Keeping large cats in captivity is sometimes met with skepticism due to animal welfare concerns. While some facilities indeed fail to provide adequate keeping conditions, our concept ensures that the needs of our animals will always be fully met. Moreover, our project will contribute to the welfare of other captive large cats and greatly benefit conservation efforts.
Misconceptions about life in the wild
There is a widespread belief that big cats feel best when they are roaming “free” in the wild and when kept in captivity will always long for freedom and suffer. This idea might seem intuitive to some, but it falls apart on close scrutiny.
Firstly, big cats in the wild are never “free”. Their freedom of movement is limited by the borders of their territory. Crossing them may lead to the cat being attacked by neighboring conspecifics. The size of the territory is not determined by the cat’s need to roam, but by the availability of prey. It can range anywhere from a few square kilometers to thousands of km². However, a big cat can happily live in an enclosure of just a few hundreds m², as long as all basic needs are met and the animal doesn’t suffer from boredom. Please note that stereotypical behaviors and other disorders commonly seen in zoos are never observed with cats that receive sufficient enrichment and stimulation (see below on this page).
Secondly, it is often overlooked that every big cat living in the wild is subject to enormous stress and suffering as part of its natural lifecycle. Apart from dangerous fights over food or territory and frequent episodes of hunger, cats that become injured during a hunt or contract an illness often starve to death due to being unable to hunt. This is due to the complete unavailability of medical care in the wild and the fact that cats usually lead a solitary life, thus never receiving help or care from anyone. And if thas wasn’t enough, every cat is bound to die a premature (at about half the lifespan in captivity) and agonizing death once it is too old to hunt (which leads to slow starvation) or unable to defend its territory (which leads to the cat being killed by rivals or to the loss of essential hunting grounds, and subsequently slow starvation).
As a conclusion, it can be said that any decent captive situation will provide the animal with a better and far longer life than the wild. One should thus never condemn people or facilities for keeping big cats, as long as the captive situation meets all primary and secondary needs of the animal.
Proper care and enrichment
Some facilities, especially zoos, have attracted negative publicity due to poor keeping conditions. This usually happened due to too-small or poorly maintained enclosures and/or lack of enrichment. Both issues lead to severe lack of stimulation of the animals, which in turn leads to stress, stereotypic behaviors and other health problems. Sometimes, facilities even lack the funds for proper enclosure maintenance or expensive veterinary treatments.
These things will never happen to any of our animals. Firstly, a private owner who keeps a large cat is emotionally attached to it the same way as an owner of a domestic cat or dog. He will thus be far more ready to spend sufficient money on the animal’s needs than a zoo that keeps animals primarily out of commercial interest. Secondly, an animal kept for direct contact will never suffer from lack of stimulation or enrichment, as its owner will spend many hours daily interacting with it. Thirdly, our corporate concept will allow us to keep tight control of our animals and enforce high husbandry standards. All these factors ensure that our snow leopards will live in better conditions than most zoo animals.
While zoos and conservation breeding facilities undoubtedly contribute a lot to captive conservation, their potential is limited. Breeding centers have to rely on donations or public funding, which severely limits the possible number and size of facilities. Zoos need to attract visitors by the animals they keep, and keeping additional animals of the same species does not attract any additional visitors. As a result, zoos often keep only one animal (resp. breeding pair or group) of each species, which limits the total number of places available for animals in zoos. Due to these factors, fewer than 800 snow leopards are kept as part of all conservation programs (e. g. SSP or EEP) worldwide.
Our project is not limited by these financial constraints. Placing snow leopards with private owners means that they will bear all keeping expenses. And due to the very high number of people who seriously dream of (and are capable of) keeping a large cat, the number of potential private owners is many times higher than the number of places in zoos. This will allow us to place thousands of snow leopards with private owners, thus increasing their number in captivity by several times. Such a large population will not only serve as a genetic reserve like the current zoo population does, but also guarantee the permanent survival of the species regardless of its status in the wild.