has had many successful efforts in the U.S. through multiple cases of animal rescue and forever placement, encouraging state and federal legislation changes, and public awareness and education campaigns. Below, please find a list of the many achievements by IFAW and its partners, as well as current events emphasizing the need to take action.
- May 2003: IFAW submitted testimony to the House of Representatives, Committee on
Resources, Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife & Oceans urging their support of H.R. 1006, the Captive Wildlife Safety Act. Through lobbying efforts, IFAW helped pass this bill in December 2003.
- July 2003: IFAW submitted testimony to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public
Works regarding private ownership of big cats and their threat to public health and safety.
- November 2003: IFAW, working with wildlife sanctuaries, the New Jersey Fish & Game and other state agencies, relocated 24 tigers from a private residence in Jackson Township, N.J. to a sanctuary near San Antonio, Texas.
- December 2003: IFAW rescued a lion named Tarzan from poor conditions on exhibit in Cancun, Mexico and placed him in a forever home at a sanctuary in the U.S. In Mexico, he was kept for two years in a 3X6X3 cage in front of a hotel, but now, he lives among other lions at Carolina Tiger Rescue.
- April 2004 – June 2005: IFAW investigated 42 USDA licensed sanctuaries where big cats were being kept and exhibited. Here is a brief summary of the findings:
- The vast majority of the big cats they saw were housed at facilities that were structurally unsound. Many enclosures had rusty fences and some facilities had no barriers at all.
- Direct public contact between dangerous big cats and people – including very young children -- was allowed at many facilities.
- Poor housekeeping and animal hygiene was observed at the majority of facilities including dead animals, filthy water buckets (which often included urine and feces), vermin and grossly inadequate sewage disposal.
- Meat, which is the staple of the big cat diet, was often stored without refrigeration. Many animals were fed rotten food
- Many facilities had no attendants on hand at big cat exhibits -- and some even allowed children to work as attendants!
- March 2005: IFAW moved eight tigers, three lions, two leopards and four wolves from two homes near Las Vegas to a sanctuary near San Antonio, Texas.
- October 2007: IFAW rescued and relocated six abandoned big cats from an unlicensed facility in Ohio. Months previously, the owner of the big cats was evicted by her landlord. Ohio's Knox County Animal Control officials had seized the big cats. Together with the help of the landlord, Knox County Animal Control, Big Cat Rescue, Animal Sanctuary of the United States and Wild Animal Orphanage, four cats—two tigers and two lions--were trucked 1,000 miles to Tampa, Fla. and two lions were trucked 1,200 miles to San Antonio, Texas.
- November 2010: IFAW moved three tigers from a bankrupt sanctuary in San Antonio, Texas to Pittsboro, North Carolina. The tigers were transported on a 36-foot rescue trailer and over a distance of more than 1,300 miles to their new life-long home at the Carolina Tiger Rescue sanctuary. For their vital roles in the removal and placement of over 300 animals (including 60 big cats) from this failed facility, IFAW’s Animal Rescue Program Manager, Dr. Ian Robinson and Wildlife Rescue Manger, Gail A’Brunzo, both received the United States Department of Agriculture Honor Award of Excellence in the fall of 2012.
- October 2011: A man in Zanesville, OH released 56 of his privately owned animals before committing suicide. First responders, the local police, were forced to kill 50 of those animals, including 18 tigers, 17 African lions, 6 black bears, 3 cougars, 2 grizzly bears, 2 wolves, one macaque and one baboon. This tragic massacre gained national and international attention, and was the impetus for Ohio to pass stronger regulations concerning the private ownership of wild animals. Furthermore, it illustrated the need for federal legislation for this issue which is not simply a “state issue”.
- February 2012: Bipartisan legislation, The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, was introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, (D-CA).
- April 2012: IFAW relocated three tigers and a cougar from a private owner in Ohio to The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota and Wildcat Haven in Oregon. Later, in October 2012, IFAW relocated the remaining four tigers from that same private owner to Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Indiana.
- June 2012: IFAW assisted in the transfer of 23 big cats from a defunct rescue in Ohio to qualified sanctuaries in NC, TX, CA, NV, and MS.
- September 2012: With IFAW’s stewardship, The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act was introduced to the U.S. Senate by Senator John Kerry. Shortly after, IFAW led a successful Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill in support of this legislation, including a personal testimony from Zanesville Sherriff Matthew Lutz.
- November 2012: IFAW provided funding to assist in the rescue of six big cats from a failing sanctuary in Mountainburg, AR to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, AR. A few months later, in February 2013, IFAW provided an emergency grant to assist in the rescue of the eleven remaining big cats from that failing facility and assisted in the transfer to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.
- March 2013: A 24-year-old intern was killed while cleaning the enclosure of an adult male African lion, who was in turn shot by authorities. The tragic incident brought to light the inherent danger of working with large predators, but also begged to question how these animals should be handled in both private and professional settings.
To date, IFAW has been involved in the rescue and relocation of 152 big cats, among many other wild animals in captivity such as bears and wolves. Most sanctuaries for mistreated or unwanted big cats are at, or nearing, capacity and many lack financial reserves for more than 1-3 months operating expenses. The reoccurring situation of failing and closing facilities continue to make matters worse; as the burden falls on surviving sanctuaries which are often not equipped to keep taking on more animals as the U.S. big cat population grows.
Unwanted big cats that cannot go to true sanctuaries from the breeders and exhibitors often end up warehoused, sent to other exhibitors, or sold to other individuals, further exacerbating the animal welfare problem and threat to human health and safety. There is a vital need for federal legislation, such as the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, to finally put an end to this cruel and burdensome practice by ending the private breeding and ownership of big cats in the U.S.
- Big Cats & Public Safety – A Conversation with First Responders - In the past 11 years, attacks by tigers, lions, and other big cats have resulted in 22 human deaths and 246 maulings. This video features public safety officer Tim Harrison and Sheriffs Lutz and Brown sharing their thoughts on the dangers first responders face when encountering big cats and other exotic animals that are privately owned in the US. 5:37 minutes
- Arkansas tiger rescue – IFAW assists in the transfer of four tigers from a failing facility in rural Arkansas to a professional sanctuary, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. This video captures the severe public safety concerns of enclosures no longer worthy of containing big cats and urgent need to move the animals for their own safety as well as for the humans nearby. 3:51 minutes.
- Danger in your backyard - When a facility holding 32 exotic animals folds in Ohio, tigers, lions, cougars and a bear find themselves needing new homes. IFAW’s Gail A'Brunzo walks us through the perilous world of big cat ownership and the inherent dangers of keeping dangerous wild animals in people's backyards. 5:24 minutes.
- Confessions of a big cat owner – In this video, Denise Flores talks about the realities of owning several big cats and why she decided to start giving them up. 11:35 minutes.
- Removed – Three captive tigers are transported from a bankrupt sanctuary in Texas to a facility in North Carolina. In this video, caretakers at the sanctuary and rescuers talk about the long-term challenges of caring for these animals and the public safety, animal welfare and conservation issues involved. 26:00 minutes.
How you can help:
Get Involved > Send an email to your U.S. Representative using our web form and say you support the passage of the “Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act.”
Donate > Your gift will help support initiatives that protect animals and people. Donate online or call 1 (800) 932-4329.