Sure, everyone knows just how popular, amusing, and tugging a good cat video is, and in 2008, a YouTube video reunion of two men and their former pet lion, Christian, went viral. Lauded by many as a success story for private ownership of lions, the actual story behind the relationship is more of a cautionary tale about the problems of owning a big cat.
“A Lion Called Christian” tells the story of how Anthony Bourke and John Rendall had gotten in over their heads and were able to find a way to reintroduce their pet lion into the wild. It would be great if this is how these things worked out, but in reality, it is usually quite the opposite. More often than not, people who try to keep big cats as pets end up abandoning them, killing them (intentionally or unintentionally), or even being killed by them.
Don’t be deceived by a tiger’s or lion’s good looks. These big cats (and others) may be beautiful and seem cuddly at first but they are NOT pets. Let’s take a look at the five simple reasons below that prove why big cats should never, ever be kept as pets.
1. Big Cats Are Big $$$
Ok, so you want a big cuddly lion or tiger? I get it, they are beautiful and would really impress your friends and neighbors. And, besides, even Lorde said if you want to be a “royal,” you need to have a tiger on a gold leash. But imagine these big cats as the Mercedes Benz of animals. If you can overcome the sticker price ($900-$25,000), think about the maintenance costs. A lion can eat as much as 10 to 15 pounds of meat a day and so if you only (under) fed the lion 8 pounds of meat a day, it would be nearly $30 a day (at $3.50/lb) or $210 a week to feed that lion at minimum amount. That’s certainly a hefty chunk of your hard-earned money flying out the door just to keep an animal in your home who is not meant to be a pet in the first place. Ouch.
2. The Exotic Pet Trade Breaks Up Big Cat Families
Since trading exotic pets is regulated and/or illegal in many states and countries, there is a large black market for exotic animals. Right up there with illegal drugs and illegal firearms, the exotic pet black market is a huge industry estimated at as much as $15 billion a year. The animals are hunted, taken away from their families and natural habitats, and then treated as property. It is incredibly inhumane and unfair to animals and dangerous for the people doing it. They are often not transported properly, cared for properly, and sold off to the highest bidder regardless of that person’s ability to properly care for them.
Right now, there are more captive tigers than wild tigers and somehow that just doesn’t seem right. By owning exotic wild animals, you may be helping to destroy the very animal you claim to love. The best way to combat the black market is to not support it. If there is no one buying illegal exotic animals then there would be no one selling them. Don’t be the bad guy — be a hero instead and stand up for real big cat conservation.
3. Big Cats Are Dangerous, Natural-Born Hunters
Big cats are wild animals at heart. It is in their nature to travel, stalk, and hunt down their prey. Let’s face it, these animals can get downright “hangry.” Lions are the apex predators for a reason — they are skilled, ruthless, and violent hunters. When captivity takes this opportunity away, these cats can get frustrated.
I visited one sanctuary where they did not allow children under six years of age in because the cats would stalk them and get too excited, seeing them as potential prey. Evidently, large predators salivating to eat children is a bad thing — who’d a thought? At another sanctuary, I visited with my young children, the cheetah was pacing back and forth clearly stalking them. The kids thought it was a funny game, but it was clear that the cheetah wanted to eat them. Given the choice, I would rather find a wolf in grandmother’s house than a lion any day, although neither choice is anywhere near ideal.
4. A Cuddly Big Cat Is Just an Illusion
Big cat cubs are adorable, cute, and cuddly and usually not very dangerous. However, these cats grow up quickly and they grow to be very big. Imagine your cute little kitty cat, add about 500 lbs., and big sharp teeth and claws — THAT’S a big cat. Even big cats that may love their owners play big. There have been numerous accounts of big cat attacks and many of these appear to be “playtime” with an unsuspecting person, even their loving caretakers. Big cats in nature play rough, as this is part of their training for hunting. Also, big cats are just plain big and while they may not intentionally be trying to maul, kill, or hurt anyone, sometimes they just don’t know their own strength and so we shouldn’t take a chance with them in the first place.
5. Captivity Can Drive Big Cats Crazy
So you’ve heard all the warnings and are still convinced you need a big cat in your house. Maybe your new cub is cute and cuddly and rolls around and plays, and MAYBE that cub will grow into a large predator that might really, really love you. But, most likely, that same cat will slowly go crazy.
Captivity of big cats causes them great stress which can potentially lead to psychosis, also known as zoochosis. Do you really want to share your space with a large, potentially unstable natural born killer? This psychosis (or zoochosis) is often exhibited through pacing and acts of aggression (even on trusted caretakers). Many big cat attacks that occur from aggression are born out of this frustration. Because of their large size, their natural ability to easily overpower a human, and their potential for aggression, big cats are often kept caged at all times, therefore their natural instinct to hunt and move is not allowed. So by having a big cat as a pet, you’re not only living with a very, very large natural-born hunter but also one that may literally go crazy on you. Yeah, that’s a good idea, said no one ever.
Lead image source: Dave Stokes / Flickr