An approximately 6-month-old, 60-pound tiger named Elsa is settling into her new home at Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas. Elsa was someone’s “pet” and wearing a harness when she was rescued in freezing temperatures by Bexar County authorities. They placed her at a local wildlife rehabilitation center until the temperatures warmed up enough for her to be safely transported to the sanctuary.
Elsa’s five-hour road trip across the state with Black Beauty staff went smoothly and the team said she was rolling around on the fresh hay bed in her transport cage, enjoying all the new smells around her.
Noelle Almrud, senior director of Black Beauty, said, “Elsa is a rambunctious young wild animal and appears to be playful and active. Sadly, she spent her first few months of life as someone’s pet. The dog harness she was wearing is a harsh reminder of the unnatural life wild animals are forced to endure in captivity. Elsa has a raw area on her forehead from rubbing on her cage from stress and fur missing where the harness once was. She was on an inappropriate diet that would have caused severe health damage, but luckily, we got her early enough and will be able to remedy that. We expect her to quickly acclimate to her large, natural habitat and start behaving more like a tiger than a pet. We will provide everything she needs to have all of her physical and emotional needs met and give her the fairytale ending she deserves.”
Elsa will be quarantined for the next 30 days to ensure that she is healthy. When she is a little older, she will be introduced to a larger space and may be able join Loki, another tiger who came to Black Beauty in February 2019. Loki was discovered in an abandoned house in Houston, trapped in a cage where he could barely move. Now, Loki and Elsa are in adjacent habitats and are already very curious about each other.
Extreme confinement in small and barren cages, improper diets, inadequate shelter, lack of veterinary care, unending boredom and no ability to express normal behaviors are just some of the situations wild animals kept as pets typically face.
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, added, “Small young tigers like Elsa quickly become large, dangerous and deadly. Private possession of tigers as pets, and their use in cub petting ‘operations’ like we saw in Tiger King, is a serious and sometimes deadly problem in this country. Hundreds of people—including children—have been seriously injured or killed as a result of the cruel and unacceptable epidemic of owning big cats. The Big Cat Public Safety Act must be passed immediately in order to stop people from treating tigers as if they were pets.”
Texas has a history of tragic incidents involving private possession of tigers. A 3-year-old boy was killed by one of a relative’s three pet tigers, a 4-year-old boy had his arm torn off by his uncle’s 400-pound tiger and a 10-year-old girl was killed when one of her family member’s two tigers grabbed her by the neck and dragged her.
Big cats are not the only victims of the wildlife pet trade. Among the over 800 animals—40 species—residing at the sanctuary, other former pets include primates and reptiles.
- Exotic animals are readily available to anyone who wants to buy or own one. There is no uniform regulation determining who can possess big cats or other dangerous wild animals in the U.S.
- Thousands of wild animals are kept in grossly substandard conditions at poorly run roadside and traveling menageries, pseudo-sanctuaries and as pets in private collections.
- Meaningful laws regarding the private possession of big cats have already been passed in 35 states.
- Texas SB 641, legislation championed by state Senator Joan Huffman and Senator Carol Alvarado that would have prohibited private ownership in Texas, made it through the full Senate during the 2019 session. The bill was stalled in the House Public Health Committee and ultimately did not pass. We are planning to reintroduce the bill in 2021. Currently, the private possession of dangerous wild animals is still legal in much of Texas.
At the federal level, the Big Cat Public Safety Act (HR 263) would improve the welfare of captive big cats and protect public safety by prohibiting keeping big cats as pets and banning public contact with tigers, lions and other dangerous cat species—for instance, in activities where people pay to pet, feed or take pictures with big cat cubs. The constant breeding necessary for these activities is a major driver of the huge surplus of big cats across the country.