The Dangers of Cub Petting: Why It's Harmful and Unethical

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Cubs are cute, and that’s perhaps their biggest vulnerability. Their inherent cuteness and majestic presence make them incredibly appealing – and many people will happily pay to play with these animals. Sadly, the practice of cub petting attractions not only harms the animals in question but also helps fuel the illegal wildlife trade

As a big cat lover, you might not know this yet, but cub petting is actually cub abuse. Many roadside zoos and aquariums use animals to their own advantage. They claim they breed to help save the species, but in reality, they only create a surplus of animals who can’t survive in the wild, all for profit. 

This article will help you understand why cub petting is harmful and unethical and why it's important to advocate for their well-being by letting them remain in their natural habitat.

What is Cub Petting?

Cub petting is where you pay money to interact with wild animals, usually at roadside zoos and other tourist attractions. So, basically, you can touch, hold, feed, or even take photos with the cubs at a fee. Petting a cub is desirable to many people all over the world, because it allows you to connect with nature and witness the beauty of these majestic animals up close. In fact, it can be like a dream come true for a lot of unsuspecting animal lovers.

But there’s more to cub petting than meets the eye. These animal exploiters prey on your affection toward the cubs and exploit your desire to hold and care for the animals. They do this to mask the dark side of their business, which depends on different forms of animal cruelty for existence. 

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The Dangers of Cub Petting 

The sad truth is that these businesses exploit and over breed exotic animals for profit. They take advantage of the fact that people love to see these animals and marvel at their cuteness. However, they do not show where the animals come from or what happens when they grow up. If people knew that petting a cub, liking and sharing videos on social media, or following baby animal posts was actually harming them, would they still be so popular?

If you consider yourself to be a cat lover, you should know that petting a cub:

Hurts the Female Cats

The cycle of harm begins with the female cats—often lions or tigers—who are repeatedly bred to produce cubs for these attractions. These majestic mothers are repeatedly bred at a relentless pace, far beyond what is natural or healthy.

In their natural habitats, mother tigers and lions nurture and protect their young, teaching them essential survival skills. The natural bonding process is crucial for the cubs' development and the mother's emotional well-being. However, in cub petting operations, this bond is abruptly and repeatedly severed, denying both mother and cubs the natural, nurturing relationship with their cubs that they require.

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Hurts the Cubs

The cubs themselves are the most visible victims. They’re separated from their mothers shortly after birth and miss out on essential nurturing and learning. This early separation can result in long-term psychological and physical health issues.

The cubs are also exposed to excessive handling by humans, which can lead to stress, illness, and improper social development. They are often declawed, a brutal procedure that involves the amputation of the last bone in each toe, leading to severe pain, infection, and long-term physical and psychological issues. Additionally, they are defanged to make them “safer” for customers. Once they grow too large for petting—which happens within 8 to 12 weeks—they often face uncertain futures, including being sold off, kept in inadequate conditions, or even euthanized.

Harms the Public

Many pay-to-play operations market cub petting under the guise of conservation, claiming that the money raised supports wildlife protection efforts. However, this is completely misleading. Actual conservation involves protecting animals in their natural habitats and using funds to ensure their survival and well-being in the wild.

The money from cub petting often supports the continued operation of these exploitative businesses rather than genuine conservation. Moreover, these interactions can also pose direct risks to the public, as even young animals are capable of causing injuries, and close contact raises the risk of disease transmission.

Contributes to the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Cub petting helps fuel a growing public interest in exotic animals as pets. When people interact with these adorable cubs and share their experiences on social media, it inadvertently promotes a desire to own similar animals privately. The rise in demand encourages unscrupulous breeders and traffickers to supply cubs for petting operations and the private pet trade. They may source cubs from countries with less stringent wildlife protection laws or just poach them. Black market demand is a leading cause of the illegal wildlife trade, which is one of the largest illicit businesses in the world, ranking up there with illegal drugs and the trafficking of weapons and firearms.

Why This Practice Endangers the Species

Cub petting contributes to a broader misunderstanding of wildlife conservation and animal welfare. It encourages the breeding of animals in captivity under the pretext of educational value and conservation while doing little to ensure the survival of these species in the wild. Furthermore, it diverts attention and resources from genuine conservation efforts involving habitat preservation, anti-poaching measures, and scientific research.

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What’s Being Done?

