By Monica Sarkar, for CNN
More tigers are kept as pets in the U.S. than roam free in the wild, campaigners say, as they call for tough new laws to ban the practice on International Tiger Day.
While just 3,000 tigers inhabit forests across Asia and Russia, it’s estimated that as many as 5,000 are kept captive in small cages in U.S. backyards.
“The main reason for all of these cats in backyards and basements and garages across America is that it’s legal for people to have their picture taken with a cute little tiger cub or lion cub,” Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, explains to CNN.
“And those cubs are only cute and manageable until they’re about 12 weeks old. By the time they’re 13 weeks old, the people who are using them for these photo booths find that it costs $10,000 a year to take care of them, so they give them away. They sell them,” says Baskin.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), in conjunction with other animal protection organizations such as Big Cat Rescue, are calling on Congress to passThe Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, to end private possession and breeding of various big cats.
Leigh Henry, Senior Policy Advisor at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), tells CNN: “The Act has failed to gain sufficient support to be moved through the legislative process in the past,” although she hopes that will change.
“It is critical that the U.S. get a better handle on this population, and that we demonstrate conservation leadership to influence China, with an even larger captive tiger population, to take similar actions,” she adds.