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Exotic Animal Attacks on Humans Statistics

Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.

"It is estimated that there are 10,000 to 20,000 big cats currently held in private ownership in the U.S., although the exact number remains a mystery. In the past 21 years, U.S. incidents involving captive big cats—including tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs and lion/tiger hybrids—have resulted in the deaths of 20 humans, 246 maulings, 254 escapes, 143 big cats deaths and 131 confiscations."

---Big Cat Rescue

Animal Intervention

Animal Intervention was a show on the National Geographic channel that opportunistically added to anti-exotic pet hysteria. Here is a graphic from the network's website that lists the numbers of individual large exotic pet-inflicted injuries and fatalities. Of course, the 'exotic' animals get lumped together as one entity in the second chart.

Why do anti-privately owned captive animal sites such as this one perpetually refuse to list comparisons with the numbers of injuries and fatalities caused by domesticated pets? Because the exotic pet incidences would be dwarfed, and readers would have enough intelligence to determine that the point of the article is ridiculous and invalid.

How often do big cats and other exotics attack?

Big Cat Rescue is an avid proponent of exotic pet bans (mainly exotic cats, despite size). While their main reason for supporting such laws is their ideological belief that non-domesticated animals do not belong in any form of captivity, they will of course pretend to care about the safety of the public to push such an agenda. I found their willingness to list such statistics interesting.

What numbers and percentages constitute a public safety threat?

According to their research, 10,000 to 20,000 big cats are currently being kept privately (I also question the veracity of this statement). Also stated is that the true number is not really known, obviously to cause speculation that the number might be higher. Let's examine these numbers.

In the last 21 years...which is almost as long as I've been alive, out of thousands and thousands of privately owned big cats, 20 deaths have occurred. That comes to about 1 death per yer, and if the current stated number of big cats (20,000) were the only to exist, that would be .1 percent of their population (over the course of 21 years there were WAY more than 20,000). Consider also that 5-10 years ago state-wide regulations were unfortunately more lax.

Disease is another commonly cited 'danger'

A change of perspective

There have been 246 "maulings"...keeping in mind that the definition of a 'mauling' varies by what your position is. If you hate big cat ownership, a nip on the finger may be a 'mauling'. Either way, for the purposes of this article, let's just assume these accidents are all severe, hospital-requiring injuries. Out of the current alleged number of big cats (20,000), this equates to a 'startling' 1.23 percent, or about 11 of such non-fatal injuries per year. Also note that either a strong majority or all of these injuries were sustained by people who care for or interact with the animal, making those who choose not to be around exotics far safer. In other words, you, the person who is uncomfortable with people having these animals.

This is the true meaning of public safety. Therefore, out of such enormous numbers of animals, there have only been 254 escapes, and if all of the fatalities were a result of an escape, at highest, approximately 8 percent of such escapes have led to fatalities.

On top of all this, the tallies for these exotic cat attacks do not only pertain to so-called private owners! They include zoos (some are refereed to as sanctuaries, reserves, ect.) that are privately owned and accredited. So that's more big cats to factor into your equation.

Pitt bull owners and other detractors of breed specific legislation need to pay attention.

If such ridiculously small numbers are an acceptable reason to ban an animal, there exists no logical argument why certain dog breeds shouldn't be next, or firs

AnimalAZA-accredited zoosNon-AZA facilitiesNON-PROFIT SANCTUARIESPrivate pet ownersTotal







Big Cats












Killer Whales






Non-Human Primates






% of Fatalities






Avg. Human Death per year (2000-2010)













See for yourself: Check Exotic Pet Attacks

Step 1: Set up a Google alert. This feature will send to your email any current news article, blog post, or other such journalistic outlets that contain your search term to your email whenever the material is published online, or in the time intervals of your choosing.

Step 2: Add in exotic pet-related keywords to the search query. Your first term can be “exotic pet” if you would like any information occurring with this vast group of animals. Or, you can get more specific and type in “exotic pet attack” or “pet tiger”, “pet monkey”, ect. That way, when a captive big cat or other exotic pet perpetuates an attack, it will be sent to your email.

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Step 3: For your second set of Google alert search terms, type in: “dog attack”…and prepare for your email to get flooded. For this reason, you may want to choose the weekly time interval.

