Captive Feline Habitat
Wild felines in captivity occupy a variety of habitats.
1. Zoos These can be privately owned or tax-supported municipal zoos. The American Zoological Association accredits its members. Cost for AZA accreditation service varies from a few thousand dollars a year to tens of thousands, depending upon the income of the facility. AZA facilities are some of the largest zoological attractions in the country. These large facilities are biased against small privately owned zoos being included into their accreditation. AZA zoos do not provide refuge for privately owned felines as they have limited cage space and are guided by Taxon advisory groups that dictate what animals can be maintained by each zoo. The Feline Conservation Federation and the American Zoo Association both have accreditation programs geared towards the privately owned facility that insure quality care and public safety. Privately owned zoos are not averse to taking in displaced felines for educational exhibit if space provides.
2. USDA licensed breeding facilities Americans that engage in commercial breeding of exotic animals have to be licensed and inspected by the federal government Animal Care Inspectors. They have surprise inspections and are required to maintain a veterinary care plan and have vet visits yearly. Paperwork documenting all incoming and outgoing animals is required. USDA licensed facilities often provide limited refuge for displaced adult felines. It is not unusual for a licensed breeder to accept a needy adult cat, regardless of whether it can be utilized in a breeding program if the facility has cage space. Any consideration of the needs of displaced adult cats needs to allow for USDA licensed breeding centers to provide refuge.
3. USDA licensed educational exhibitors All exhibitors are required to be licensed by the USDA as Class C exhibitors. In the case of large cats, USDA requires a minimum of 2 years hands-on keeper experience for public contact and extensive contingency plans and equipment inventory. There are numerous types of educational work that utilize exotic cats. Zoological facilities are one such habitat. Some exhibitors utilize live animals in edutainment venues such as trained behavior demonstrations, magic or illusion acts. Additionally, there are businesses that provide animals for mobile exhibits at schools, community events and corporate gatherings. A large number of exhibitors are classified as Sanctuary habitat. Most Sanctuaries are Class C exhibitors that encourage the public to visit for a fee. They provide lifetime care for displaced felines and spread their educational message as well as utilize the felines for direct fund raising appeals. Because they are open to the public they are USDA licensed as Class C exhibitors.
4. Pet homes Many people provide excellent captive habitat for a single or couple of exotic felines that share living space in a home or in an outdoor enclosure for exotic feline companion animals. Feline offspring that are surplus to the breeding programs perform a valuable service as local educational felines and species ambassadors in an more intimate environment that is only possible through the close bond of love and trust that forms when an exotic feline is bottle raised by a human parent. These lucky felines provide a revealing look at the personality and behaviors and emotions expressed by such intelligent, complex and affectionate creatures.
5. Non-profit sanctuaries that are closed to the public Very few sanctuaries are not also federally licensed exhibitors. However, some states define sanctuaries as such. This is extremely difficult to finance and manage, as direct mail donation drives are costly and unreliable. It is the experience of visiting the facility that builds confidence in the donors and emotional attachment to the project. This type of sanctuary is extremely rare because funding is limited.
6. Privately funded refuges Many responsible owners who have a single pet exotic cat and do not engage in any commercial activity become interested in providing a home for another feline in need. This type of habitat is not regulated by the USDA, and is limited by the ability of the owner to generate the funds necessary for the lifetime care of the feline. This type of habitat is usually limited to a small number of cats in any one location. Across the country privately funded refuge provides as much habitat as the sanctuary world.
FCF Recommendations: States need to address all these potential habitats and develop regulations that insure quality care and public safety and continued conservation of endangered species. The Feline Conservation Federation has developed extensive model regulations to address these concerns and a feline facility Accreditation Program that examines all the various types of captive habitat for possible certification for excellence of care.