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Why Do We Need Sanctuaries for Big Cats?

There are many tigers and other great cats suffering in captivity far more than they would in the wild, right here in the United States.

In spite of federal and state regulations, these magnificent creatures are often being kept in cages that are unfit even for a small dog.

We must make people aware of this tragedy. We must do something about it. There are solutions, and destroying the cats is not one of them.

There is a common law that supersedes any written law: As citizens of this Earth we must put back as much as we take.

Sometimes the scales of responsibility do not balance, but as a civilized society we are responsible for each other.

If we have the ability to help any animal in need,
then we are morally obligated to do so.

Why do we need sanctuaries for big cats? There are so many answers that it is difficult to choose the most important ones.

Perhaps most important is that we should not punish any animal for being born, nor should we punish them for being in the wrong place.

The animals have no control over who buys or sells them, where they live, or the conditions in which they must exist. It is all up to their owner. They are dependent upon us two-legged animals for their health and happiness. Scary, isn't it?

It is hard for most people to imagine a homeless tiger. After all, a person must be properly licensed and have an adequate enclosure to get a tiger in the first place, right? Wrong!

Many states have no licensing requirements and no regulations regarding big cats. The result is that lions, tigers and other big cats are purchased as pets by uninformed people.


This.... becomes This

By the time they realize that the words "tiger" and "pet" don't belong in the same sentence, it is too late.
There is no way to make a pet, in the common sense of the word, of a tiger, lion, or any other big cat. So the owner must find a new home for the unfortunate cat before it destroys their home and maims their children.
Too often the big cats are kept in tiny cages at roadside zoos where uncaring tourists can torment them at their leisure. Or a breeder thinks he or she can get rich by selling the cubs.

Sometimes the owner's interest is not the best interest for the animal and they become only a commodity whose purpose is to make money. And the less money spent on the cats - the more profit for the pocket.

This usually results in the cats being kept in inhumane conditions until there are finally enough complaints that charges are brought against the owners. They are cited by the local sheriff or USDA and told they must "get rid of" the cats.

Even when a big cat has led a relatively good life, it can suddenly find itself at risk. Do you ever wonder what happens to a big cat when its owner becomes seriously ill and can no longer care for it? Or where a big cat goes when it is confiscated?

Most would answer, "the zoos take them!" Nope, wrong again.

Reputable zoos serve a valuable purpose in a society long removed from routinely seeing animals in the wild. They allow us to see and appreciate animals, and they educate us to the animals' needs and purpose for being here.

Most major zoos are accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), and are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP).

The SSP is a plan for the management of breeding for a particular species - such as the Siberian tiger - in order to keep the bloodlines pure and diversify the gene pool to prevent genetic deficiencies.

The SSP keeps studbooks and detailed records on the parentage of animals in the program, and as such, may direct a zoo in Texas to breed its tiger with one in a zoo in Tennessee.

Although many zoos got their start long ago by taking pets that private owners could not keep, it would today be like asking a breeder of registered, purebred dogs to add a mongrel to his collection.


Betsy Upon Arrival

Considering that space is limited in zoos, even for the SSP animals, you can see why zoos cannot and will not take big cats simply because they need a home.

Zoo visitors also expect to see animals in perfect condition, so zoos need a place for their animals when they become too old and arthritic, or otherwise unsuitable to be on public display.

For whatever the reasons, the big cats often find themselves without a home and they must be placed somewhere, or else be destroyed.

The options for placement are:

  • other breeders who often use them "puppy mill" style and generate more cubs to be abused and confiscated,


  • game ranches where, for a several thousand dollar fee, a captive-raised animal can be shot as it leaves its cage and its skin put on the floor in front of the great hunter's fireplace,


  • auctions where they can be sold to anyone, including those mentioned above,


  • and there are a few sanctuaries


A sanctuary is defined by the way it treats its animals, not by the "sanctuary" tag placed after the name. It is not a place that sells the animals, or uses them for wholesale breeding.
A sanctuary is a safe place. A place where the inhabitants are fed a proper diet, where their medical needs are provided, and where they will be relaxed and content as long as they live.

There are few true sanctuaries in the United States, and some of those are having problems with funding, manpower, and even their right to exist in the community.

It is estimated there are over 5,000 big cats in private hands in this country. Many are well taken care of, but many are not.

As more breeders and roadside exhibitors are being closed by authorities, and as more states are passing legislation to ban possession of the big cats, there is an immediate and drastic need for more sanctuaries and support of those now in existence.

Why do we need sanctuaries?

Perhaps a picture really is worth a thousand words. If so, we think the picture included with Kalahari's Story will answer the question better than anything we could say.


This is Kalahari, a lion cub, the day he was rescued by Tiger Haven. The picture was taken January 25, 1997, on the way back to the sanctuary.
Yes, he is alive in this picture. But barely. He could hardly raise his head, much less stand up. We did not think he would make it back to Tennessee. We took him directly to Dr. Nick Wright, our veterinarian, who stayed at his veterinary hospital into the night waiting for us to arrive.

Dr. Nick's diagnosis: severe malnourishment, dehydration, hair loss, chemical burns, damaged vertebra, crushed toes, cuts and bruises, infection, and he tested positive for panleukopenia.
We cannot, and no longer attempt to answer why someone would allow a cat to be in this condition in the first place. Our purpose is to do what we can to give them a good, healthy life.
We brought Kalahari home later that night, and it was touch and go for a while. Nature has given the big cats an amazing ability to recuperate. Nature gave Kalahari something more - the will to live and the ability to still love humans


After four surgeries, weeks of treatment and attentive care, and a special diet to increase weight, Kalahari started becoming a lion and looking better. Under doctor's orders, he had been kept in close confinement because of his condition. But now we could give him space to run and play in order to build up his strength.
When he was ready, we introduced him to a lioness and her three cubs, who were about Kalahari's size, but at least a year younger. The introduction went


beautifully. The mother lioness, Tandy, immediately adopted Kalahari into her family, where he lives today. He now runs, plays and wrestles with his adoptive siblings, and Tandy cleans him just as she does her own cubs.
He still does not have full control of his hind legs because of the spinal injury, so he stumbles at times. He will always be small, and may have problems in the future. We will deal with that if and when the time comes.

But for now, Kalahari is a healthy, happy, typical loving lion.

This is Kalahari today!

If we have the ability to help any animal in need,
then we are morally obligated to do so.

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