The United States government has made significant strides in combating issues surrounding cub petting and the broader exploitation of big cats. A pivotal piece of legislation in this effort is the Big Cat Public Safety Act of 2022. This act, which received strong advocacy from figures like Bobbi Brink, the founder of Lions Tigers & Bears, aims to prohibit the private possession of big cats as pets. 

Many organizations, including LTB, are also keen on educating the public about the dangers of cub petting and the importance of preserving these magnificent animals in their natural habitats.

What You Can Do

If you're passionate about animal welfare and want to make a positive impact, choosing to support and visit reputable animal sanctuaries like Lions Tigers & Bears is a great start. These sanctuaries adhere to strict ethical guidelines, including no petting, no breeding, and no kill policies, ensuring that the animals are treated with the respect and care they deserve. When you support such organizations, you provide a safe and natural environment for rescued animals and help contribute to the broader goal of wildlife rescue and conservation.

It’s also a good idea to educate yourself and others about the realities of wildlife exploitation. Learn about the harmful effects of practices like cub petting and share this knowledge to discourage participation in such activities. You can also advocate for stronger wildlife protection laws and be a responsible tourist. When traveling, choose experiences that allow you to observe wildlife without disturbing their natural behaviors.

Lastly, use your social media influence to spread awareness about ethical wildlife interactions. Promote the work of sanctuaries, like LTB that prioritize animal welfare and explain the importance of rescue and conservation efforts. Your voice can inspire others to make more informed choices, reducing demand for exploitative animal attractions and fostering a culture that respects and protects our natural world.

Captivity Cruelty: The Dark Side of Private Wildlife Ownership

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:

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. 

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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:

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.

Illegal Tiger Breeding Farms Harm Big Cat Habitats

The illegal tiger trade poses serious threats to the survival of these magnificent creatures in the wild. A recent study analyzed seizures of tiger parts trafficked through US ports of entry between 2003 and 2012. It found that the amount of tiger parts trafficked into the country illegally was larger than previously reported. According to the study, 65.8% of the seized parts were from a known origin – and 99.5% came from wild tigers.

Currently, the estimated 4,500 remaining wild tigers are seriously threatened by poaching to meet the ever-growing demand for exotic pets and tiger parts. About 100 years ago, there were 100,000 tigers representing nine subspecies globally. Tragically, only about 4% are left, and three subspecies are already extinct. The remaining ones are classified as endangered or critically endangered tigers, facing imminent extinction in the next few years.

Still, reports show an estimated three times as many tigers in captivity as in the wild. Captive-breeding operations for tigers and other big cats have expanded to meet increasing product demand. Tiger parts have a high market value, and with an estimated illegal wildlife trade value of about $20 billion per year, the illegal tiger trade industry is likely to persist.

A Look into the Illegal Tiger Breeding Farms

Tiger caged due to breeding farms impacting tiger conservation and their natural habitats

Illegal tiger breeding farms are captive facilities that breed tigers, keeping them in captivity and exploiting them for various purposes, including the illegal trade in tiger parts and products. They operate contravention of national and international laws and regulations. 

According to WWF, the number of tigers in these farms has increased in recent years, with about 8,000 tigers reportedly held in over 200 facilities across East and Southeast Asia, mostly in China, Viet Nam, Lao PDR, and Thailand. The WWF believes that these farms:

These concerns are justifiable, as there is considerable evidence indicating that a significant percentage of tigers killed by poachers are transported from countries like Russia, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Nepal. It is noteworthy that all these countries allow tiger farms to operate within their borders.

What Drives the Demand for Tigers?

Royal Bengal Tiger with cub highlighting the need for tiger conservation and the harmful impact on genetic diversity

Several factors contribute to the demand for tigers and fuel the illegal wildlife trade:

Tiger Parts and Product

Unfortunately, tiger body parts, such as bones, skins, teeth, and claws, are highly valued in some cultures, where they are believed to have medicinal properties and are used in various remedies and tonics. There is also a demand for tiger products as luxury goods, like rugs, jewelry, and decorative items. 

Exotic Pet Trade

Tigers are also desired as exotic pets by some people who are willing to pay large sums of money to own these magnificent creatures. This demand fuels the growth of breeding farms and the exploitation of wild tigers. 

Huge Profit Margins and Lighter Punishment

The high demand for tigers and tiger body parts fuels the illegal trade as consumers are willing to pay significant sums for the products. This makes it an attractive business for criminals, especially since the associated risks are lower. Compared to other serious crimes like human trafficking or drug smuggling, the penalties associated with wildlife trafficking may be lighter. 