Massive video collection of recent pitt bull attacks

Step 4: Read your Google alerts. Find out where the real pet-related ‘danger’ is and what you should fear. Maybe create a tally system for ‘negative’ incidences involving exotic pets…ANY exotic pet and ANY incident, vs. fatal or severe incidences of dog attacks. That’s hundreds of species of animals vs. Canis lupus familiaris…more than fair. Be sure not to record the same incident more than once, confirm that the incident occurred in the U.S. or Canada, and disregard attacks carried out on dogs by lovely humans and wildlife. I can assure you with exotic pet alerts that you will receive plenty of notifications of groups calling for bans on exotic pets, citing the danger, but you will rarely see this danger in your alerts. You may get insignificant little bites from an exotic pet like a monkey, and they are always blown out of proportion. No rabid pet monkeys have ever been discovered in the United States. Yet every Google alert contains information about the increasing threat of rabies in feral cats.

And don’t tell me that the news media is protecting exotic pets and doesn’t prefer to report on them. That’s laughable.

A typical day

'Pitt bull attack' Vs. 'Pet Tiger'.

'Pitt bull attack' Vs. 'Pet Tiger'.

What is the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act?

*Update, this particular bill was not enacted, but new ones are being proposed every year. The current big cat ban bill is entitled HR1998 S1381 with similar rules.

H.R. 4122 is a bill being proposed by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) that will ban the breeding and private possession of 'prohibited species'. These specific species are "any live species of lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, or cougar or any hybrid of such a species". I'm happy to see that this list does not include smaller cats like servals, caracals, bobcats, and other small exotic felines which are not responsible for any number of human fatalities in the United States, although I'm sure that would be the next step if such legislation were passed (cheetahs are far less 'dangerous' and have not killed anyone, but since they are impossible to get, I don't dwell so much on this). Exempt from this ban is defined as such:

(1) a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums;

(2) a wildlife sanctuary that cares for such species, is a tax exempt corporation, does not commercially trade in or propagate such species, does not allow direct contact between the public and animals, and does not allow the transport and display of such species off-site; and

(3) a person that is in possession of animals of such species that were born before the date of this Act's enactment and that are registered with APHIS within six months after such regulations are promulgated.

In other words, aside from people who have their current animals grandfathered as long as they register them (they would no longer be able to acquire new animals on the date that the bill would take effect) only 'zoos' that are accredited by the AZA or specific sanctuaries would be allowed to obtain the animals. This might sound reasonable to a person who doesn't know much about this accrediting body, but any large organization has corruptible tendencies. The AZA's requirements sound good on paper, but it is clear they aren't always adhered to, based on where the money is. Their requirements go beyond needed welfare standards for zoo animals, and have ideological requirements for the facilities they approve. Not all zoos lacking accreditation are guilty of bad animal care and their rights should be protected. The AZA-requirement will intentionally cripple other prospective businesses as well as potential great homes for unwanted big cats.

Pet tiger

Privately owned tiger

Privately owned tiger

Exotic Pets vs. Domesticated Dogs, Comparable?

When I pose the question: pet dogs attack far more times than exotic pets do, why are you still OK with people keeping pet dogs? I usually get a response to the effect of, "BECAUSE DOGS ARE DOMESTICATED!"

First off, I understand the natural desire to fear something that seems…fearsome. For instance, I abhor planes. I honestly don’t care if I’m far more likely to die in a car than in a plane; my natural instincts make me prefer staying on the ground, no matter how irrational that mentality is.

Chances are that planes are much safer because one must be heavily trained and experienced to be a pilot, while they give car licenses to nearly anybody. People often drive recklessly, drive intoxicated, or can be under the influence of other narcotics. Young people drive while being severely affected by their youthful ignorance to their own mortality. Both of my parents have been in car accidents, and more than once. Sometimes I’m amazed that I have zero fear of riding in a car. Yet it is so common that I accept it, while maintaining a strong fear of airplanes, which I have traveled in a total of 4 times in my life.

Ignorance to dog behavior can lead to injury

People fear "interesting" deaths

With exotic pets, I understand a strong similarity between these scenarios. Potentially dangerous exotic pets are like airplanes. Dogs are like cars.

It may seem pretty unbelievable that you are far more likely to be killed by a dog than a captive tiger (in a hypothetical situation where a captive tiger is present), but consider that dogs are prominent among households. Higher numbers equates to more opportunities for such animals to land in the hands of negligent owners. It is extremely common for dogs to run after another person walking their dog, and if this dog happens to be a 'poorly socialized' dog and a fight breaks out, owners can be injured or even attacked if they try to stop it. In addition, dogs do not need to be irresponsibly owned in order to carry out an attack.

