More and more big cats are being used at roadside attractions and zoos across the U.S. Many times these animals are kept in cramped cages or in conditions that are completely unsuited to them. As animal lovers, we always want to speak up for these animals, but how does one report exotic animal abuse? One thing that is very helpful, if visible, is to get pictures of the transport equipment and how the cats are kept when not performing. Also get photos of the semi. In particular with the truck is whether there is obviously ventilation. I find it best to take a number of photos if possible because where the cats are and what position they are in can affect whether the photo best shows the cramped quarters.

With respect to the performance, look in particular for any use of any kind of whip or other instrument, and whether at any point the cats are cowering or resisting. Ears flattened back or eyes squinting means the cat is scared or mad. The latter is harder to catch with camera versus video, but possible sometimes.



Unlike the cub petting, where at least in theory there is a age limit, it is pretty hard for a performing act to break USDA rules as long as they have the cats behind a barrier. The only things we know of that we can look for are stress, discomfort, any obvious health issues like cuts, missing hair patches (ringworm), ribs showing, limping, diarrhea.

If an opportunity arises to talk with any of the staff, the following questions come to mind:

  • Flatter them by acting like it is amazing what they do, and then ask how do you train them to do that? Usually they say positive reinforcement. Ask for details, because despite what they say, cats will not perform reliably just based on reward training.
  • This may give you away, but if you saw cowering, you might ask why they do that.
  • Note that people really seem to enjoy the show – then ask if they do a lot of shows; how many of these shows do you do in a year?

Other things YOU can do whenever possible is:

  • Photograph the vehicles if possible photograph the license plate and any signage on the vehicles or trailers.
  • Photograph or collect and scan any literature.
  • Photograph their advertising posters.
  • If it is allowed video their presentation.
  • Get names, address, phone numbers, email addresses of the facility or venue hosting the traveling exhibit.
  • Get the name of the company or person who owns the animals.
  • Count the animals, jot down the animals names.
  • If they say they do that to support conservation as them to specify how.
  • Print out these images as posters and fliers, here.

Some people have been able to get photos of animals in cages with an empty water dishes. If you are able to watch the animal throughout the day and see that they are being deprived of water, we can help you file a complaint with USDA.

Lastly, it’s great if you can get someone to go with you. Two people observing behavior of the cats or hearing information is more difficult to dispute than one person, when you write up your complaint.

You can file a complaint with USDA here, or contact [email protected] and he will help you make sure that the things in your complaint are things over which they have jurisdiction.

Report Animal Abuse to the USDA

If you see abuse you may be the only voice the animals have, so please report it to USDA. If the animal is being exhibited to the public in any way, even if the person just took you in their back yard to show you their tiger, they should be licensed by USDA as an exhibitor. It takes many years and many complaints to get the USDA to take action so it is important that you contact them with facts, photos, videos and information they can use. Contact USDA at:


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