This report surveys the different legal approaches taken by twenty-one countries and the European Union in regulating the private possession of big cats. All the countries surveyed are members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Among them, China, India, Malaysia, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam are tiger range countries where tigers still exist in the wild. China, India, and Russia were found to designate wild tigers as state property. (PDF, 1,398KB)
This analysis compares and contrasts the different legal approaches taken by twenty-one countries and the European Union in regulating the private possession of big cats. All the countries surveyed are members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This analysis describes the legal provisions regarding keeping big cats in captivity, the requirements for licenses, and permission for breeding of big cats.
Under Austrian law, big cats may not be kept in private properties or homes. They may only be kept in Category A (the best qualified) zoos, and these must live up to the regulatory requirements of providing properly trained staff and living conditions that are in keeping with the nature of the animals. These zoos also must benefit the public interest through research, education, and species preservation. Austrian legislation on endangered species is in conformity with the Washington Endangered Species Convention.
Brazil’s federal Institute for the Environment and Natural Renewable Resources regulates public and private zoos, the private possession of big cats, and the trade in wild animals. The regulations include measures to ensure the registration of keepers of exotic fauna, the proper care of wild animals in captivity, and the maintenance of records on an animal’s identity and demise. Noncompliance with the regulations can result in fines, license suspension, closure of a private enterprise, and even prison time for the offender.
All Canadian provinces and territories have laws regulating the private possession of animals. The possession of exotic wildlife as pets in private homes is restricted in every province except Ontario. In each province, all zoological institutions that hold a valid permit may possess exotic species, with the exception of Ontario, which does not require a permit. Each province imposes specific penalties under the Criminal Code of Canada for contravening enacted legislation and committing acts of animal cruelty.
Four species of big cats are listed under the first of two classes of state-protected wildlife in China—tigers, lions, clouded leopards, and snow leopards. In order to keep these animals in captivity or breed them, licenses from the state wildlife management authority are required. The license holders must keep and breed animals belonging to the same species, while the number of animals they may have does not seem to be limited. If wild animals are found to be kept without a proper license as required by law, the animals may be confiscated.
Costa Rican law prohibits the possession of wildlife in captivity if the animals do not come from a wildlife management site that has been legally established and approved by the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) and registered in SINAC’s National Registry of Wildlife. Big cats may be kept in captivity only in zoos and rescue centers. Wildlife-possession permit holders must meet some requirements before the permit is granted and must have an approved management plan. Wildlife reproduction and commerce are regulated by the state and are under the control of SINAC.
According to Denmark’s Statutory Order on Private Persons Keeping of Certain Animals, etc., no animal species on the list provided in Annex 1 of the notice that may present a danger or whose welfare is particularly difficult to maintain may be kept by a private person. According to that list, all species of predators are banned from private ownership, with certain exceptions that do not include big cats.
The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 prohibits the ownership of an extensive number of species of wild animals, including eleven types of big cats, without a license. Licenses are granted by the local authority of the area in which the resident who wishes to own the animal resides, and the applicant must be judged suitable to hold a license and must pay a relatively expensive application fee before he or she can obtain a license. License requirements include measures to ensure public safety and animal accommodations that are secure and suitable for the animals’ welfare.
In Greece, the possession, sale, import, export, transport, and display of wildlife for commercial purposes without a permit is prohibited, and this prohibition also applies to wild cats. Greece’s obligations arise from the ratification of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, EU regulations, and national law enacted in implementation of the Convention.
The private possession in India of endangered cats listed under Schedules 1 and 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act is prohibited unless the person has a certificate of ownership for a wild animal he or she possessed at the commencement of the Act. Trade and commerce involving these animals is also prohibited under the Act unless previous permission from the Chief Wildlife Warden has been provided. The Wildlife Protection Act grants authority to the Central Zoo Authority of India to recognize zoos in the country. The Recognition of Zoo Rules regulates the recognition (licensing) process for all zoos and stipulates the minimum standards and norms for housing, upkeep, and healthcare of all animals in zoos.
Israel is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and Israeli law contains comprehensive legislation for the protection of wild animals, including big cats. Owners and managers of facilities for keeping wild animals are required to get accreditation from city veterinarians to operate such facilities. There are specific regulations regarding the operation of facilities, including size and type of accommodations for the animals kept there and the provision of medical care. Violations of legal requirements regarding unauthorized hunting, keeping, trading, or experimentation on animals are punishable by imprisonment or fines.
Japan’s Act on Welfare and Management of Animals requires those who care for specified animals, including big cats, to first obtain a permit from the prefectural governor and then meet certain standards related to the structure and size of the facility where such animals are housed and the planned method of care. The governor may impose additional conditions on permit holders as necessary to prevent harm and has the authority to address violations of such conditions. Zoos, addressed separately under the Act, are likewise subject to facilities and method of care requirements.
