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Saturday, 13 April, 2002, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Big cats cause stir in US
Pet tiger in America
There are 10,000 tigers kept as pets in the US
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By Jane Standley
BBC New York Correspondent
Spike the Bengal Tiger is Larry Wallach's pride and joy. She is only a year old, but is already 90 kilos (200lbs) - she'll be double that size when fully grown.

But like the lion and the mountain cougar before her - Spike is already too big for her cage in Larry's back garden in the suburbs of New York.

Larry fancies another lion cub next - and sees no problem with that.

Larry Wallach, owner of a pet tiger
Larry says he didn't think about the responsibilites of owning a big cat
"I think if you're capable, financially property wise, and you want it - we're Americans, we live in a free country - then go get it!" says Larry.

Spike is one of an estimated 10,000 tigers kept by private citizens in America - that is more than remain in the wild.

Educational purposes

Some owners, like Larry, are allowed to because they use them for educational purposes, such as taking them to schools and on TV shows.

But what makes people get big cats as pets in the first place?

Larry says it's mainly ego.

Animal behaviourist Steve Zawistowski from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would probably agree.

Stick to normal cats is his message - big ones aren't just meant to be pets.

Internet page showing tiger for sale
Big cats are sold on the internet to bypass state laws

"It would be safer for the community if this was made illegal," he says.

"We already a wonderful collection of animals who we've spent thousands of years domesticating - so they make great pets - be happy with those.

"These big cats are going to suffer when you have them - and you're going to be a danger to yourself and your community."

Internet sales

For the thousands of Americans who do not agree, just knowing where to find big cats on the internet is all it takes.

You can get them from ranchers and breeders - who trade quite discreetly to sidestep state laws.

One site is offering tiger cubs for $1,800 each - and there are lions available for $1,000. There are some big cats available for as little as $500.

This woman is fighting to keep her 24 pet tigers
This woman is fighting to keep her 24 pet tigers
More attention is now being paid to the issue - as a woman in suburban New Jersey is battling in court to keep her 24 pet tigers.

Her permit to keep them as "theatrical" animals was revoked - and she ia trying to move them to neighbouring New York. But in both states, residents are not happy - and perhaps not surprisingly - want a tightening of the law.

The BBC's Jane Standley in New York
"Knowing where to find big cats on the internet is all it takes"
See also:

03 Apr 02 | South Asia
Tigers kill 22 in Bangladesh
26 Mar 02 | Wales
Tiger-at-home plea is rejected
18 Feb 02 | Europe
Snows threaten Siberia's big cats
17 Dec 01 | South Asia
New hope for Bengal tigers
27 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
India's tiger success story
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