"Om Mani Padme Hum"

On the following pages you'll find images of some of the big cats I've worked around.  These pages are dedicated to them.  May they all be happy forever.

Note, there is a lot of text on this page, so don't forget to scroll down and read it all.  If you do anything while viewing this site, read all the text just below the St. Augustine link.   You can contact me by email with any questions by sending email to kc0tlv at furville dot com

I should also mention that I am not a big cat expert nor do I claim to be.

Pictures of Maya     Pictures of Camille     Pictures of Zephon

Pictures above were taken at Greenville Wildlife Park, Greenville NH - and my thanks go to the management of Greenville Wildlife Park for their gracious permission to work around and photograph their cats.

"I have sworn a solemn oath that I will do everything I can to work toward the survival of the tiger sub-species that still exist today, this is my sacred duty for which failure is not an option, and that if needed I am prepared to make whatever personal sacrifice necessary in their defense. I have shed an uncountable sum of tears for them. I feel a profound sense of loss that knows no equal each time I learn of another tiger having been killed for it's pelt, bones and organs for sale & trade on the black market. It is to bear witness to an atrocity that has no suitable punishment. I am very passionate about their survival. I cannot save them all, but I have vowed that I will directly do what I can for at least a few of them and in so doing perhaps the work I will do will be of benefit to them all." ~ me

A letter for you

My name is David Holt. First off, let me say that I don't profess to be an expert in big cat husbandry.  I have logged several hundred hours volunteering at facilities that care for these wonderful animals, but that does not make me an expert - nor does my self study reading such books as "Wild mammals in captivity - principles and techniques".  While it's a very comprehensive book, no book can replace practical experience.  I feel a combination of practical hands-on and study of theory is best to prepare you for the work, happiness and hardships, joys and sadness, frustrations and true contentment that can come from working around exotic cats.

It is my hope that you will come away from this site having learned a few things and with some of the information you need to make an educated decision about whether or not you really want and/or should work around and/or with big cats.

A trend which I find extremely alarming is the notion of feeding big cats a strictly vegetarian diet. BIG CATS ARE OBLIGATE CARNIVORES! This means they need to consume animal matter to attain the nutrients their bodies have adapted to require in order to survive. Go here for the definition of Obligate Carnivore. The digestive tract of a big cat is highly acidic and works very quickly. Big cats require a strictly meat diet in order to survive and thrive. Their metabolism isn't built to digest and utilize vegetable protein. Regardless of your moral or ethical dilemma regarding animals as food sources, all Feloidae (felines) have evolved to be strict carnivores. You should not subject your cats to your own moral and ethical concerns regarding the consumption of meat. It is my opinion that to do so, when having heard of the results of such actions (poor health resulting in a very untimely death) is a crime against the animal.

Allow me to include some excerpts from a document titled "METHOD AND COMPOSITION TO PROTECT AN OBLIGATE CARNIVORE FROM A DISEASE OF ABNORMAL CARBOHYDRATE METABOLISM".

"Cats and dogs are the most common companion animals kept by man. As they are both members of the biological order Camivora, there is a tendency to assume that these two carnivores have similar nutritional requirements. However, there are important differences in the metabolism and nutritional requirements of cats and dogs ; see, for example, Morris et al. , 1989, in Waltham Symposium 7, Nutrition of the Dog and Cat ed.

Burger et al. , Cambridge University Press, pp. 35-66.

The Feloidae (Felids, Hyaenids, and Viverrids) diverged from the other members of the order Camivora relatively early in their evolutionary development. In contrast to the Canoidae (Canids, Ursids, Procyonids and Mustelids), all members of the Feloidae are flesh-eaters, i. e. strict or obligate carnivores. A comparison of the nutritional requirements of cats and dogs as representative members of the Feloidae and Canoidae supports the thesis that specialization consistent with the evolutionary influence of a strict carnivorous diet has occurred in cats ; see, for example, MacDonald et al. , 1984, Ann.

Rev. Nutr. 4, pp. 521-562. A strict carnivorous diet implies the intake of a high protein, moderate fat, and very low carbohydrate diet, following the composition of prey animals.

However, omnivorous species, like dogs, are adapted to both plant and animal food sources. Plants, unlike animals, have high carbohydrate stores in the form of starches.

