Considering Owning a Pet Tiger? What are the Legal Ramifications?

April 28, 2020
Jonathan J. Russell

by Tom Blackburn, Esq. aka “Joe Mundane”

We are now in the midst of the 2020 Covid-19 virus quarantine.

As the months pass, it will be interesting to determine the winners and losers of this historical anomaly. The obvious winner in my household is my 6 year old Golden Retriever, Bree. Bree has benefitted substantially from the forced return and mandated house arrest of my college kids; along with the escalating opportunities for her to escort her family members in a parade like fashion around the neighborhood. When you pay attention, all the dogs in the neighborhood seem to confidently nod at each other with particular contentment. This makes you wonder if Covid-19 is related to a sinister world-wide canine conspiracy. The newscasters speak of the bats, but have we thought about investigating Fido?

Another winner is Netflix. Very few folks could look the other way, after hearing the names “Joe Exotic”, or “The Tiger King,” or for that matter, the lady named “Baskin,” “Baskin,” I guess, could’ve, might’ve, allegedly, fed her loving husband, 20 years her senior, to a few of her rescued, though apparently still hungry, tigers. Well, we really had no choice in the matter. We all had to left click on that tiger icon to peer into what we very quickly realized was a bizarre, fast moving, train wreck of a documentary.

Yet, getting back to the title of this article, if my eyes were not deceiving me, there were quite a few humans in that documentary (. . . . giving them the benefit of the doubt), in every episode, who seemed quite at ease with, hanging out, hugging, kissing, chillin’, playing with, . . . full grown TIGERS? . . . . . like the ones you see in photographs from Africa. Do people in the United States of America really keep tigers as pets??? Ummm , . . . . . evidently.

So, this leads us to the topic of this serious inquiry. If you’re thinking that this is a marketing scheme to drum up hits off of a trending cultural phenomenon, consider that the documentary “Tiger King” raises a legitimate question. “If you are contemplating owning a pet tiger, what are the legal ramifications? ”

Well, initially, we need to consider that the legal ramifications of owning a pet tiger include federal, state, and local concerns. Joe Exotic has been sentenced for a number of years in federal prison, not only because he paid two grands for his friend to take out “Baskin”, but because of his disregard for applicable federal law. Maybe I missed it, but I think “Exotic” forgot to consider the ramifications of the “Lacey Act of 1907 (later revised in 2007)” when he nonchalantly transported his newborn tiger cubs across state lines for sale. The Lacey Act prohibits the trade of illegal wildlife, fish and plants.

I guess Joe should have also realized that tigers are considered “ Endangered Species” under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. I’m wondering if this crossed his mind? Had he considered this law, he may not have had his “employees” shoot and bury those seven big cats under the grassy knoll just west of the souvenir stand. You know, those large furry appetites were getting “inconvenient” for Exotic.

If you are still weighing the options of buying a pet tiger you need to also think about state laws. For it is the individual states that actually regulate and enforce this question of domiciling pet tigers. Each state has its own rules. Many states offer a complete ban of maintaining tigers on a property unless you have been approved or certified for this purpose as a zoo or some other entertainment or educational endeavor.

Others, such as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, are regulated by license or permit. Pennsylvania requires that you apply to the Pennsylvania Game Commission for a Permit to possess exotic wildlife such as a Tiger. 34 Pa.C.S.A. section 2963 et. seq. The Commission must be satisfied that the provisions for housing and caring for such exotic wildlife and for protecting the public are proper and adequate, and in accordance with the standards established by the Commission. Along with other regulations, the owner must not engage in conduct which recklessly places another person in danger of attack.

Still desiring to cuddle with a tiger in your backyard? Keep in mind that you also have to comply with local zoning ordinances. Pennsylvania for example, is composed of thousands of Townships which each have their unique rules and regulations governing our neighborhoods. In my Township, ordinance number 995 prohibits the display of wild or exotic animals. Further, as to the housing of “large animals,” you must not allow any condition causing disturbance of the peace and quiet of your neighbors. You must also comply with other “minor” issues such as maintaining quarters to prevent escape, and provide all other provisions to protect the public.

Now, if you’re still dead set on establishing your own tiger lagoon, you will need to consider the serious question of liability. In Pennsylvania, the keeping and possession of a pet tiger would be considered an “inherently dangerous activity”. As such, any injury causally related to this activity would be subject to strict liability. This means that even if you have exercised the utmost care to prevent such harm, when a victim is injured, you are still liable. Also, as we learned from episode 2 of the documentary, tiger related injuries are often severe. Recall that the fortunate victims of attack only lose about one appendage. So, to encourage peaceful sleep at night, “big cat” liability insurance would be advisable. But, since the large companies like Nationwide, Farmers, and State Farm would not be too keen on the risk associated with the “Tiger King” clientele, these risks would be excluded from coverage. You would need to pursue costly, specialized “exotic animal” insurance from potentially fly by night companies. These policies, of course are very expensive. And, you may never really know if these companies will come through with coverage until tragedy beckons.

Well, what is my discerning advice after all these legal considerations? While you may miss cuddling with these large, graceful, sharp toothed, beautifully striped creatures; and you may regret the loss of the routine deliveries from Walmart of outdated poultry; you still might want to give strong consideration to one of those Golden Retrievers. They sell these cool lion’s mane hoods on Amazon that are quite realistic. And, . . . . the Goldens are kinda nice to have around during your run of the mill quarantine

Since 1985, the personal injury attorneys at Drake, Hileman & Davis, have been concerned for the safety of those in our community. Safety is no accident. We have a proven track record of results and satisfied clients. We’re ready to answer your questions and provide you with the legal help you need, when accidents happen. Contact us on-line or call us at (888) 777-7098 to schedule your free consultation in the convenience of your home or at one of our five offices located throughout the region.