In captivity

Big cats (the species belonging to the Panthera genus: lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard) are wild animals whose complex way of life and biological characteristics place great demands on their living conditions. FOUR PAWS is sceptical regarding the keeping of big cats in captivity, as it is almost impossible to provide species-appropriate accommodation and care. According to FOUR PAWS, big cats should not be kept as pets or for entertainment purposes, like in circuses. Therefore, keeping big cats in captivity should only be allowed in certain certified zoos, sanctuaries and rescue centres.

Unsuitable conditions

FOUR PAWS estimates that at least 2,000 big cats are still kept under poor conditions in captivity in Europe. Unsuitable housing and inadequate care for these animals can result in malnutrition, illness and stereotypic behaviour. Another problem arises from uncontrolled reproduction and inbreeding. This occurs when zoos, circuses and private owners breed big cats without having a suitable and permanent future location available for the offspring. The consequence is a constant accretion of animals that cannot be placed anywhere and as a result either are either killed or (illegally) traded.


Despite the poignant effects for animal welfare, most cases fall within the limits of existing legislation. In a number of European countries, private keeping of big cats is legal. The owners often do not have sufficient expertise and the animals suffer from unsuitable housing and care. Also the conditions in zoos, especially in many Eastern European counties, are very poor; big cats are kept in small concrete cages without enrichment. Often the animals are sick and suffer from permanent stress.

Lion Ivan-Asen was born due to uncontrolled inbreeding in a zoo in Bulgaria and kept there under very bad conditions. FOUR PAWS rescued him and he was brought to FELIDA Big Cat Centre in March 2018.


The same applies to animals kept for entertainment purposes, like in circuses and the film industry. Welfare problems arise due to intense travelling, unnatural training and intensive interaction with people. For many years FOUR PAWS has been fighting for a ban on using wild animal in circuses. In the Netherlands with success, as big cats and other wild animal species have been banned from circuses since 15 September 2015. But Europe still has about 300 circuses using wild animals that constantly travel around from place to place to perform in shows.

Animals in circuses suffer under continuous stress.
© FOUR PAWS | Fred Dott



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