US should follow UAE’s example, address own big cats in captivity issue

While the UAE has passed a milestone law for the welfare of exotic animals often taken as pets, lawmakers in the US still have not settled on a bill, let alone passed a law, to protect big cats in captivity. PHOTO: © IFAW-InSync/R.SaucedoA newly enacted law in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has established a long-awaited ban on the private ownership and sale of big cats and other dangerous exotic animals. Big cats like cheetahs, tigers, and even imperiled leopards have become popular “pets” across the region, where they are viewed by some as status symbols.

Ownership of dangerous exotic animals is now limited to zoos, wildlife parks and a few other designated facilities. The new law enhances registration, licensing and other documentation requirements for all dangerous animals owned or imported. Violators can incur heavy penalties, including six-figure fines and jail sentences.

The UAE’s newly established restrictions are founded upon the principle that unpredictable, wild animals are simply not suited to be pets—they threaten public safety, and they often suffer at the hands of private owners who are not equipped to care for them. Accordingly, it makes perfect sense that possession of wild animals be restricted and that, where they are permissibly kept, extensive records and safeguards are in place.

As we celebrate this important victory in the UAE, it raises an important question: Why hasn’t the United States taken similar steps to address our own captive big cats crisis?

Shouldn’t first responders and communities be protected from dangerous wild animals? And shouldn’t these incredible animals be protected from lifetimes in cramped backyard cages, pseudo-sanctuaries, exploitative pay-to-play displays and ill-conceived promotional events?  

As the 115th Congress begins, IFAW will work with leaders in the US House and Senate to introduce and pass legislation to ban the private ownership of big cats. I look forward to working with you in the coming months to bring an end to the rampant, inhumane exploitation of captive big cats across the US.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
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Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
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Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
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Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
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