One adaptation to a strictly carnivorous diet are differences in carbohydrate metabolism. For example, while the feline liver contains hexokinase, the enzyme responsible for the first step in glucose metabolism, it contains no glucokinase, which is a hexokinase that exhibits a significantly higher activity for the specific phosphorylation of glucose. Therefore, cats and other obligate carnivores might not be expected to be well adapted for the ingestion of high carbohydrate meals ; see, for example, Morris et al., 1989, ibid. Additionally, the release of insulin from a cat's pancreas (insulin causes the cellular uptake of glucose from the blood) is dissimilar to that observed in most other species, appearing to be less responsive to glucose as a stimulus ; see, for example, Curry et al., 1982, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 72A, pp. 333-338.

Another adaptation to a strictly carnivorous diet relates to the utilization of protein (made up of amino acids) and fat for energy production. Production of glucose from amino acids and fats is called gluconeogenesis. In an omnivore, gluconeogenesis occurs primarily in starvation situations, when the animal needs glucose to fuel its metabolism but can obtain it only from its own muscle protein ; see, for example, Zubay, 1993, Biochemistry, Addison-Wesley. However, in an obligate carnivore, such as the cat, gluconeogenesis appears to be active at all times in the liver, regardless of nutritional status. Since an obligate carnivore normally has very low intake of carbohydrate, and its carbon sources are primarily protein and fat, it would be expected that the liver would be adapted for use of proteins as its primary source of glucose, rather than carbohydrate.

Additionally, it appears that cats, unlike omnivorous species, have limited ability to regulate the catabolic enzymes of amino acid metabolism. Therefore, when cats are fed a low protein diet, a high obligatory nitrogen loss results. Inability to down-regulate breakdown of amino acids accounts for the observed need for a significantly higher protein intake for cats relative to dogs ; see, for example, Rogers et al. , 1980, in Nutrition of theDogand Cat, ed. R. S. Anderson, Oxford-PermagonPress, pp. 145-156.

Furthermore, cats and other obligate carnivores require animal source foods to meet their requirements for certain nutrients. For example, in contrast to dogs, cats cannot convert carotene from plants to Vitamin A ; cats cannot synthesize niacin from tryptophan ; cats cannot synthesize arachidonic acid from linoleic acid ; and cats cannot synthesize sufficient taurine from cysteine. All of these nutrients can be found in a carnivorous diet ; see, for example MacDonald et al. , 1984, ibid.

Taken together, these data suggest that obligate carnivores, such as cats, are adapted to the use of protein not only for normal structural development and repair, but also as the primary source of energy via the process of gluconeogenesis."

-Reference: the article on the World Intellectual Property Organization Website for the article in its entirety.

According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association July 1, 2006, Vol. 229, No. 1, Pages 70-73 doi: 10.2460/javma.229.1.70, a study was conducted, comparing the results of 34 cats (Felis catus) fed vegetarian diets against 52 cats (Felis catus) fed a traditional diet consisting of meat products. The result of this study showed low blood and tissue taurine levels, as well as B12 (cobalamin) deficiences.

"Cobalamin functions as a coenzyme, and deficiences in this nutrient can cause neuropathies, anemia and poor growth" - Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, July 1 2006, Vol 229 No.1 pages 70-73

In this article it is further stated that:

"Cobalamin (B12) can only be obtained from animal sources ... therefore it must be added as a supplement in vegetarian cat foods"

There is just no way to avoid the need of feeding animal products to cats. Period.

I have heard the horror stories of exotic cats being fed purely vegetarian diets who suffer from stunted growth and other problems due to the lack of adequate nutrients and, most often, live a very short life and die before the age of 3, if they live that long. Remember, cats are obligate carnivores. They as a bio-chemical organism have evolved to attain all of what they need from meat, and meat alone. Feeding a vegetarian diet to a large feline will end with the certain death of the animal, plus it will have no quality of life during it's shortened lifespan. It will suffer developmental problems with weak bones, poor eyesight as it is not receiving needed taurine which is critical to formation and maintenance of the retina, and possibly suffer from developmental issues in the brain as well.

Feed cats a meat diet.

