In recent years, celebrities have flocked to a pseudo-sanctuary in Mexico to visit “rescued” big cats, play with tiny cubs, and get within inches of apex predators that would usually inspire fear. Their images from the facility—known as the Black Jaguar/White Tiger Foundation (BJ/WT)—have been splashed across social media, often with captions expressing their love and concern for the animals and praising the owner’s “rescue” work. A recent visit by Khloe Kardashian and Kendall Jenner brought even more attention to the now-well-known “sanctuary,” and sent the message to the millions of people who read about and look up to these famous women that direct contact with big cats is not only safe, but also beneficial to the animals both in captivity and in the wild.
Unfortunately, that message is wrong on all counts. BJ/WT falls into a category of facilities that is alarmingly common—it is a pseudo-sanctuary, and a particularly worrisome one at that. Both within and outside of the U.S., big cat breeders, dealers and exhibitors often refer to their facilities as “sanctuaries” and to their mission as “rescue.”
- buy and breed big cats,
- allow members of the public to have direct contact with these animals,
- operate with a focus on profit rather than animal welfare,
- mislead the public about the animals’ behaviors and wellbeing, and
- contribute nothing to the conservation of the animals’ wild counterparts.
It is telling that a number of the animals in BJ/WT’s many social media photos are very young cubs, are not with their mothers, display rare color traits (no, white tigers generally do not appear in the wild—they are produced via inbreeding—so the “sanctuary’s” name alone is a telling hint), and otherwise differ wildly from the big cats commonly found in true sanctuaries.
It’s tempting to criticize the celebrities who visit BJ/WT but, like much of the American public, they could very well be victims of the same deceitful tactics that have led many well-meaning people to support pseudo-sanctuaries, cub handling exhibits, and related businesses. Far too few people are aware of the essential attributes of a legitimate sanctuary—absolutely no big cat breeding, buying/selling, or direct contact with members of the public under any circumstances. This, of course, forecloses the possibility of cub handling, but for those who are willing to place the wellbeing of the animals above their own momentary gratification, this is certainly a small sacrifice to make.
The good news is that anyone who would like the opportunity to visit big cats and enjoy themselves while also supporting the animals’ protection in captivity and in the wild can drop by one of many true sanctuaries around the world. Believe me, big cats are endlessly entertaining (they even like to celebrate big days with turkey, trees and gifts, piñatas, pumpkins, and a splash in the pool to beat the summer heat!), and there’s no need to touch them to enjoy it.
To help advance the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 3546) and bring an end to private ownership of big cats in the U.S., contact your Representative today and urge him or her to support this common sense measure to protect community safety and animal welfare.