Assistant Copy Editor
Many are not aware of the present mistreatment of big cats, like lions, tigers, cougars, and others, by zoos and private owners.
Currently in California it is illegal to own a big cat as a pet, the regulation for zoos’ enclosures requires 1,200 square feet for two compatible big cats, adding 50 % more floor space with each new cat.
This is not an adequate amount of space for big cats to run and feed their inner need for living in the wild, and commonly manifests itself in the form of pacing back and forth in their enclosures.
A study done by International Zoo News found that “the median percentage of time spend pacing in captive lions was 48 percent. In contrast, prides of wild lions spend at least 20 hours per day resting.”
This massive difference is a clear indication that most zoos do not provide sufficient space for big cats to be content. There are other smaller factors that contribute to the behavior of pacing, like anticipation of food, but cage size and inadequate entertainment are the primary factors.
In addition to concerns about enclosure size, there are also the concerns over how the big cats are treated. On my most recent visit to the Irvine Zoo, I saw that their midday “Chat with a Keeper” at the cougar enclosure consisted of what they called “enrichment.” Unfortunately for the cougars, enrichment meant doing tricks like sitting, laying down, and even jumping up on the side of their cage in exchange for hand-fed meat treats. If big cats must be kept in captivity, any direct contact is detrimental, and is more likely to end up with a bitten-off hand than an intimate keeper-animal bond.
I am not trying to advocate against big cats being kept in captivity, in situations like sanctuaries and zoos. There are special situations that may necessitate captivity, like injuries or having been in private ownership for too long to survive in the wild. What I am encouraging is to consume wisely. When visiting your local zoo, be up to date on captivity regulations and proper treatment to know if the zoo is following them. Also understand that trades like big cat circuses or the practice of selling photos with tiger cubs are in no way beneficial to the animals and are only done for profit.
If you want any further information on the proper treatment of big cats and what you can do to help, visit bigcatrescue.com.