With increasing regulations on the horizon, a responsible big cat owner takes action

Tasha the cougar.c. The Wildcat SanctuaryOn Monday, Nikita, a 7-year-old white tiger and Tasha, a 10-year-old cougar will be loaded onto a rescue trailer and transported 800 miles to their new home at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota.

Nikita and Tasha—who live less than 100 miles from Zanesville, Ohio where the owner of a backyard menagerie opened the cages of his tigers, leopards, lions, wolves, bears and monkeys before committing suicide last October—are yet another reminder of the dangers associated with private ownership of big cats and other wild animals.

Fortunately for these two big cats, their current owners recognized  continuing care for them would prove increasingly difficult with stricter state regulations on the horizon, and everyone would be better served if they had a new home at The Wildcat Sanctuary.

Their decision should be applauded.

Nikita and Tasha will receive exceptional care and will be much more comfortable in the expansive 8,000 square-foot free roaming habitat. Unfortunately, there are countless numbers of big cat owners who are not as responsible – Nikita’s and Tasha’s original handlers are perfect examples of this unfortunate truth.

As a cub, Nikita was used as a photo baby and was put on display to the public. When she became too old to be handled safely, she was used for breeding cubs for the same purpose. Her original owner was an ex-convict whose history of abusing animals was notorious and well documented.

Tasha’s first home was equally as miserable–she was similarly used for breeding at a young age. For nine years, she was kept in a garage before escaping one day through a hole in the roof. Shockingly, her owner didn’t report her escape, fearful that she’d be killed. Luckily, Tasha returned before she could cause further damage to herself or members of the surrounding community.

The rash of abuse and exploitation of these animals can ultimately be attributed to the patchwork of federal regulations and state laws with regard to big cat ownership. What we desperately need is a single standard that will protect cats like Nikita and Tasha, as well as the communities where they live, from these kinds of potentially cruel and dangerous situations.

The “Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act,” bipartisan legislation introduced last month in the House of Representatives, would serve as that single standard and ensure that lions, tigers and other dangerous big cats do not threaten public safety or end up living in deplorable conditions where they can be subject to mistreatment and cruelty.

This much is clear--we cannot sit and wait for owners to come forward and willingly surrender their big cats to the proper authorities. Unfortunately for us, responsible big cat owners are the exception, not the rule.

We wish Nikita and Tasha lots of happiness in their new home. International Fund for Animal Welfare Animal Rescue Officer Gail A’Brunzo will be filing a blog post from the field during the rescue.

Stay tuned.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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