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Back to Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats

I.  Introduction

Mexico became a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1991.[1]  It subsequently enacted the General Law on Wildlife, which lists the powers that federal, state, and county authorities have over the protection and conservation of wildlife[2] and provides that such authorities are responsible for adopting measures to protect wild animal welfare.[3]  Cruelty against wild animals is strictly prohibited.[4]  Mexico has a number of native big cats, including pumas, jaguars, lynx, and ocelots.[5] 

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II.  Private Possession of Big Cats

The private possession of big cats is allowed in Mexico but owners must register with Mexico’s federal Department of Environment and Natural Resources or with the environmental authorities of the Mexican States of Baja California, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Sonora, or Tamaulipas, to which the federal government has delegated authority for that purpose.[6]

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III.  Guidelines for Keeping Big Cats in Captivity

Mexico’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources has published guidelines applicable to keeping big cats in captivity.[7]  The guidelines provide specifications for cages and enclosures, security measures for personnel that come in contact with these animals, the use of tranquilizers, food, healthcare, transportation, and markings and identification.[8]

Generally, the enclosure for big cats must have an area for feeding and sleeping measuring seven square meters, and an exhibition area whose size ranges from ten to thirty-five square meters, depending of the size of the animal.[9]  The doors that control the transit of the animal between these areas must ensure complete protection for handlers.[10]

An appropriate diet includes raw meat (chicken, horse, or donkey) and vitamin supplements.  The guidelines also recommend offering whole and fresh carcasses of pigeons, rats, and rabbits.[11]  Parasite prevention measures should be taken and a vaccination regime must be followed.[12]

The transportation of wild animals must be done in a way that avoids or minimizes suffering, stress, injuries, and pain.[13]  Transportation cages for big cats must be wide enough to allow the animal to turn and move comfortably.  For example, the transportation of an adult tiger requires a cage that is two meters long, 1.5 meters high, and 1.5 meters wide.[14]  If the period in transit is less than twenty-four hours, feeding may not be necessary, but longer periods require appropriate feeding.[15]  Big cats may be marked by means that are permanent (such as tattoos or microchips), semipermanent (such as stickers or earrings), or temporary (for example, paint).[16]

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IV.  Penalties

Mexico’s Law on Wildlife provides a list of violations that are subject to punishment, including keeping wild animals in captivity without complying with applicable regulations.[17]  Such violations are punishable with a number of sanctions, including fines, the suspension or revocation of permits to handle wild animals, administrative arrest for up to thirty-six hour, and/or seizure of the wild animals.[18]

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Gustavo Guerra
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
June 2013


[1] Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Mar. 3, 1973, 27 U.S.T. 1087, T.I.A.S. 8249, 993 U.N.T.S. 243,, as amended, June 1, 1979, T.I.A.S. 11079, and Apr. 30, 1983, (Gaborone Amendment).  For a list of contracting parties, see

[2] Ley General de Vida Silvestre [General Law on Wildlife], as amended, arts. 1, 7, 9, 10, Diario Oficial de la Federación [D.O.], July 3, 2000, available on the website of Mexico’s House of Representatives at

[3] Id. art. 29.

[4] Id. art. 30.

[5] Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales [Department of Environment and Natural Resources], Manejo de Felinos en Cautiverio [Handling of Felines in Captivity] (Sept. 2000),

[6] Iniciativa con Proyecto de Decreto por el que se Modifica y Adicionan dos Párrafos del Artículo 27 de la Ley General de Vida Silvestre, en Materia de Ejemplares y Poblaciones Exóticas Peligrosas [Senate Bill Proposing an Amendment to the General Wildlife Law Concerning Wild Animals], introduced Feb. 2013, currently pending, available on the website of Mexico’s Senate at diarios/62/1/SPO/d5_documen_2.pdfSee also Registro Federal de Trámites y Servicios, SEMARNAT-08-032, Incorporación al Registro de Mascotas y Aves de Presa [Federal Registry of Procedures and Services, SEMARNAT-08-032, Registration of Private Possession of Wild Animals], available on a website maintained by Mexico’s Department of Economy at (last visited June 13, 2013).

[7] Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, supra note 5.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at 17.

[10] Id. at 18.

[11] Id. at 21.

[12] Id. at 22.

[13] Ley General de Vida Silvestre art. 31.

[14] Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, supra note 5, at 24.

[15] Id.

[16] Id. at 25.

[17] Ley General de Vida Silvestre art. 122(X).

[18] Id. art. 123.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020