14/03/24

Captivity Cruelty: The Dark Side of Private Wildlife Ownership

By: Bobbi Brink
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In a world where the exotic and the extraordinary captivate our imagination, it's no surprise that some people are drawn to the idea of keeping wild animals as pets. The allure of having a majestic lion or bear in the backyard or a tiger lounging in the living room seems like the ultimate status symbol or a thrilling adventure. But the reality of owning wildlife species as pets is far from glamorous. Not only does private wildlife ownership pose significant risks to public safety, but subjects the animals themselves to a life of confinement, neglect, and suffering. 

Why Do People Keep Exotic Pets?

It's shockingly easy to acquire a wild animal as a pet today. Depending on the state and the animal of choice, one can easily buy them online, in stores, or through private breeders and auctions. This means that anyone can buy a wild animal without knowing the essential details about:

  • How to properly care for it
  • Health or behavioral risks to people and other animals
  • Where the animals came from (and with the booming illegal wildlife trade, it could be that the exotic animal was illegally stolen from the wild)

Sadly, state laws vary considerably. Some states strictly  prohibit exotic and wild animal ownership, while others virtually have no regulation. In reality, wild animals belong in the wild and deserve to be left in the wild. 

However, exotic pet enthusiasts argue that they should legally be able to keep wild animals as pets as long as they can provide care. Most want to keep these pets for status, prestige, novelty, or even to feel some sort of connection to the wild. 

Dark Side of Private Wildlife Ownership

Despite the diverse motivations behind private wildlife ownership, wild animals have complex needs that cannot be adequately met domestically. They need special care, diet, housing, and maintenance that an average person simply cannot offer.

However, these unaccredited institutions cannot accommodate the overwhelming number of illegally trafficked exotic animals.  The lucky ones find true sanctuary like Lions Tigers & Bears but most of these animals are abandoned, euthanized, or doomed to continue living in deplorable conditions.

Many private owners try to change the nature of the animals by horrifically confining them in small, barren enclosures, mutilating them, or beating/electrocuting them into submission, but it never ends well. In cases where they realize they can no longer care for the exotic pet, they usually turn to animal shelters, roadside zoos, or sanctuaries to relieve them of their responsibilities.

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Let's shed some light on the mistreatment, neglect, and exploitation that wildlife in captivity endures:

The Exotic Animal Pet Trade

The exotic animal pet trade involves tremendous suffering at every stage. Many of these animals are captured from their natural habitats using cruel ways like traps, snares, or tranquilizer darts. They're then cramped in unsanitary conditions during transit, often without proper food, water, or ventilation access. The long journeys and rough handling can lead to stress, injuries, and even death.

Loss of Natural Behaviors and Environments

Captivity under private ownership robs wild animals of their inherent rights to roam, forage, and socialize in their natural habitats. Elephants, renowned for their long-distance migration patterns, are confined to small enclosures or forced to stand on hard surfaces for prolonged periods, leading to debilitating physical ailments like arthritis and foot infections. 

Similarly, bears accustomed to expansive territories foraging and hibernation are relegated to barren cages. This deprivation of natural resources, space, and stimuli results in abnormal behaviors like pacing and prolonged sleeping, indicative of extreme psychological distress

Exploitation in Entertainment

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Private owners often use exotic animals for entertainment reasons. As such, they may subject the animals to cruel training methods and force them to perform unnatural behaviors to amuse audiences. Chimpanzees are great examples – they suffer regular beatings to act in movies, and once they outgrow their usefulness, they are discarded and left to fend for themselves. 

Similarly, big cats who are coerced into performing in circuses suffer from confinement in cramped cages, forced transportation over long distances, and repetitive, often dangerous, performances that are devoid of their natural instincts and behaviors.

Cruel Practices and Neglect

Neglect is rampant in private wildlife ownership, with many owners failing to provide adequate nutrition, medical care, or living conditions for their animals. Animals may suffer from malnutrition, dehydration, untreated injuries, or illness due to neglectful care. In other cases, some owners even declaw big cats. 

Declawing involves the amputation of the animal's claws at the last joint, causing excruciating pain and permanent disability. This surgical procedure deprives the animals of their natural defense mechanisms and compromises their ability to engage in routine behaviors, leading to increased vulnerability and suffering. 

Kallie the tiger is a real-life example of this cruelty. Rescued by Bobbi and the LTB rescue team from a defunct roadside zoo in Oklahoma, she has emerged from a life of neglect and suffering, bearing the physical and emotional scars of declawing, which left her with mutilated paws. She later suffered a fractured leg, and due to complications with the fracture, amputation became the only solution to save her life. Despite these harrowing challenges, Kallie's determined spirit powered through. She is now on the road to recovery, living her best life at Lions Tigers & Bears, where compassionate caregivers tend to her needs with dedication and love. Unfortunately, many tigers do not get a second chance like Kallie did.

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Public Safety Risk

The exotic animal pet trade inflicts immense suffering on animals and poses a significant public safety risk. Exotic animals kept as pets in private homes can pose severe threats to human safety and well-being. These animals can cause injuries or fatalities to their owners or bystanders. Incidents involving escapes, attacks, or transmission of zoonotic diseases highlight the inherent dangers of keeping exotic animals in residential areas. 

Furthermore, inadequate legislation and law enforcement and oversight exacerbate the risk, leaving communities vulnerable to potential harm from these unpredictable and potentially dangerous animals.

Take a Stand against Wildlife Exploitation

The impacts of exotic animal exploitation are far-reaching, causing biodiversity loss, ecosystem imbalances, and the potential for transmission of zoonotic diseases. It is time to take a stand against wildlife exploitation and advocate for stricter regulations like the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which our founder, Bobbi Brink tirelessly advocated for and was finally passed into law in 2022. The Big Cat Public Safety Act, alongside other animal cruelty laws like the Lacey Act help to:

  • Strengthen the ability of the United States federal government to fight wildlife trafficking
  • Protect exotic animals from the exploitative cub petting industry
  • Safeguards the public from unqualified private owners who keep big cats as pets

At Lions Tigers & Bears, we advocate for the welfare and protection of exotic animals. Join us in our efforts to combat wildlife exploitation by raising awareness, supporting legislative measures, and 

promoting the ethical treatment of animals. Together, we can make a difference in wildlife management and animal control, ultimately ensuring a safer and more compassionate world for all living beings.

Why Choose an Accredited Sanctuary? 

It's crucial to choose accredited organizations that adhere to the highest standards of animal care, ethical practices, and transparency. Accredited sanctuaries and animal shelters prioritize the well-being of their residents and provide a safe and enriching environment for animals in need. By supporting accredited sanctuaries like Lions Tigers & Bears, you can ensure your contributions make a positive impact on animal welfare, education, and conservation efforts.

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