Exotic "pets":

Tigers are wild animals, regardless of how many generations have been born in captivity. They are wild. They have all of their wild instincts fully in tact and not one bit watered down. To consider a tiger, or other big cat to be a "pet" is a serious mistake. Domestic animals are pets. A tiger is not a pet. These animals require specialized training, lots of experience to work with safely and housing requirements that match their size and strength.

Fish are pets. Mice, gerbils and rats are pets. Your 9lb domestic feline is a pet. Your dog is a pet. A 650lb wild animal is not a pet by these definitions. Websters dictionary defines pet as:

"any domesticated or tamed animal that is kept as a companion and cared for affectionately"

Tigers are not tame animals. Yes, if you know what you are doing, you can work with them safely. Let me repeat that - if you know what you are doing! However they are not and should never be considered tame nor are they domesticated, therefore they do not fall under the classification of pet.

Considering a tiger a "pet" is likely to get you killed, and certainly not in the best interests of safety from the standpoint that you must always think of a tiger as a wild animal. The term "pet" summons images of an animal that is docile and will never hurt you. Tigers can easily hurt you, and since all of their wild instincts are fully intact, if you do not have a very good understanding of tiger behaviour you may well make one mistake, such as turning your back on the animal, and it's been said that you'll get a chance to do that only once in your life, which will probably be the last thing you do.

Wild animals are not pets.

The remaining five tiger sub-species (bengal (native to India), Siberian (native to the Amur regions of the Russian far east), Sumatran (native to Sumatra), Indo-chinese and south China (native to Asia)) are all critically endangered. Before you consider owning a tiger you should learn about their plight, you need to take the time to learn everything you can about them. About their feeding requirements (no, you cannot make a cat a vegetarian and to try to do so is to kill the cat). You should strongly consider your reasons for wanting a tiger. If it's because of a macho or prestige thing then you are making a serious mistake and doing a great disservice to the animal.

To be able to breed your stock toward the survival of said species you need to be AZA accredited and a member of the SSP (species survival plan). It has it's up-sides and down-sides. The upside to this is that all the animals that qualify for that have been genetically tested to be pure sub-species animals (in the case of tigers, Amur or Siberian, Sumatran, Bengal, South China and Indochinese subspecies) and not a cross of any type. This ensures the pure survival of said subspecies. The downside is that there are probably cats out there that could qualify for studbook registration but because they are not owned by an accredited facility they can not breed toward the perpetuation of the species. Remember, all tiger subspecies are critically endangered! Think about that before you consider taking one out of the potential gene pool. For information on their population status you should go here and click on the various links to the subspecies, then explore the rest of the site.

A word or two about Common Sense - if you lack it, do yourself and the animal a favor and don't get involved with exotic animals. Just don't. That should be enough said about that.

These animals are powerful and quick enough to kill you, either aggressively or just by playing as they would with another cat, quicker than your backup can help you - in some cases so quickly as to render your backup handler useless. They can move much faster than you think. Faster than your eye & brain can register the movement. If you are considering this, do your homework, learn everything you can. Read some of the books in my recommended reading list - one title in particular is a must read - "Wild Mammals in Captivity - Principles and Techniques". Also, take a moment or two and ask yourself "Why do I want to get involved with exotic animals?". If the answer comes back "to impress my friends" or has anything to do with ego - don't get involved with exotic animals. They are not ego toys, nor are they toys to impress your buddies. They have complex emotions, and need tons of attention.

One thing I feel it's very important to say here - you'll see some very cute pictures that might make you want to go right out and buy a tiger cub. Know this - it takes a great deal more experience, money and knowledge than you might think to care for one of these special creatures.  If you are going to own a tiger you should absolutely work to gain the experience and training necessary to handle, feed and care for the tiger safely and properly, that is a requirement for responsible ownership. As said above, common sense is another prerequisite.

Reality Check - This Could Be You

This bowl and bucket were mangled in about two to five seconds by an adult African lion. Just two to five seconds to reduce 9 guage stainless steel to this. Imagine if you were the target of that aggression...This may seem to be extreme and unbelievable but it's the reality of what you are dealing with, not an over-exaggeration.

