Q&A: Big Cats in Captivity

Answers to the most common questions about big cats in captivity

Why can’t big cats bred in captivity be released into the wild?

BCSA is often asked why we are opposed to big cats being bred in the United States, because many people believe that this could help the populations of endangered big cats in the wild. However, big cats bred in the United States (other than those in accredited zoos with conservation plans in place) cannot be released into wild populations. These cats would not know how to fend for themselves and their genetics are of mixed or unknown origin, so they are not suitable to be released into the territory of any of the known subspecies of big cats in the wild.

Picture of a leopard from Keepers of the Wild
Tiger from Black Pine Animal Sanctuary

How can I tell the difference between a “true” and a “pseudo” sanctuary?

True sanctuaries are 501(c)3 organizations that provide refuge and life-long care for abused, neglected, or unwanted big cats. They do not breed, sell, or trade animals. True sanctuaries do not allow public contact with the animals in their care – and in the case of those that are members of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance, even caregivers do not have direct contact with their big cats. Accreditation by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) is also a sign of a true sanctuary.

What about white tigers and ligers?

We often get asked if white tigers and ligers are so rare, why wouldn’t we want to breed them to increase their numbers. Well, white tigers and ligers are rare, because they aren’t natural. While white tigers are sometimes born in the wild due to a genetic mutation, the white tigers in the United States are the result of extensive inbreeding, which causes many congenital defects and health problems. As for hybrids like ligers and tigons, they do not exist in the wild – in fact, lions and tigers do not even live in the same part of the world in the wild. 

Picture of a lion from Lions, Tigers, and Bears