Texas likely has the second-highest tiger population after India. However, most of the tigers in Texas are illegally undocumented. The New York Times estimates that there are more tigers in captivity in Texas than in the wild globally.
Texas allows individuals to own pet tigers and other wild animals as long as the animals are registered with local authorities, a $50 application fee is paid, proof of a $100,000 liability policy is provided, and minimum caging requirements are met. Texas has specific rules for some wild animals such as lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, bears, and primates. For instance, Texas requires the cage for a lion or tiger to have a minimum floor area of 300 square feet with an additional 150 feet for each additional lion or tiger. The wall or fence must be at least 8 feet high. If the cage is uncovered, the walls must be even higher to prevent escape.
Local governments may have additional rules and regulations that owners of wild pets must follow. The City of Houston forbids the ownership of pet tigers. However, unincorporated Harris County allows pet tigers if they are kept at least 1,000 feet from other homes, schools, and childcare facilities.
Is Allowing Private Ownership of Pet Tigers a Good Idea?
While ownership of a pet tiger may be permissible in Texas, it begs the question of whether it is a good idea. It is possible to purchase a young tiger for $1,000, so they are not difficult to purchase. Texas should forbid the ownership of tigers and other large felines as pets. Many tigers are kept in small cages and in deplorable conditions. In the wild, female tigers require a territory of at least seven square miles and male tigers require a territory of at least twenty-three square miles. Most tigers kept in private captivity have less than five hundred square feet. Most individuals do not have the resources to properly care for a wild feline such as a lion or tiger.
When wild animals escape or are permitted to interact with people, children are most at risk. Their size and movement make them targets for predators. Multiple tragic incidents with children and tigers have been reported in Texas. Children have died or lost limbs as a result of tiger attacks. The government should do more to protect its citizens and promote the humane treatment of exotic wild animals by forbidding ownership of these animals as pets.
Texas and many other states hold that the owner of a wild animal is strictly liable for harm done by the wild animal even if the owner takes proper precautions to prevent harm. If the wild animal’s dangerous propensity is the cause of the victim’s injury, the animal owner is responsible. The owner of a wild animal is responsible for the harm caused by that animal even if the owner did not know that the animal was dangerous. Ignorance is not a defense for owners of dangerous wild animals.
Sadly, a victim may receive no compensation if the owner of the wild animal does not have insurance or enough assets to pay the judgment. While Texas requires proof of insurance when the tiger is first purchased, it does not require updated proof of insurance each year. An owner could fail to renew the liability policy the following year and receive no fine or punishment from the government. Texas requires car owners to provide proof of insurance each year when the car is inspected but has no similar requirement for owners of dangerous wild animals. Texas requires all car owners to show more financial responsibility than owners of lions, tigers, or bears. Maybe our legislature should reevaluate these laws.
If you have been injured by a dangerous animal, contact The O’Hara Law Firm for a free consultation. Patrick O’Hara is an attorney that handles dangerous animal attack claims in Houston and surrounding areas. The O’Hara Law Firm represents clients on a contingency fee basis. Call us at 832-956-1138.