VERY IMPORTANT! Don't go out and buy a tiger of any age if you don't have experience with them.  If you don't know how to bottle feed a tiger cub then for Gods' sake don't get one that's still on the bottle!  Bottle feeding a tiger cub is an excellent way to bond with it - but it's not at all for the inexperienced!  I'm not going to tell you here how to do it properly.  I myself don't know all the ins and outs of it (no pun intended). Again and I can't say this enough, ask yourself "why do I want to do this? For what reason? What good will it do the species?"

Get bottle feeding training and experience from an experienced tiger handler.  Keep spare feeding equipment on hand - as one site stated - rotate your feeding nipples so in case one breaks your cat will easily switch to another.  Cubs generally feed only from one teat on the mother, so they can become nipple fixated and may not eat from your spare unless they are accustomed to it - then you've got a hungry squalling cub on your hands who won't eat - stressful for you and potentially life threatening for the cub.  Make sure you have access to the proper milk replacers such as KMRTM which is manufactured by PetAg® supplemented with Fortifier PlusTM which is manufactured by Apperon®. Enroll in an exotic animal husbandry course.  Volunteer at a local zoo or wildlife park and work your way into learning all you can about all aspects of big cat care.  Get some serious hours under your belt working around the cat you wish to eventually own and care for.  There are specific regulations regarding the amount of hours needed to obtain permits which vary from state to state.  The bottom line here is this - obtain enough training and experience so you are competent in raising a big cat sucessfully.  Inexperience can kill - you, the cat or both!

Check local, state and federal laws regarding the keeping of tigers on your property, and check the zoning on your property - consult your neighbors (it's best to find out who will object before you get the cat) all before you even start thinking about contacting someone to obtain your cat from.

I mentioned above something about a backup handler. If you work in close contact with big cats do you have a backup person there who knows what to do and is prepared in case something goes wrong? Does he/she know what to do and be ready to do it? I've seen backup personnel freeze up in fear during an incident. I've seen backup personnel that don't have a clear idea of the exact steps to take during an emergency. CO2 fire extinguishers are a very good thing to have on hand. A blast near the face (anything more than 2 feet away) will likely be enough of a frightening new distraction to change the animals focus from the person being injured to either moving away or re-direct the aggression elsewhere for hopefully just long enough to give the injured party a chance to get free and out of harms way. The backup person needs to be as skilled in working with and reading the big cat as the primary handler does - you are a second set of eyes and need to be fully aware of what is happening at all times in case you are needed. Tigers for instance, while having stable personalities can in an instant go from mild to total aggression should they feel that they or something they claim as their own is being threatened. Food is very serious buisness with big cats. I've personally seen the most mellow tiger I know become a snarling, teeth bared growling and roaring beast in the presence of his food, and who would most likely kill anyone in between him and his food, or in close enough proximity to be a percieved threat or competitor. This cat in particular weighs probably 800lbs and has forelegs as big as my thighs.

Another interesting fact, tigers are about 60% bone & muscle mass - the rest of them is made up of internal organs and other biomechanisms for sustaining life. That's right, 60% of their size & weight is attributed to muscle & bone.

Raising and caring for a tiger can be a very expensive proposition.  For instance, raising one tiger can easily cost you $3,600.00 per year (during their adult stages of life) in food costs alone, depending on your cost per pound - this price does not include the required nutrient supplements.  The average enclosure plus required perimiter fencing can easily cost over $10,000.00 - if you have small children and think you can let your tiger have close contact with that child - forget it - big cats and small kids don't mix.  Veterinary care will both be a hell of a lot more expensive, and much more difficult to find.  Proper nutrition is a topic unto itself - you have to know when to feed, how much to feed, how much of what type of nutrient supplement to use for your particular species.  If you have plans on building your facility, having your cat with the idea in mind that in a few years you'll up and move to a new state by choice - consider this:  you'll either have to have a friend whom you trust implicity who has a good facility with all the required permits etc to leave your animals at while you build the enclosures on your new property - or you will have to buy your new property and while still owning the old, have contractors build some permanent or temporary caging that meets or exceeds state and federal animal welfare regulations before you can transport your cats.  You should also become familiar with applicable sections of the AWA (animal welfare act) which can be found at the USDA's website.

