What Happens to Publicly Displayed Baby Wild Animals After We Pet Them?

Animal advocacy organizations have stepped up to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to change the rules when it comes to public handling of wildlife.

Baby animals including lions, bears, tigers and primates are often used as a lure by exhibitors who want to profit off of our desire to play with, feed and pose with them. There’s no denying that they’re adorable and hard to resist, but our interaction with these infants continues to cause more problems than it’s worth.

In order to meet the public’s demand, animals continue to be bred to create an endless supply of babies to draw in crowds. Sadly, these infants are taken from their mothers shortly after birth, despite the known adverse effects of being deprived of maternal care on their physical and mental well being, and then subjected to the trauma of transport and public handling. Worse is that some exhibitors continue to try to convince the public that what they’re doing is somehow contributing to conservation efforts, when all they’re doing is creating a surplus of animals no one wants to care for.

Unfortunately, when they outgrow their cuteness, lose their charm and become too big or dangerous to handle, they’re no longer valuable to those who exploit them. Once grown, they often wind up in roadside zoos, sold into the pet trade or slaughtered for their meat. Others who are more fortunate may be taken in by sanctuaries, but they end up taking up space and adding to the financial burdens of these organizations.

As of 2012, there were at least 70 exhibitors in 25 states who were currently or recently allowing the public to handle big cats, bears and/or primates, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Now eight organizations — including the HSUS, World Wildlife Fund, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free USA, the Fund for Animals, Big Cat Rescue and the Detroit Zoological Society –are petitioning the USDA to amend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and change the rules to prohibit the public from coming into direct contact with big cats, bears and non-human primates, regardless of their age. They’re also requesting that young aren’t separated from their mothers or handled before they’re weaned at a species-appropriate age, unless it’s medically necessary.

The organizations are arguing that the current regulations dealing with public handling, “place these animals at risk of harm, threaten public safety, undermine conservation efforts, and encourage irresponsible breeding.”  Additionally, they note that the current rules are hard to enforce and inconsistently applied.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is requesting public comments until October 4, 2013 to help determine what, if any, action should be taken. APHIS would also like to hear whether there are any circumstances where public contact can happen without risks to animals or people, whether exhibitors should be required to keep additional records and what kind of information should be kept and whether exhibitors and dealers should be required to identify animals with tattoos, microchips or other means.

Please submit a comment asking the USDA to make a final rule that bans all public contact with big cats and other wild animals.


Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

Can a man be treated in the same way?

N. Jane Walker
N. Jane Walker2 years ago

The law should reflect the difference between those professionals who are helping versus those who are profitting.

Theresa Hughes
Theresa Hughes2 years ago

So very sad what humans do to animals

Glennis Whitney
Glennis W2 years ago

It is lovely when they are little, but so horrible to see how some are treated when they get too big, at Dreamworld they have a tiger santuary and it very well looked after and regurally inspested, it is lovely there watching the handlers with the big tigers, they also are breeding the tigers helping to keep their population up. They have a very big area to play in too.

Glennis Whitney
Glennis W2 years ago

Thank you for sharing, Born Free and that is the way it should be, after they have been used for profiteering they should not be let out in the wild as alot of the animals are rejected, this is so cruel as they have to fend for themselves.

Jill Warner
Jillian Warner2 years ago

Tigers do not belong in America except under the strictest conditions, as in zoos. The conditions need to be policed & enforced & private ownership should not be allowed as many facilities are not monitored by law. Please help protect tigers, & other big cats by preventing them being handled by paying customers & pass laws for compulsory registration of all exotic animals privately owned, documenting Maintenance, Veterinary, Breeding, Births, Purchases, Sales, Destruction & Movement of every animal on premised

Julie Clayton
Julie Clayton2 years ago

You know, … I am really starting to hate the 'human race' why are these people so cruel to animals, especially baby ones. I just don't understand why & how the Government / and the RSPCA don't go in and have this STOPPED.! …. I will never go to a circus, and not really fond of Zoos, but understand at some Zoos, the animals are well taken care of. All wild animals should be allowed to live their lives in the wild, but have protection from us.!

Samantha Richardson

I love my big cats and I do get upset, thinking about these people exploiting this majestic animals for profit. It's so many levels of wrong, so I hope these organisations are victorious in their lobbying!

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)