When private citizens keep wildlife as pets, especially big cats and other large, powerful animals – it almost never turns out well. It’s also a potentially deadly situation for the owner or other people who must live or work around these animals. That’s why we’ve been leading the charge nationwide to prohibit the private possession of dangerous wild animals as pets.
This weekend, we helped rescue almost a dozen captive wild animals that were abandoned on a rural Kansas property. The Atchison County Sheriff’s Office seized a tiger, two cougars, three bobcats, two lynx, a serval and two skunks. The owner surrendered the animals and has been cited with 10 offenses, including animal cruelty and violations of the Dangerous Regulated Animals Act.
The HSUS’ director of animal cruelty response for our Animal Rescue Team, Adam Parascandola, was on the ground at the rescue and reported back on his experience:
We were originally contacted by the Atchison County Sheriff’s Office, which had been calling around for help after the undersheriff discovered the animals had been left without food and clean drinking water, and several animals, including a serval, were dead on the property. The Kansas City Zoo graciously agreed to provide an emergency food supply and The HSUS rushed additional food to the sheriff. The Sheriff’s Office went above and beyond the call of duty in feeding and caring for the animals while we located permanent placement for them and arranged transport.
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Big cats were left in their cages
without food or water.
When we first pulled up to the property we could see a long row of chain link pens up on a hill. Anyone driving by would probably assume these pens contained dogs, so it was hard to believe that they actually held an assortment of large cats. I noticed immediately when I approached the enclosures that they were made of the same flimsy type of chain link I have often seen dogs escape from, and the only thing securing the doors of the pens were small, thin chains. When the tiger jumped on the wall of his cage, the whole side would bow out. This was truly a looming disaster, until the Atchison County Sheriff’s Office intervened. The conditions inside the pens were even worse; the cats were living in mud and filth. They shook their paws in an effort to remove the mud that caked their feet. Some of the shelters were much too small for the cats and they lacked any real source of enrichment or the ability to claw, climb, or exhibit other natural behaviors. One bobcat huddled in his house the whole time, and the serval hid under a plastic dome.
Thankfully we had a great team of responders, including the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association’s own Dr. Roberto Aguilar, DVM, medical director of our animal care centers. Dr. Aguilar has many years of experience treating wild and exotic animals. He jumped right in with a veterinarian from the Kansas City Zoo, which is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and a veterinarian from Big Cat Rescue, which is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. The cats were sedated, examined, had blood drawn to assess their health, were vaccinated and had microchips inserted for identification. The HSUS staff then assisted in transferring the cats and skunks into transport trucks to begin their journey to a better life. Dr. Aguilar rode along with the cougars and tiger on the trip to Texas to monitor them along the way.
The Fund for Animals’ Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, an affiliate of The HSUS, is caring for the tiger, while In Sync Exotics is providing sanctuary for the cougars, Big Cat Rescue will house the bobcats, lynx and serval, and the two skunks were transferred to Operation Wildlife.
Responding to any situation where animals are suffering is heartbreaking, but to see these majestic large cats, who do not belong as pets, living in such filth and frustration was especially painful. To know these animals will now have the care and enrichment they deserve makes this one of the most thrilling and uplifting rescues I have participated in.
This rescue is also a reminder that states must take a strong stand on the keeping of dangerous wild animals as pets. Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin are the only remaining states that have no rules on keeping dangerous animals. Many other states, including Kansas, have loopholes that allow private citizens to keep dangerous wild animals for a variety of purposes. We need your help to ensure that wild animals are kept out of the hands of people who do not have the experience, knowledge, or resources to provide proper, humane, long-term care.
We are grateful that the Atchison County Sheriff’s Office took decisive action in this case and for the expertise and assistance from the organizations that helped rescue these animals.