Big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and snow leopards) which were born in captivity, or have spent most of their life in captivity, cannot be released back into the wild. They are dependent on humans, which compromises their ability to survive in the wild and may result in big cats not staying far enough away from humans, thereby posing a safety risk to both humans and animals. Furthermore, many of the big cats in the care of FOUR PAWS were previously kept under extremely poor conditions and thus developed various behavioural abnormalities and chronic health conditions.
The FOUR PAWS Big Cat Sanctuaries offer a species-appropriate safe haven for such big cats. The big cats get the chance to finally display natural behaviours; their enclosures provide them with enough space to roam around and also allow them to withdraw; all enclosures have natural vegetation, trees and/or wooden structures to climb on or rest underneath protected from the sun, and tigers, leopards and jaguars are provided with water to bathe in. Furthermore, each individual big cat receives professional care tailored to its specific needs from caretakers, behaviourists and veterinarians.
FOUR PAWS strives to offer the best possible quality of life and care for all big cats we look after in our sanctuaries. This includes but is not limited to the following criteria:
The criteria are further explained below.
1) Outdoor enclosures with natural vegetation and structures
The size and structure of our sanctuaries provide the animals with a close-to-nature environment suitable for their species-specific needs while complying with highest safety standards: the enclosures allow them to wander around and also to withdraw from their conspecifics (i.e. other big cats) or visitors; they offer indoor enclosures allowing the big cats to choose where to take a rest and the ponds are big and deep enough for the tigers, leopards and jaguars to fully immerse themselves, bathe and play in the water (unlike lions and domestic cats, tigers adore water!), which also supports their grooming activities.
Lion in a species-appropriate enclosure in LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary
2) We let our big cats choose
Following a basic principle of all FOUR PAWS big cat projects, we do not put our big cats on display, but first of all create an environment worth living in for the animals. Visitors are given the possibility to get an impression of the everyday life of our animals, but it is intrinsic to our projects that big cats can decide if they want to be seen or prefer to withdraw.
Our interactions with big cats are strictly limited to care, trust-building activities and positive reinforcement training, and do not include feeding demonstrations, feeding of big cats by visitors or any hands-on contact between big cats and humans; our focus lies on providing suitable conditions that allow the big cats to express species-specific behaviour in their interactions with each other and with their environment.
3) Professional care
Experienced animal caretakers look after our big cats every day, tailoring their care to the individual big cat’s needs. They are supported by veterinarians specialised in wildlife medicine, who check our big cats regularly. That care helps the big cats to recover as much as possible from health conditions and behavioural issues related to their former keeping conditions. The health status, diet and behaviour of our big cats is observed daily and documented in the animals’ records. FOUR PAWS works in close cooperation with scientific institutions and universities supporting our projects with scientific expertise.
4) Natural diet and enriching feeding methods
Big cats are carnivores and eat prey including meat, bone, skin, hair and certain organs. Big cats kept in FOUR PAWS Big Cat Sanctuaries are provided with a balanced diet that resembles their natural diet as closely as possible. The meat mainly comes from horses, cattle and other animals, like deer killed by traffic. The feeding schedule of healthy and fit animals is adapted to the natural feeding habits of the animals in the wild, where they do not catch a prey every day and therefore do not eat on a daily basis. And, the meat is supplemented with special carnivore supplements.
5) Use of enrichment
Our caretakers provide the big cats with an entire range of behavioral and environmental enrichment to encourage the display of natural behaviours, keep them occupied, and stimulate their natural playfulness and curiosity.
Behavioural and environmental enrichment is a principle in animal husbandry seeking to improve the animal’s quality of life by providing various stimuli to enhance physiological and psychological well-being. It involves providing various tools/objects to engage with, that may or may not contain food; structural elements inside the enclosure that encourage natural behaviour, such as water pools or platforms to climb on; the use of spices and other scents inside the enclosure, positive reinforcement training, and other measures; these should be tailored to the animal’s individual needs and preferences, and should be offered by the caretakers on a daily basis and get regularly exchanged to prevent boredom and stereotypical behaviour.
Keeping big cats occupied becomes necessary as big cats in the wild would be naturally busy hunting, whereas our big cats do not hunt or roam through home ranges of several square kilometres – as it is common for big cats – to gather food. Moreover, enrichment methods stimulate the expression of species-specific behaviour (e.g. smelling or climbing) and help the big cats to gain self-confidence in their skills (e.g. if they manage to get access to a delicious snack hidden inside an object) and trust in the environment they are living in.
Tigers playing with enrichment
Although big cats are mostly solitary (except for lions and females living with their offspring), FOUR PAWS has had some success with socialising some individuals, thereby enriching the animals’ day by providing them with company. However, such attempts to socialise big cats in pairs or groups are only undertaken after careful monitoring of animals that show signs of being a good match with each other. While living together is beneficial for some individuals, there are also big cats that are too old to be socialised or clearly prefer to live alone because they do not feel respectively get well along with certain other big cats. In any case, we always aim to find the best possible solution for each and every individual.
7) No breeding
To avoid a suffering animal taken over by FOUR PAWS being replaced by another poor animal, FOUR PAWS seeks agreement with former owners and/or relevant authorities to refuse any further intake or breeding of big cats by the former owners.
All FOUR PAWS sanctuaries and centres have a strict no-breeding policy, implemented by the application of contraceptive methods to prevent having more big cats that need to spend their lives in captivity instead of in the wild.
8) Lifelong home
Whenever FOUR PAWS decides to give a home to a big cat in one of our sanctuaries, we commit to providing this animal with shelter and high-quality care for the rest of its life.
Rescued big cats are offered a lifelong home in the FOUR PAWS sanctuaries