Rescue. Advocacy. Sanctuary. For Life.
Since 1984

Big Cat Public Safety Act:

Bringing an End to Cub Petting and Private Ownership in the U.S.

Fact Sheet 

The Big Cat Public Safety Act is a U.S. law that prohibits an exhibitor from allowing direct physical contact between the public and big cats of any age. This effectively stops operations that charge people to pet, hold and take photos with a baby tiger or other big cat. It also prohibits the private ownership of these animals.

Included under the law are lions, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars, and hybrids of these species.


In addition, exhibitors with big cats are required to keep a distance of at least 15 feet between the animals and members of the public unless there is a permanent barrier sufficient to prevent public contact.

The Act also bans the ownership of big cats by private individuals, with the exception of those who possessed the animals prior to the law’s enactment and who registered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. No one knows the exact number of big cats currently held in private hands.


The Case Against Cub Petting

Cub Petting is the practice of selling interactions with baby tigers (and other wild animals) to the public, including holding, petting, feeding, and taking photos. Cub petting may appear to be harmless, but it causes terrible suffering for the animals.


This practice is now prohibited in the U.S., but these interactions are still offered in other countries and should always be avoided.


Baby tigers are abused

Cub petting operations tear baby tigers from their mothers, subject them to long hours of rough handling by the public, and deny them rest and proper nutrition. Cubs often pitifully scream when forced to interact with people. Those who resist handling may be slapped, dragged, and punched by their handlers.


Tiger mothers suffer

Female tigers – usually confined in small, barren cages – are constantly bred so there is a steady supply of cubs. Cubs are taken soon after birth so the mother is available for breeding again. (In nature, cubs remain with their mothers for about two years.) Females who are repeatedly bred eventually become depleted and their babies are born sick or dead.

Diseases can be passed to people handling cubs

Early removal from their mother and the stress of constant handling impair a cub’s immune system. This leaves them vulnerable to diseases that can be transmitted to people, including ringworm, roundworms, hookworms, and toxoplasma.

A bleak future for cubs

Once cubs grow too big to be handled by the public, they are worthless to the operation. Some may be kept for breeding to produce more cubs, others may be sold to private owners and kept in terrible conditions. Some simply “disappear.” 


Tigers Are Not “Pets”


The Big Cat Public Safety Act prohibits the private ownership of big cats (see list of species above).Those possessing big cats before enactment of the Act were required to register with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by June 18, 2023 or be in violation of the law.


Tigers and other big cats are a serious threat to those who keep them and the communities they live in. They endanger law enforcement and first responders who don’t know these animals are on the premises or must respond to an attack or escape.


Tigers born in captivity remain wild, dangerous animals

Captive tigers are biologically the same as those in the wild; they are highly efficient and deadly predators. Even if born in captivity, they remain dangerous and unpredictable wild animals with their natural instincts and reflexes intact. Captive tigers have mauled and killed their owners.


No amount of training, affection, or discipline can make these dangerous predators safe for human contact.


Caged for life

Captive tigers are often confined in small, backyard cages with no opportunity to engage in natural behaviors. Owners may not provide nutritionally sufficient diets and/or veterinary care. Tigers fed a deficient diet often develop metabolic bone disease, an extremely painful condition that causes the bones to easily fracture and break.



Tigers may suffer debilitating health conditions as a result of inbreeding (the mating of closely related tigers). This includes lifelong physical abnormalities and neurological defects.


True Sanctuary


When tigers are exploited – whether for entertainment, cub petting, roadside attractions, or as exotic “pets” – they suffer. Only a small number of these animals will find their way to true sanctuaries like PAWS.


Don’t be fooled by fake “sanctuaries” that use the name to mislead people.


A true captive wildlife sanctuary does not buy, sell, breed, trade, or make their animals perform, and the public is not allowed to interact with wild animals of any age. A sign of a true sanctuary is accreditation by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). 


You Can Help Captive Big Cats

  • Avoid circuses and traveling acts that exploit big cats and other wildlife.
  • Never touch, handle, or take a photo with a baby tiger or any other captive wild animal. This includes servals (an African wild cat) and bobcats – as well as monkeys, lemurs, bear cubs, and sloths.
  • Don’t re-share images of people holding cubs or wild cat “pets” on social media.
  • Do share what you’ve learned with your friends, family, and colleagues.
  • If you see someone who is in violation of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, report it to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) by sending an email to This includes: (1) Anyone offering cub petting or close-up photos with a tiger or other listed big cat; (2) Someone who owns a tiger or other listed big cat and you suspect they are not registered with the FWS.
  • Support true sanctuaries like PAWS!

Since 1984 PAWS has been working to end the suffering of captive wild animals in roadside zoos, the exotic “pet” trade, circuses and other entertainment – while providing safe refuge for elephants, big cats, bears and other wild animals at our three sanctuaries in California.


For more information, visit

LinkedIn Share This Email