You'll also need to find reliable sources for the meat you'll be feeding out who can supply you the quantity of food you will need and I would suggest having a back-up source in case your primary supplier is out.  You'll also need to have freezers large enough to store the meat.  Walk-ins aren't cheap but they work well - however the size of freezer unit(s) you get will depend on how much food you want to keep on hand - buying in bulk is probably cheaper than on an as-needed basis.  I would suggest you keep at least a one month supply of meat in your deep freezer.  I have seen a facility with a temperature controlled thawing chest - expensive but well worth the money as it would slowly thaw out the meat and prevent it from spoiling prior to feed-out.  Emergency generation unit(s) capable of running your freezers are an important suggested addition to your commisary facility. 

Tigers are a costly affair. Let's start considering how much it would cost to obtain, properly house and care for a tiger for the first year including initial set-up of the facility to house the tiger properly and legally.

First, you will need to build a good sized cage that at the bare minimum meets state and federal regulations for size and strength. This will cost you, if you stick to the accepted minimum standards at current prices between $5,000.00 and $6,000.00. Next you must have a perimiter fence that is at least 8' high with a 3' 45 degree overhang -or- 10 to 12 feet high with no overhang, that is at the minimum for safety 5' larger in diameter than the enclosure that houses the tiger. That will cost you roughly $10,000.00

So our current running total is at $15,000.00. For a class 1 animal such as a tiger you will need state permits and it's a really good idea to also secure permits from the USDA. Initial granting of the licenses will be about $1,000.00 for both but this will vary a little from state to state. Your food costs for this first year will be right around 600 per month X 12 months and we're at $7,200.00. While it is not required by law it is a very good idea, given the wild nature of a tiger, to obtain a general liability insurance policy. That's another $5,000.00 to $10,000.00 per year. It's getting more difficult to obtain these policies as fewer and fewer insurance carriers will offer such a policy if they know a big cat is involved.

In most cases in states that require permits (there are currently 36 states that require a state permit for the keeping of a wild animal) you will need to have, as in the case of Florida, 1,000 documented hours working at a facility that houses a member of the species you are thinking of purchasing. This means volunteering 1,000 hours of your time at a facility that will allow you to document your hours with them and sign-off on those hours so you can obtain your permit. Not every sanctuary out there will allow you to do this. Now let's take the 1,000 hours. If you divide 1,000 by 8 you come up with 125. This is the number of 8 hour days you will have to volunteer your time to accrue the required amount of hours. This works out to 8 hours a day, 7 days a week for a little over four months. If you can not devote this amount of time (and if you are not independently wealthy you are obviously gainfully employed and probably have one day per week free to devote to the volunteer work) it is obviously going to take you longer to work the required amount of hours. Let's say you can devote 1 day a week, working 8 hours for that day, every week, that's roughly 32 hours per month. If you divide 1000 into 32, you come up with 31.25 - that is the number of months it will take you at that rate to earn the number of hours you need. That's a very long time, is it not? And during that length of time there's a whole bunch of monkey-wrenches and road-blocks that could easily be thrown into your path, setting you completely off-schedule.

You want a white tiger? Be prepared to pay between $5000.00 to $130,000 depending on it's bloodline, coloration (does it have pure white fur and pure black stripes? If so the cost is tremendously higher as these are considered to be as pure in the white tiger bloodline as it gets). You should know that white tigers are the result of a double recessive gene, and most white tigers that are bred for color (designer tigers) are therefore inbred, have genetic deficiencies and may well develop health problems as they get older, and thus do nothing toward the preservation of the species.

OK, so if you want a "regular orange and black" tiger, depending on the sub-species can cost anywhere from $3,000.00 to $25,000.00 for the more rare subspecies such as siberian tigers.

You should have a reserve of money set aside for veterinary care. You will need to have specialized means of transporting the animal to and from the vet should a condition exist that is serious enough, most vets routinely don't deal with wild animals in office visits - most often it means a "house call" which will cost you much more than a normal visit, and even at that veterinary care for wild animals is both specialized and therefore far more expensive than what you may be accustomed to when dealing with a domestic animal.

What I am trying to stress to you here is that owning a tiger is a huge, monumental responsibility. Let's also not forget that you are now in charge of an animal that is an endangered species, perilously close to going extinct in the wild. What good do you pledge to do for that animals salvation? It's species salvation from extinction?

