Every day, people yield to the temptation to purchase a "big cat" or other unusual non-native species. One problem feeds the other—the growing demand for these animals leads to more breeding, and more unwanted animals. These animals are often sold as targets in "canned hunts.”

Licensing requirements and laws regulating wild pet ownership vary from state to state, leaving loopholes through which such animals may still be obtained.

What becomes of former "pets"?

  • Ill-equipped owners often abandon them, not knowing where to turn for help. Sometimes owners simply move away, leaving the animal chained with no food, no water, and no realistic hope of survival.
  • Federal agents that confiscate these animals put them on a waiting list for placement in a sanctuary such as ours. Zoos will not accept them.
  • Only a limited number of sanctuaries are accredited, legitimate, and equipped to provide permanent placement and a lifetime commitment for their care. These facilities fill up quickly.
  • If placement is not available, animals are euthanized.

Why is it so difficult to care for these animals?

Cougars, for example, can live up to 20 years in captivity, and they require:

  • A daily meat ration of 3% of their body weight, plus supplements.
  • Safe enclosures that provide enough room for a reasonable quality of life. These are very expensive.
  • Specialized, quality veterinary care, which is also very expensive.

What medical challenges do these animals present?

Many former pets arrive at sanctuaries suffering from:

  • Diseases related to improper nutrition.
  • Abuse by the owner, including amateur declawing without anesthesia.
  • Other cruelties, such as defanging.

Why not return them to the wild?

Most illegal pets are non-native species that cannot be released into the wild. Even those that belong to indigenous species are rarely releasable:

  • Most have been declawed and/or defanged so their previous owners could "handle" them.
  • They are completely habituated to humans, and lack fear.
  • They have no hunting skills or other survival skills.

Releasing such animals would lead to a crueler death than euthanasia.

How has Safe Haven responded to the illegal pet trade?

  • Safe Haven is state- and federally-licensed, as well as trained and experienced in caring for these animals.
  • Our move to Nevada was largely prompted by the increased demand for placement of animals in need, many of which are confiscated former pets.

For more information, visit TRAFFIC: the wildlife trade monitoring network.