Baby TIGERS! - Phil's Rambling Rants
More and more places (states and localities) are passing laws that ban owning big cats. Federal laws have been put through lately making it much harder to do anything with the cats without a USDA license, but they also prevent the USDA from issuing licenses just for people to have animals for their own enjoyment. (In simple terms, the USDA is only allowed to regulate animals that are being used to make money.) The driving political force behind these changes is the radical animal rights movement, the people who believe that animals are better off dead than in contact with humans, and they're actively attacking exotic cat owners because they're such a small minority that they're a much easier target than domestic cat and dog owners and meat farmers. It is fueled by the sensationalist media, because it sells a lot more soap flakes to turn any story about people who have cats into a scare piece about how your neighbor's pet tiger is going to eat your children in the night than to use real facts or present the positive side. But my point here is that I think a lot of people subconsciously resent the fact that there are people who can enjoy a relationship with animals that they would be scared to come near, so they say "you must be protected from yourself and not allowed to do that".
A fair number of people allow small cats like servals the run of their houses. They're not allowed to run free outdoors, but responsible people don't let their dogs run free outdoors either. The reason that many small cat owners don't allow the cats loose in their houses is not that they are dangerous, it is that they are very difficult to housebreak. Far more servals end up abandoned in rescue because they can't be housebroken than because they hurt people.
Keeping a tiger is a lot more dangerous. If you keep a tiger and you don't keep a barrier between you and it at all times, you can expect to receive injuries that require some kind of medical attention, and you may well die. But I've never heard of a single case of a "pet" tiger hurting someone who didn't put themselves in harm's way of their own volition. When Dale Earnhardt died in auto racing, there wasn't a national hue and cry that racing is too dangerous and needs to be banned, but when Roy Horn collapsed on stage and his tiger hurt him trying to take him to safety, suddenly tigers are too dangerous and have to be banned.
It is difficult (and expensive) to provide a captive environment for an animal as big and powerful as a tiger that's decent, that allows the tiger to live a happy life, but it's not impossible. I don't think any random schmuck with some cash ought to be allowed to buy a tiger cub on the Internet, but I also don't think that it's reconcilable with the principles of the America I believe in or with decent standards of ethics to say that no one is ever allowed to try.
Keeping a tiger responsibly requires that it be kept in some kind of secure structure. It may be able to be outside of that enclosure on certain special occasions, but most of the time it does have to be confined. However, there is a huge range of confinement. A decent amount of space and a reasonable environment in the enclosure is quite expensive. Poeple who can't or won't pay for it shouldn't get tigers, and that is true whether they are private citizens or public zoos. (Many zoos keep tigers in small bare cages. Even zoos that have big fancy enclosures for public display often have animals off display in much worse conditions.)
Being kept in a cage is different from being isolated from physical contact. Some people regularly spend time in the cages with their tigers. Some people even construct their houses, or parts of their houses, to be secure enclosures that the tigers can be in.
If the animal is healthy and happy, I don't think it matters whether you classify it as a pet or a captive or both or neither.
It can be done. It is hard, and a lot of people fail, and a lot of tigers are kept in inadequate conditions. But that doesn't mean that the people who are doing well by their animals, and not putting anyone except themselves at risk, should not be allowed to continue doing it, or that someone new who comes along with the training, experience, and resources to do it right, should be banned because other people have been stupid or evil.
Aside from the fact that I don't think that keeping a tiger and playing with it is ridiculously stupid -- it is dangerous, but the reward is well worth the risk -- that is my basic point about banning exotic cats being anti-American.