Providing enrichment for your cat is another important and necessary routine. This means giving your animals mind something to do - a bare cage breeds a bored cat. Boredom leads to stereotypical behaviors such as pacing and more. Boomer balls are a great source of play for your cat. Next time your in the enclosure cleaning it up, spread around some different scents. Try different things like cinnamon, spearmint oil, peppermint oil, garlic, catnip - try different things but check for species specific toxicity before you try them! One site I read suggested making a tug-of-war toy for your cat out of used firehose. Just make sure the cat doesn't tear it apart and ingest any of it. Firehose is pretty tough stuff but you should still be careful. Any ingestion of this stuff can easily cause an intestinal impaction that can threaten your cats life and easily require emergency surgery to resolve. Be creative - try to think like a cat and what a cat would like to play with. Make it durable! Try putting meat into pumpkins and setting that out in the enclosure - stuff like that. Blood-sicles in the summer make good treats - as does blocks of ice with blood and other meat treats frozen in. It may sound gross to you but your cat will love it.

Make elevated platforms strong enough to support at least one and a half times your cat's weight to ensure durability. Add shade to your enclosure - in many locations shade is mandatory and in all cases it's good common sense to give your cat shelter from the sun and elements. They need solid leak-proof denboxes to hold up in out of the rain if they want - and protection from the hot sun. Make sure they have access to lots of good clean drinking water. It'll be difficult to keep the water bucket or dish clean as your cat is likely to step in it or something so you need to check it frequently. Portable ponds are a great addition to your cats enclosure (for those cats who will immerse in water like tigers) - it provides a way to cool off in the heat of the summer, and a neat place where your cat can hide, semi-submerged until you pass by at which time your cat can bolt up out of the water and splash you - I don't know why but tigers seem to get a kick out of that. They have a wicked mischevous streak sometimes. This isn't all you can do - there are websites with lots of information such as Enrichment Org where you can find lots of good information on animal enrichment. Click here for an automatic Google Search for the topic animal enrichment.

Tigers in captivity are usually fed beef, chicken and horsemeat.  So if you are aghast at the idea of feeding your tiger the horse you perhaps rode 3 years ago - get real.  That's what they will eat, and (so I've been told) horsemeat is often better for them than beef.  In their wild habitat they eat deer, elk, birds and other animals.  Think about what they eat in the wild - muscle meat, organ meat - everything, so ordinary off the shelf human consumption beef ain't gonna cut it.  Their bodies have evolved so that they need what they get from what they eat - the entire animal - heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, stomach, muscles, tendons, eyes ... hope this doesn't gross you out - this is reality folks.

Here's another hard reality folks - if your cat should (fate forbid!) injure someone or escape, the first reaction from the authorities is to destroy the cat.  It's the job of the police to ensure public safety and most law enforcement officers and precinct offices do not understand big cats other than to think that it's going to kill someone.  That thinking includes all species of wild felines, from serval size cats to tigers.  Nine times out of ten they will shoot first and ask questions later.  So make sure your enclosure is escape proof and that you have rigidly followed protocols for checking locks after exiting an enclosure - don't think it's locked securely - KNOW it's locked securely.

Check the padlocks, chains, door latches and hinges and other critical areas constantly for signs of wear and/or corrosion.  Cat urine can speed the corrosive process of rust. Parts wear out, rust slowly (or not so slowly) destroys metal hinges and other parts of an enclosure.  If you have a question about the strength of a particular part - replace it as soon as possible - until such time secure the door or part of the fence with extra chains or clamps that will be non-injurious to the cat should it come in contact with that area - around the broken part.  Check for and remove sharp edges around the broken area.  If you think the chain is too small - use a heavier chain or double-chain the door.  If you are in doubt about that padlock - replace it immediately from your spare stock of padlocks (you do keep spares on hand, don't you?) .  If you see something bent or broken in a critical spot, even if it's backed up by a secondary securing point - fix it today as quickly as possible.  Keep spare chain link (or whatever you've constructed your enclosure from) parts on hand to replace any part if necessary - poles, a roll or two of chain link, clamps, hinges, brackets etc - try to think in worst case scenario mode - what if a tree fell on part of the fence today, would I be able to fix it quickly and prevent escape?  Set up a routine and a check-list for yourself for inspection rounds of your enclosure.  Stick to it even if you have a bad headache or you feel sick - stick to your safety routine.  Don't take any chances with the life of your animal.