I often hear people say ‘it’s not the dog, it’s the owner’. Well, the same for exotic pets apply. We can’t honestly expect every dog owner to be an expert in animal behavior, and a fraction of their pets will inevitably cause injuries and fatalities toward humans. Captive large cats, bears, and wolves however, for the most part are considered ‘dangerous’ and are not treated like regular house pets. With a few severely rare exceptions, people have enough common sense to act with precautions around such animals and keep them properly confined.

Are dogs more dangerous than big cats?

When I make comparisons with exotic pets and domesticated dogs, I am not suggesting that they require similar care, or are even similar at all. Tigers are inherently dangerous. They are carnivores that have evolved to eat animals stronger than humans. Although tigers that are hand-raised and not from the wild do not readily see humans as prey, they can still accidentally kill even in play or fear because they do not have such moral awareness. Such exotic animals may be inherently dangerous, but they require a caretaker that is inherently responsible just as pilots must be. Dogs on the other hand have been selectively bred to live with humans and not be aggressive toward their owners.

However, despite thousands of years of domestication, some still are. Whatever the reason may be for this, it will never disappear. The point of dog vs. exotic pet comparisons is this: it doesn’t matter if dogs are not inherently dangerous. What matters is that they still harm and kill, like a large exotic animal can. What is the difference between getting mauled to death by a tiger and a dog? Not much…dead is dead, despite domestication. Even Carole Baskin, Big Cat Rescue's founder who has worked with big cats for over 20 years has never been bitten by a big cat, but has been bitten by a dog and she has "never gotten over it"!

In addition, the domestication of many dog breeds actually makes your chances of surviving a dog attack worse. Too many people extract from movies that carnivores are obsessively hungry and confrontational.

Dangerous teeth

Many dog breeds are fearless, and do not back down when they are in the process of attacking despite injury. This is a quality that such protective animals have been selectively bred to be genetically infused with. Wild animals on the other hand are actually afraid. They retain their wild instincts to avoid potentially harmful confrontations with unusual animals such as humans frantically waving their hands and making noises (this is what you should do when faced with any large canine or feline). This is what happened in the Zanesville incident. Confused and disoriented animals were gunned down, some allegedly still in their cages. No big cat escapes have resulted in a person getting eaten. Even rarer are attacks against people who are not involved with the animal, such as the animal’s caretaker or other people who live in the same household. Attacks are far more likely to occur in the animal’s territory (the cage), as animals have a natural instinct to be protective of their home.

So what can be done about irresponsible exotic pet owners?

Clearly, if people are going to possess dangerous 'wildlife' there needs to be rules. The fact that there weren't any at the start is ridiculous and not the fault of the animal-owning public. What's readily observable is that the meat of the problem is that people of a specific socioeconomic status are those that end up having such animals in poor situations just as the same occurs with domesticated pets. Simply put, education, common sense, and money are essential factors in the proper maintenance of large, resource-consuming animals without exception. The purchase price of the animal is surprisingly low, but long-term care is where the real expense lies. Animals like lions and tigers are typically avoided by people with common sense, as they know how difficult and expensive these animals are, opening the door for inexperienced and ill-equipped caretakers that cannot perceive the gravity of their situations until they are forcibly shut down.

Regulations that are designed to assess financial requirements, experience, caging, and numbers of animals kept can be shaped to prevent people like this from having easy access to big cats and other high-maintenance wildlife. If you are interested in how to properly and ethically care for a pet tiger, Click Here.


Zaton-Taran from California on June 26, 2017:

Great hub on exotic pets such as lions and tigers. I, for one, believe that man has dominion over all animals - by fiat. So yes, if he can afford it, a man should be able to own an exotic animal and take care of it.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on June 29, 2014:

Mo Weber- No I haven't. Why?

Mo Weber on June 29, 2014:

Melissa, you mentioned the Zanesville incident ....have you read the police and coroner reports? I think you would find them very interesting, I know I did.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 08, 2014:

*Everything* I currently own uses that logic. I paid for this computer, I own this computer. I paid for this plant, I own this plant. I paid for this bird, I own this bird. What do all of these things have in common? They are NOT humans. I paid for this person, I own this person, doesn't fly.

Some groups of people were once horribly perceived as non-human animals. But I can assure you, dogs, tigers, birds, and snakes indeed are not humans. I'm actually getting tired of hearing comparisons of pet finches to African slaves.

Tharika Fuher on April 08, 2014:

I paid for them and I care for them. Animals are not a part of our human rights system, nor should they be.

You realize less than a century ago someone could have owned you using that very same logic,right?

