In the United States, there are as many as 10,000 big cats in captivity. These animals are at risk for abuse and often live in terrible conditions: in private hands, menageries masquerading as rescue sanctuaries, at unqualified roadside zoos, and even in USDA-licensed facilities. When big cats are surrendered or confiscated, rescue operations kick into gear to transfer the cats to qualified sanctuaries. But for too long, many sanctuaries had to turn cats away.
Fatal Attractions: Big Cats in the USA, a report released by The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 2006, documents a pattern of public safety and animal welfare violations at U.S. facilities that house and exhibit big cats including tigers, lions, panthers and jaguars. The report is the culmination of an 18-month investigation of 42 USDA-licensed facilities in 11 states providing recommendations for changes to both federal and state policy. More than 5,000 big cats are kept in facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and it is estimated that thousands more are kept as pets. Against a background of dozens of dangerous big cat incidents over the years, the report demonstrates that the current USDA license system does not guarantee public safety or humane conditions, as the licensing agency has limited legal authority to protect the public safety. It is through information and public awareness achieved through reports such as Fatal Attractions that we will continue to work towards a world in which both animals and people thrive together.