Have a back-up plan in place in case you become ill to the point where you can not adequately take care of the animal, such as a car accident, broken leg or emergency that requires hospitalization.  Have someone trustworthy in place to take your place who is trained in your routines, safety protocols and checks, familiar with your animals and that your animals are familiar with - chances are good that your absence will cause some stress for your animals - the point here is to minimize that as much as possible.  Make sure if you are in a state that requires permits, that this selected person is covered under your permit and can deal with the local, state and federal authorities on your behalf if necessary.  I strongly suggest a durable power of attorney be drawn up to cover such situations where applicable.

How fast can you evacuate your cats (if time allows) to a safe location should your property be threatened by forest fire?  Flood?  Hurricane?  Do you have an alternate location set up and ready to go?  Is your transport trailer currently registered and inspected?  Are your rolling cages ready to go, no flat tires?  Is your transport vehicle gassed up and ready to go?

It's all about Procedure - Procedure - Procedure

This sounds like a lot of stuff to think about - doesn't it ... there's more to learn that's not listed here - stuff I haven't learned yet.  Does this page make me sound like a hard-ass and a stickler for details and rigidly followed protocols?  I admit I am and as far as the care of exotic animals go, I'm proud to be one.

Does it sound like I'm saying "No, don't get one"?  Well if you aren't ready to commit to that animal for it's 20 to 25 year lifespan, have a sound financial plan to care and feed this animal for that length of time, and you don't feel you need to obtain training and experience in good husbandry techniques, study and learn local state and federal laws regarding the keeping of exotic animals, build enclosures and a perimiter fence to state regulation surrounding the enclosure, provide environmental enrichment for your cats, such as toys like boomer balls for tigers, scratching logs, elevated platforms able to support an animal of that weight and size (consider a Siberian tiger - weight average 650lbs for a male - can reach 11 feet in length nose to tailtip, and can stand 3 feet high at the shoulder - standing can reach 11 feet with front and back legs fully extended), a variable enrichment routine, disaster transport protocols, experience with tranqulizing equipment, an alternate housing facility to act as a temporary home for your tiger in case of emergency such as forest fire - flood - hurricane, obtain insurance in case someone gets injured by your cat, obtain all the needed state and federal permits where applicable, check your county laws and ordinances regarding the keeping of exotic animals, discuss your plans with your neighbors and be prepared to fight against bans that would strip you of your right to own and strip you of your animal, then yes, I'm telling you DO NOT EVER GET AN EXOTIC ANIMAL.

I've heard about too many people buying one without knowing what they are getting into, winding up in way over their heads and once the animal leaves the cute cub stage and gets BIG, owners needing to dump them because now they can no longer handle the animal.  This is seldom good for the animal as it now has been thrust into strange surroundings and must now adapt to a new environment after a year or two of living with one set routine, and also adapting to a new diet - all of which causes stress for the animal.  In worst case scenarios the animal awaits placement somewhere and may be euthanized while still healthy simply because there isn't a place that has the space or ability to take in the big cat.

If you intend on working with the animal at all, be prepared to do so on a consistent daily basis.  It's not something you can start doing, then skip a month.  If you will be alone most of the time when cleaning the enclosure you should have a lock-out area with a heavy cable operated guillotine door to lock the tiger out of the main enclosure while you clean it or work on it.  Remember when you enter the cage your in the tigers' turf - it's attitude toward you may be different than if you had it out of the enclosure.  Heck, it may just get too playful when your back is turned and pounce on you with the intent of being playful.  That usually causes serious to fatal injuries. 

Your enclosure should also be built with a double-entry gate, and pins on the gates so they can not open outward.  This will help prevent an escape.  Padlocks on the entry gates are highly recommended and also mandated by state regulations in some states.  Having at least one, perhaps two padlocks is a very wise idea.  You should also keep the keys in a locked secure place in your house, known only to you and those authorized to enter the enclosure.  Keeping spare padlocks is a good idea in case you get one that fails.  Using all weather padlocks, especially in cold or very humid/rainy environments is another really wise idea.

