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?

No big cats bred in captivity in the U.S. have ever been, and cannot be, released into the wild. These cats simply are not equipped to survive in nature. Moreover, many big cats bred commercially in the U.S. are genetic hybrids, and some are intentionally inbred to produce rare color traits, such as white tigers. None of these cats have any conservation value.

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 non-profit organizations that provide refuge and life-long care for abused, neglected, or unwanted big cats. They do not breed, buy, sell, or trade animals. True sanctuaries do not allow public contact with wild animals of any age. Membership in the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance and accreditation by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) are both signs that a facility is operating according to the highest animal care and safety standards.

What are white tigers and unusual cats like ligers or tigons?

White tigers are the result of a genetic mutation; they are not a separate sub-species of tiger. The cats are highly inbred, because a small percentage of tigers carry the double recessive gene necessary to produce the tigers’ white coats. Consequently, they often suffer congenital defects and lifelong health problems. Big cats including ligers and tigons would never exist in nature, as they result from cross-breeding two different animal species. (A liger is a cross between a male lion and female tiger; a tigon is a cross between a male tiger and female lion.) Bred as curiosities, these cats suffer multiple, serious health problems. For more information, read BCSA’s position statement on white tigers and cross-bred cats.

Picture of a lion from Lions, Tigers, and Bears