The Consequences of the Illegal Tiger Breeding Farms

Illegal tiger breeding farms have significant ecological and environmental consequences that harm the tiger species and their habitats. Here are some of the key implications:

Habitat Destruction

Illegal tiger breeding farms often require large spaces to accommodate captive tigers. These farms often encroach upon natural habitats, leading to deforestation and habitat destruction. Clearing land for such operations contributes to the loss of critical tiger habitats, which are already under pressure from human activities.

Loss of Genetic Diversity

Illegal breeding farms prioritize specific traits or physical characteristics desired by the black market, such as rare coat colors or other unique features. This selective breeding can lead to a loss of genetic diversity within the captive tiger population. Limited genetic variation reduces the resilience of tigers to diseases, environmental changes, and other threats.

Disruption of Natural Populations 

The existence of tiger farms, whether legal or illegal, can perpetuate the demand for tiger parts, skins, and products. This demand, in turn, fuels the poaching of wild tigers as a source to meet the market demand for illegal tiger products. The natural tiger populations face significant threats from poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict, and the presence of breeding farms can exacerbate these threats by sustaining the demand for tiger parts.

Distortion of Conservation Efforts

The presence of illegal breeding farms undermines legitimate tiger conservation efforts. These farms operate outside the regulatory frameworks and standards set by reputable conservation organizations. The unregulated breeding and trade associated with these farms can create confusion and mistrust among the public, affecting support for genuine habitat restoration and conservation initiatives.

Illegal Trade and Laundering

Some illegal tiger breeding farms serve as fronts for the laundering of illegally sourced tiger parts into the legal market. By producing captive-bred tigers or their derivatives, these farms may attempt to disguise or legitimize illegally obtained tiger products, making it challenging to differentiate between legal and illegal tiger specimens. This undermines law enforcement efforts to combat the illegal trade and contributes to the ongoing trafficking of tiger parts.

Conservation Efforts by Sanctuaries and Organizations

Yellow tiger in sanctuary highlighting tiger conservation and its environmental consequences

Sanctuaries play a critical role in the rescue and lifetime care of abused, neglected, or abandoned tigers. They:

What can you do?

As an individual, there are several actions you can take to contribute to the conservation and protection of tigers. You can educate yourself about tigers, their habitats, and their challenges so you can advocate effectively and make informed choices. You can also spread awareness, choose sustainable products, and support reputable sanctuaries and organizations in their efforts to combat illegal breeding trafficking and exploitation of tigers.

There are many ways to support sanctuaries and organizations that work toward protection of tigers. You can make financial donations or even volunteer your time or skills to help with animal care, habitat maintenance, educational programs, or fundraising activities.

Kallie’s Story

Kallie's story begins with a distressing past, as she was one of four big cats trapped in a defunct drive-thru roadside zoo in Oklahoma. The facility, once open to the public, exploited these majestic creatures for cub petting and photo opportunities, subjecting them to an environment that was neither safe nor conducive to their well-being.

The numerous safety and welfare violations led to the zoo’s shut down in 2008 by the USDA. The zoo and its owner had ties to the notorious "Tiger King" and his shady dealings, further highlighting the exploitative nature of such operations. 

The rescue mission was challenging as the animals had been kept in dangerous and difficult-to-access enclosures, resulting in severe health issues. The rescue team conducted on-site evaluations, overseen by a licensed veterinarian, to assess the health and well-being of each big cat. Once they were deemed fit to travel, Kallie and her fellow rescued cats were safely contained in transfer cages for transport to their new homes.

Kallie had endured the cruel standard practice of declawing, which is prevalent in the cub-petting industry. Additionally, she suffered from metabolic bone disease and malnutrition due to inadequate care and nutrition during her time at the roadside zoo. Her living conditions were appalling, as she was confined alone in a dilapidated enclosure for many years, which left her extremely fearful and timid when finally rescued. 

Today, Kallie is living a life she always deserved—one of peace and dignity. Her remarkable recovery serves as a testament to the resilience of these majestic creatures and the positive impact that proper care and a nurturing environment can have on their well-being. Kallie's story, along with those of the other rescued big cats, stands as a poignant reminder of the urgent need to protect animals from exploitation in the cub-petting industry and roadside zoos.