If the cat does injure someone you have over visiting who decides to have a look at your cat and gets too close because of inadequate safety protocols, the authorities usually will confiscate and euthanize the animal - and send it's head off to have the brain examined for rabies.  If you intend to exhibit your animal, first of all you will need the required USDA Class C exhibitors permits - failure to obtain them will result in confiscation by the authorities and also monetary fines.  It is suggested that if you will be exhibiting, you put up a barrier fence at a sufficient height and distance to prevent anyone from reaching over to the cage and contacting the animal.  The USDA and also state authorities have set strict guidelines about what size and age the public may, and may not come in contact with a tiger.  Exhibiting is a whole different ball game - that's not primarily what this page is about.  This is mostly about ownership of tigers as done by responsible individuals.

You should also have written into your will plans on what to be done with the animal in case of your accidental early demise.  Often big cats are left homeless when the owner dies.  I've seen that happen.  Without plans your cat awaits an unknown fate.  If you are older, say in your 60's and you are getting a tiger - make sure you are physically fit enough to handle the animal, if not there should be someone nearby or living with you who is.  This would be to help crate the animal for trips to the vet - moving it quickly in case of emergency etc.  And by all means if you have a will written and plans for disposition of the cat when you die are not outlined - think them out and have your will re-written to include them.  They are your property.

And even though this is a lengthy and seemingly thorough list - this doesn't cover everything.  

Sounds complicated, doesn't it?  You bet it is.  It's way more involved then caring for the average domestic dog or cat.  And even dogs & cats require more care than the average owner realizes or is willing to give.  I've seen folks buy or adopt a cat, then just leave it to it's own devices to find it's own fun, never supplying toys, affection - all they do is put down food and water during the day.  Kittens and puppies especially need lots of attention while they are growing.  That is the chief time that they are learning rules of engagement with people, developing their social bonding.  The same goes for tigers, or any exotic animal.

If you are serious about owning a big cat - get some experience working around them first.  Find a zoo or sanctuary that will let you work around them, and have some contact with them first.  Learn everything you can first.  Read books on the subject, some of which are listed in the book list link below first.   You should have at least 1,000 hours practical experience working around a tiger before you even consider owning one.  Oh, and vacations?  Forget it unless you have someone who has the same amount of experience as you, someone you can trust to watch over the cats while you are gone.  Exotic animals need a greater level of care then a domestic animal.

For the curious, here's a list of books covering exotic animal management and care -  Click Here

Let me explain why I work around tigers

I have tried to sum up in ways everyone would understand why it is my passion is working with these animals.  I have found no words can express what I feel when I am working among them.  It's something I feel deep inside, and descriptions of the feeling pale in comparison.

For those of you who may work with big cats, or have found whatever it is that brings you complete happiness and contentment, you understand what it is for me to be doing this.  It's something you feel, deep down inside yourself, telling you this is the right path for your life.  That is how it is for me.

Before working around the cats, I knew I wanted to work around them but had no real understanding of all it meant, or all that was involved.  Having now spent a fair amount of time in thier company, I am pretty much convinced that working around them is truly what I want to do for the rest of my life - truly what has brought me total contentment.  I was not however prepared for the level of connection I felt toward the tigers that I came to know, and found it an awesome, joyous and sometimes bittersweet experience.  Now, I really can't imagine myself doing anything else - sure I may have to work a corporate job while I work on other plans, but my heart and much of my thinking will always belong to tigers.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tigers have found a way into my heart and become a fixture in my thinking.  I haven't been able to say the right words to fully express all it is for me, working with tigers - maybe someday I'll be able to.  It goes far beyond simple feelings and emotions. 

One thing is absolutely certain - the experience has permanently changed my life.

If you have a hard time understanding all of this, it is because you have not yet found that which brings you contentment and real happiness - I hope you do, whatever it may be.

These are some stories that came about from three dreams I had about tigers - a good friend of mine and author has taken the basic ideas of the dreams and created three invidivual stories out of them - each based on the dreams I had - you can view them here:

Forever Sleep - The Price to Pay - To Take A Stand

"When you find something which brings you complete happiness and contentment, as this has for me, you find a way to make it a permanent place in your life, no matter how hard it may be."

Now, as your next stop you should visit My Tiger Info Page

Site last updated 4/07/2005 - 2003-2005 David A. Holt - all rights reserved