Lebanon does not have specific laws regulating private possession of animals, whether in zoos or private residences, or for breeding purposes. Ownership of animals, including big cats, and the responsibilities of owners concerning the care of such animals are subject to the general provisions of the Law on Obligations and Contracts and the relevant provisions of the Penal Code.
Tigers and other species of large cats are listed as totally protected wildlife under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. Special permits are required to keep such animals, including in zoos or for the purposes of breeding. Various regulations apply to these activities. The penalties for illegally keeping tigers and for wildlife cruelty were increased by the 2010 legislation, and wildlife officers were given greater enforcement powers.
The private possession of big cats in Mexico is allowed subject to registration with Mexico’s environmental authorities and compliance with regulations published by Mexico’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The guidelines provide specifications for cages and enclosures, security measures for personnel that come in contact with these animals, food and healthcare, the use of tranquilizers, transporting the animals, and marking and identifying the animals. Mexico’s General Law on Wildlife lists the powers that federal, state, and county authorities have over the protection and conservation of wildlife, and provides that keeping wild animals in captivity without complying with applicable regulations is punishable with a fine, suspension or revocation of wildlife-handling permits, administrative arrest for up to thirty-six hours, and/or seizure of the animals.
Norway’s Animal Welfare Act, which entered into force in 2010, emphasizes that animals can be held by human keepers only if the animals’ welfare is protected, and authorizes the issuance of specific regulations that limit or ban the keeping of certain animal species. One set of such regulations are the Regulations Prohibiting Alien (Exotic) Animals to Be Imported, Sold, or Kept as Livestock, Pets, or Otherwise in Captivity. Based on the Regulations, animals other than fish may not be exhibited in public except in connection with showing pets or livestock for purposes of breed improvement. However, an exemption from the ban against showing animals may be granted, subject to certain conditions, in order to exhibit animals in zoos, if the application to do so is accompanied by detailed plans of the entire exhibition site and of its operation, and contains sufficiently detailed information on the economic basis for the plans’ implementation. No specific regulations have been found on keeping big cats in captivity.
While big cats and other wild animals in private possession create a recognizable public safety threat, this issue is not addressed by current Russian legislation directly, although a bill aimed at criminalizing the unauthorized keeping of wild animals in captivity has been introduced in the Russian legislature. General environmental protection legislation regulates taking big cats from the wild, keeping them in captivity, breeding them, and trading in these animals, which are included on the list of rare and endangered species. Although all animals living in the wild are considered state property, once they are legally obtained by an entity or individual they become the property of that person. Zoos and other establishments involved in keeping big cats in captivity are subject to numerous federal regulations, including safety norms and ethical treatment requirements. Noncompliance may result in cancellation of licenses and the administrative or criminal prosecution of the responsible individuals.
Although many wildlife issues are covered by provincial legislation in South Africa, two national laws appear applicable to the regulation of private ownership of big cats: the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) of 2004 and its subsidiary legislation, as well as the Animal Protection Act (APA). NEMBA categorizes three animals in the cat family (the cheetah, lion, and leopard) as “vulnerable species.” As a result, their possession either in private homes or as part of commercial exhibition facilities is classed as being among the “restricted activities” requiring permits. A permit to possess a big cat in a private home may be issued for a period of fifty years. The APA protects animals living in captivity, including big cats, by criminalizing certain acts amounting to cruelty.
Spain’s Law on the Legal Regime of the Possession of Potentially Dangerous Animals was enacted in 1999 as a response to the increasing number of attacks by animals in the 1990s. The law does not include any specific provision on big cats. Both the Law and its implementing regulation provide safety standards as well as licensing and registration requirements for owning or keeping potentially dangerous animals. Preservation of wildlife in zoos is subject to additional safety requirements.
Thailand’s Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act prohibits a private person from possessing protected wildlife, including big cats, except where the person owned such an animal before the Act became effective. Only the government can breed protected animals. Zoos are also regulated under the Act.
Turkey does not appear to have a specific piece of legislation on the private possession of big cats. The handling of domestic, domesticated, and wild animals in the country is governed by the Animal Protection Law, as well as by various regulations, such as those on zoos, veterinary services, and animal breeding. Turkey is also a party to international instruments regulating wildlife, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora and the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.
Vietnam is a party to the Convention governing international trade in endangered species and has adopted by decree a set of conditions applicable to farms and zoos to protect such species. There are currently eleven public and private registered zoos and farms in Vietnam that breed tigers.
Within the European Union (EU) wild cats are subject to strict controls on their import, export, and movement within the EU. The acquisition, sale, or public display for gain of wild cats is prohibited in general except for breeding or other purposes. Zoos keeping wild cats are subject to regulations regarding the operation and functions of zoos. A draft regulation on Animal Health requires a health certificate for the movement of wild cats within the EU.
This bibliography contains recent English-language materials on wildlife legislation, zoos, and the keeping of exotic species. The books and articles describe laws of both the United States and other countries. The emphasis in much of the literature is on protecting wildlife, with a few titles also discussing public safety in relation to captive wild animals.
Last Updated: 12/30/2020