26 November 2020 – French authorities seized 14 big cats, including two lion cubs and one tiger cub, from self-acclaimed rescue foundation Caresse de Tigre near Paris on 24 November. Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS and its local partner organisation AVES France submitted an official complaint in December 2019 that preceded the move by the authorities. FOUR PAWS and AVES provided the authorities with evidence of a network of breeders and facilities that commercially exploit wild animals. The evidence revealed the commercial exploitation of lion and tiger cubs for paid interactions such as selfies, petting and bottle feeding while operating without the required permits. There was also an incident of a young lion biting a visitor in February 2019. FOUR PAWS has offered to the French authorities to provide a species-appropriate home for the three seized cubs at its FELIDA Big Cat Centre in the Netherlands. Additionally, FOUR PAWS calls on the European Commission to ban the commercial tiger trade across the EU once and for all which would see an end to facilities that exploit big cats.
Following an investigation on the questionable activities of self-acclaimed sanctuary Caresse de Tigre, the OFB (Office français de la biodiversité) authorities seized all fourteen big cats kept on the premises two hours outside of Paris. While FOUR PAWS and AVES urged that at least the three cubs should be placed in species-appropriate care, all big cats will remain on-site in the care of the authorities until a long-term solution has been found. During the investigations it became apparent that Caresse de Tigre welcomed visitors all year without the necessary permits. However, the facility is listed as a non-profit rescue foundation and not allowed to receive visitors. By allowing visitors to pet and feed the cubs inside the enclosures in paid interactions, Caresse de Tigre has also violated French laws on security distance to captive wild animals.
“It’s a shame that the authorities did not relocate any of the animals after the clear evidence of animal cruelty we presented them with. Caresse de Tigre ask visitors to make donations of 50 Euros for ten minutes of interacting with a lion cub. Several visitors can enter the enclosure at the same time and feed the tigers with Camembert cheese and whipped cream. The owner claims to rescue animals from circuses and unscrupulous zoos, but in reality Caresse de Tigre breeds big cats to exploit them for profit. Once the big cats become older and too dangerous for interactions, they are sent to circuses to perform. We urge the authorities to find a species-appropriate solution for all 14 big cats. Unfortunately, we cannot provide a new home to all of them, but we offered to take the three cubs into our care,”
says Kieran Harkin, Head of Wild Animals in Trade at FOUR PAWS.
Big cats do not belong in entertainment
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many circuses had to close their doors to the public, and the owners turned to alternative additional income through paid interactions or renting the animals for television and advertisements. France recently announced that the use of wild animals in travelling circuses will be banned, which is a milestone step in favour of animal welfare but only if exploitative businesses are stopped as well. “We are afraid that with the ban of wild animals in circuses, facilities like Caresse de Tigre will increase the number of paid interactions available to further exploit the animals that usually perform in shows. These facilities have no educational or conservational purpose and are only focussed on making money by breeding, trading and displaying the big cats for entertainment purposes and should not be considered as sanctuaries or zoos. The authorities must close down these commercial enterprises that profit from severe animal cruelty,” says Christophe Coret, founder of AVES France.T
Tigers treated as commodity across the EU and beyond
The overall situation for big cats in France paints a worrying picture and the private keeping and commercial trade of big cats, especially tigers, remains out of control across the EU. Most member states have no central registration, official papers are easily forged, or new cubs are not registered at all. “Tigers end up being treated as a commodity, being passed around by individuals happy to breed, exploit and trade them. European tigers even end up in illegal trade and are killed for their body parts. Some European tigers are exported to Asia, because the buyers there believe that European big cats are larger and stronger, which makes them especially valuable for breeding. We can only play a role in fighting illegal tiger trade when countries like France clean up their own act and become part of the solution and not the problem. Furthermore, we need to see an end to the commercial trade in tigers and we call on France to take action to ensure it is playing its part and supports our call for an EU ban," says Harkin.