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 07, 2014:

Well sorry 'Fuhrer' (coincidence?) in this society animals can be owned, not just the ones you approve of. Believe whatever you want, it has no bearing on what I choose to do. I paid for them and I care for them. Animals are not a part of our human rights system, nor should they be.

Most of the dog attack stories I hear of do not sound like someone intentionally made them aggressive. Maybe these dogs wouldn't have been so aggressive if they were properly trained. Oh, but that's restricting their freedom isn't it??

Tharika Fuhrer on April 07, 2014:


Your choice of words reveal a lot about you as well.

I don't believe in as you put it a "ban"on animals because unlike you I don't believe animals are a commodity. Therefore outlawing them like a narcotic is not something I am interested in.

Regarding your pit bull analogy, I think many of the deaths involved in these incidents not to mention the many others put down because no one wanted them could have been avoided all together if people didn't purposefully breed them to be aggressive not to mention breeding them with little care for what happens to them after, all this could have been avoided if people just learned to respect nature and the animals they keep.

You say people like me force you to do things a certain way restricting your freedoms when in fact you do just that and far more to the animals you claim to care for by forcing them to be what you want them to be.

The "danger" you seem to think I am arguing for is not the danger animals do to us but what we do to the animals. It is them who need protection from us not the other way around.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 07, 2014:

Tharika Fuhrer-- Interesting, when an aggressive dog (in addition to the millions put down for lack of people wanting them) is put down for biting is that death a needful death? This article is not about animal welfare and I have loads of other words on the subject. Problem is people who think like you like to mislead people into thinking animals should be banned by using 'danger' as a factor when it isn't, because that's one effective way at stamping your feet until you get your way, forcing us to live by your beliefs and values. Your comment shows that you feel you can impose your belief on me, telling me why I should love an animal and how I should express that love.

Tharika Fuhrer on April 07, 2014:

It is interesting to note Melissa that though it may add up to one death a year for the humans involved in these attacks the outcome for the animals is most often a needless death. Your statistics do not lie but your argument only looks at the human side of exotic animal keeping and ignores the basic well being of these wild animals regardless of their cognitive ability they are impaired by this practice and for what ? So we may keep them for our own amusement. The reason we love these creatures is because of their wild beauty alienating them from their nature for one's own need for domination is wrong and arrogant and demeaning to the very spirit of the thing we claim to love.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on December 20, 2012:

Hi possltd, no I didn't know that about Oprah, but I can't find any evidence to support it.

possltd on December 20, 2012:

How can Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez want to ban Servals She knows nothing about them Shame on her,,, Did you know Oprah Winfrey Has one of these Servals. When she comes to her Montecito Estate in California she brings her 3dogs and 1 Serval with her.

***found more about Servals at links below******

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on October 14, 2012:

Oh yeah, I've heard of those, although someone who keeps a pet bobcat is insisting that a hybrid between a bobcat and domesticated cat is not possible.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on October 14, 2012:

@ Shaddie Haha, I thought of it while writing this and got all excited because it make a lot of sense. Thanks.

Shaddie from Washington state on October 13, 2012:

I liked your comparison between exotics/dogs and planes/cars. This is a very apt analogy and one I may use in debates in the future.

Larry Fields from Northern California on October 13, 2012:

I've read that the Pixie Bob, like the Savannah, is a cat breed that's surprisingly people-oriented. Unfortunately, I'm allergic to cats.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on October 13, 2012:

Thanks for commenting Larry. Yeah I could NEVER live in Australia with all of their strict pet laws. They won't even allow savannah cats because they think that if they escaped and bred with feral cats it would create a 'more efficient predator'. That sounds like complete BS, I can't see any level of serval making the feral cat problem worse, even if that did happen. I guess cat owners maintain their luxury of never having to deal with pet bans because their animals are such a massive problem already and no one can effectively curb it. I love getting told by cat owners how terrible my pets are. I don't know much about Tasmanian devils. Endangered species would have to be properly managed so that too many aren't taken from the wild for captivity to support a demand for them, if there was one.

Larry Fields from Northern California on October 13, 2012:

Hi Melissa. There's also a slippery slope here. In the Peoples Republic of Australia, it's illegal for ordinary citizens to own most kinds of native animals as pets.

Yet it would be very reasonable to allow private ownership of Tasmanian Devils. Some Australian scientists report that these critters make good pets for people who treat them kindly (as is the case with dogs).

More to the point, wild Devils in Tasmania are endangered, because of a tumor facial disease. By letting freedom ring, the nanny state Down Under could save an iconic animal at zero cost and minuscule risk to responsible pet owners and their neighbors.

Voted up.

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