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Law Library of Congress Report on Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats

The following is a guest post by Laney Zhang, Foreign Law Specialist for China.  Laney is no stranger to In Custodia Legis.  Her previous posts have included: The Rule of Law in China: New Titles in Our CollectionCrouching Tiger, Hidden Author; Trains and Corruption in China; Baby Pandas and the Law: In Memory of Mei Xiang’s Cub; Happy Lunar New Year!; and Supreme Court of China, 99 Years Ago.

We recently published a report titled Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats on the Current Legal Topics page of the Law Library of Congress website.

“The tiger’s prey” (by S. D. Ehrhart, artist; published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, 1913; photographed by Underwood & Underwood).  Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This report surveys the different legal approaches taken by twenty-one countries and the European Union in regulating the private possession of big cats.  The countries surveyed in the report include: Austria; Brazil; Canada; China; Costa Rica; Denmark; England; Greece; India; Israel; Japan; Lebanon; Malaysia; Mexico; Norway; Russian Federation; South Africa; Spain; Thailand; Turkey; and Vietnam.

All these countries are members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  The individual country surveys describe the domestic laws regarding keeping big cats in captivity, licensing requirements, and permission for breeding.  In most cases, the prohibition or restriction on keeping big cats in captivity comes from each country’s wildlife protection or animal welfare laws.  The provisions of England and Denmark were found to be contained in a single piece of legislation regulating dangerous animals.

Many of the countries we surveyed were found to have domestic legislation prohibiting or restricting the private possession of certain species of big cats; a family or subfamily that big cats belong to; predators; or rare or endangered species, with species of big cats living in the country being specifically listed.

Image of a jaguar hide, Bom Jesus de Lapa, Brazil (between 1930 and 1947). Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In Austria, for example, big cats cannot be kept anywhere except in qualified zoos.  This restriction applies to all members of the Pantherinae subfamily as well as to cheetahs and smaller wild cats, except for native wild cats (felis sylverstris) and lynx. These zoos are most likely to be owned at the municipal level, which would hardly qualify for private ownership.

Ownership of dangerous wild animals is permitted in England, but the owner must obtain a license for each animal held.  All cats, including the bobcat, caracal, cheetah, jaguar, leopard, lion, lynx, ocelot, puma, serval, and tiger, are subject to the ownership restrictions.  The pallas cat, little spotted cat, Geoffroy’s cat, kodkod, bay cat, sand cat, black-footed cat, rusty-spotted cat, and domestic cat are excepted.

China, India, Malaysia, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam are tiger range countries where tigers still exist in the wild.  The laws of China, India, and Russia specifically designate wild tigers in the country as state property.  In countries that have been accused of operating tiger farms, where stocks of tigers are bred for human utilization, such as China and Vietnam, the report found it is legal to keep and breed tigers in facilities that are licensed or otherwise permitted by government.

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