Rafah Zoo in Gaza


Learn more about how we help suffering big cats across the world 


Why does FOUR PAWS rescue big cats?

Big cats suffer worldwide. This is because many are kept under inadequate conditions in private keeping, circuses as well as poorly managed zoos, and are exploited for commercial and trade purposes. FOUR PAWS aims to protect captive big cats from suffering and to reduce the number of animals that are kept under inappropriate conditions. Our focus lays on the rescue and advocacy of big cats that come from inappropriate conditions and bringing them to our big cat sanctuaries as well as partner projects. 

In addition, FOUR PAWS cooperates with any/the relevant authorities on the implementation of long-term solutions. This involves initiating legal policies and standards for the care and species-appropriate keeping of big cats in captivity. With this strategy, FOUR PAWS has succeeded shutting down numerous inappropriate and illegal keeping conditions.

What types of big cat abuse exist?

Unfortunately, there are many animal welfare issues for captive big cats globally, especially for lions and tigers. FOUR PAWS tries to evaluate each case and to intervene where possible, while our main focus lays within following key engagements:

  • In several European countries, big cats are still legally and illegally kept as pets by private persons, or used as attraction magnets in circuses and inappropriate zoos, where they can be used for the purpose of shows and even for direct interactions with visitors.
  • Due to legislative grey zones, the commercial trade of captive big cats, especially tigers, is legal and out of control throughout the European Union. Authorities have no precise information about the exact number being kept and traded in the EU, nor do they have any concrete data of their whereabouts and the conditions surrounding their life. This includes not knowing what happens with their bodies and derivatives once dead.
  • In South Africa, it is mainly lions that are kept on breeding farms. Once they reach adulthood, the lions are released into a fenced area where they can be shot by hunters. This ‘canned hunting’ industry guarantees hunters a trophy to take home. The gruesome life cycle of these animals involves being separated from their mothers very early in order to become petting animals for tourists, to being used as walking pets, to finally being shot as adults without any chance of survival as they find no escape.

How does FOUR PAWS decide which big cats to rescue?  

Unfortunately, with so many big cats found in poor keeping conditions and due to uncontrolled breeding, the number of big cats needing rescue and rehoming to a sanctuary is large. FOUR PAWS has an established intake policy, which helps determine which big cats can realistically be rescued. Several factors are taken into consideration, which include the evaluation of the keeping conditions and care of the animals, the intake capacity at FOUR PAWS sanctuaries and partner projects, the political and legislative situation and the available resources and contacts that FOUR PAWS may have in the given country. For any rescue, one of the primary conditions is that any rescued big cats are not replaced by new individuals, as this would further stimulate the trade, breeding and captivity of these species.

Do you get the rescued big cats for free?

One of FOUR PAWS primary conditions for rescues is that no compensation is given or paid to big cat owners whilst taking over their animal. From our perspective, such practice does not contribute towards a sustainable solution with regard to the issues associated to the keeping of wild animals. Hence, FOUR PAWS only adopts and takes over the big cats that have been confiscated and/or have been handed over to the organisation voluntarily with the given agreement that the animals will not be replaced at anytime.

What are the biggest challenges/hurdles of a big cat rescue?  

Every rescue mission is different, and the challenges will depend on a number of factors such as the number of animals, the species involved, the country and borders, the means of transport, any required paperwork, the level of cooperation of the owner and/or of the authorities, the preparation time, etc. One important aspect is the timing of the mission. All stakeholders, which includes the veterinarians, and all the necessary materials and paperwork, such as transport vehicles and permits have to be ready and available simultaneously. The bigger the rescue mission, the more complicated it is to bring these factors together.

How many big cats has FOUR PAWS rescued so far? 

Since 2007, FOUR PAWS has rescued more than 230 big cats, and provided species-appropriate homes at its FOUR PAWS big cat sanctuaries and partner projects. Furthermore, FOUR PAWS has also supported rescues/transfers of big cats to its cooperation partners, such as sanctuaries and rescue centres that are members of the European Alliance of Rescue Centres and Sanctuaries (EARS). You can read some of our big cat rescue stories here.

Why can’t rescued big cats be reintroduced into the wild? 

Current scientific opinion is that big cats which have been born and bred in captivity can not be released into the wild. Although each case may differ, some of the general reasons they cannot be released include:

  • Hunting: Big cats born in captivity have not learned  to hunt and may not succeed to provide their own food.
  • Humans: While wild big cats are naturally afraid of humans, captive bred big cats in general associate humans with food and lack this natural fear. Instead of avoiding humans, the chance that they will approach humans is high, causing more human-wildlife conflicts and leading to dangerous situations for both the animals and humans.
  • Diseases: Captive bred big cats differ from their wild conspecifics, and have become more susceptible to the diseases and parasites occurring in regions where their wild conspecific occur. The possible inbreeding or crossbreeding of captive big cats due to the lack of effective breeding management can also pose a risk to existing wild populations and their immune system.
  • Habitat: One of the main problems big cat populations face in the wild is habitat loss. The species are in decline due to a lack of appropriate space for them. Due to habitat loss human-wildlife conflict is increasing. Simply adding more predators to a poorly managed area would only make things worse. Wild population numbers would benefit more from habitat protection or the relocation of wild big cats, than from the release of captive big cats into these environments.

Most of the big cats under the care of FOUR PAWS, were previously kept under extremely poor conditions and are in some cases even severely inbred. These big cats have developed various behavioural abnormalities and health issues, making it impossible for them to survive in the wild. FOUR PAWS big cat sanctuaries offer a species-appropriate and safe forever home for these animals, which have no genetic value for conservation. FOUR PAWS strictly does not breed any of its rescued big cats and opposes such practices.

How much does a rescue operation cost on average?

The costs of a rescue mission depend on various factors. This includes the distance between the rescue location of the animal towards the sanctuary, the necessary remodelling, repair, or even additional construction of an enclosure, and the size of the experienced team involved in the rescue. However, the real costs come with the aftercare: a lifetime of appropriate care for the rescued animal. This includes veterinary care depending on the health condition of each big cat, a species-appropriate diet and the provision of enrichment, which are all provided by the work of specialised animal keepers. Furthermore, the maintenance of the facilities needs to be continually ensured.

What can I do to support your big cat rescue missions?

  • We appreciate any donation that you can give to support our initiative to end the suffering of captive big cats.
  • Call upon the European Commission to ban the commercial trade in tigers and sign our petition now!
  • You can use your own channels to spread the word and share our contents to make other people aware of the mistreatment of big cats and our fight against it.
  • Make sure that your holiday is animal-friendly – read our guide here!
  • When traveling, keep an eye open for places that keep big cats under improper conditions. If possible, take a picture and get in contact with us!
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