Following the breakout success of Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, many people are wondering about exotic pet ownership, and particularly whether it is legal to own a pet tiger. In Texas, it’s possible to permit your own pet palace with dangerous wild animals including lions, tigers, and bears. 

But just because you can, does not mean you should! Why? Owning a tiger can leave your family and neighbors at risk for catastrophic injuries. And zoos do such a better job taking care of our ferocious feline friends! 

Owning a pet tiger is decidedly not like picking up a rescue kitten in the pet store parking lot. While pet owners often focus on companionship, owning a pet tiger is risky. In Texas, the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife regulates ownership of dangerous wild animals. 

The law requires owners of exotic pets to comply with all applicable regulations under the federal Animal Welfare Act. In addition, they must obtain an official permit. 

Certificate of Registration

Tigers are one of many exotic pets that Texas deems dangerous wild animals. To own one, a person must obtain an official “certificate of registration.” 

Certificates are issued by a city or county animal control department with authority over the region where the dangerous wild animal is kept. In an area that does not have an animal control department, the county sheriff issues certificates of registration. 

To get a certificate of registration, an applicant must submit an application along with supporting documents. Documents attached to an application include:

  • Full-color photo of the animal
  • Photograph, dimensions of, and scale diagram of the pet’s enclosure
  • Proof of at least $100,000 liability insurance covering the pet

An applicant’s sworn statement, along with a statement by a licensed veterinarian verifying the animal’s inspection and that the pet’s health condition meets Texas state standards. 

Care Under the Animal Welfare Act

Texas law requires owners of exotic pets to comply with care and treatment standards under the Animal Welfare Act. These standards apply to:

  • Veterinary care
  • Animal health and husbandry
  • Animal facilities

The most burdensome requirements, financially, involve the required veterinary care and animal facilities. 

Changes to the animal facilities and enclosure can be made, with approval, if they do not compromise the public’s safety or the animal’s overall welfare. Still, appropriate security mechanisms for a full-size adult tiger can be costly. 

How Common is Pet Tiger Ownership in Texas?

The number of registered dangerous wild animals in Texas varies from year to year. In 2019, reporting shows 156 total dangerous wild animals, including:

  • 21 lions
  • 64 tigers
  • 14 bears

These numbers were up from 139 total dangerous wild animals registered in 2016, according to media reports at the time. 

In 2016, well over half of dangerous wild animals were registered in Collin and Travis counties. In 2019, dangerous wild animals were registered in all of the following counties:

  • Bell
  • Bastrop
  • Collin
  • Kaufman
  • Potter
  • Montgomery
  • Travis

Since there’s an established big cat rescue organization in Collin County, Texas, it seems like individual ownership of dangerous wild animals has spread across Texas over the years. 

Being in possession of a pet tiger in violation of the dangerous wild animal registration requirements can land you with a civil penalty of at least $200 and up to $2000. It can also lead to a Class C misdemeanor criminal charge. 

But that’s only the beginning. Owners of pet tigers can be on the hook for damages from personal injury and even death. 

Personal Injury Claims From Animal Attacks 

Dangerous wild animals can be, well, dangerous. Any zoologist will tell you how fierce a tiger’s bite can be. Injuries, even amputations, can easily result. 

Children are at particular risk of injury. Child injuries from animal attacks like dog bites are notoriously vicious. Being attacked by a tiger can be downright deadly. 

Under Texas law, the owner of a registered dangerous wild animal is required to immediately notify the agency issuing the registration and the local law enforcement agency if an exotic pet escapes. The owner is legally financially liable for all costs incurred in capturing and confining the animal. 

The owner is also liable for any injuries or deaths caused by the escaped animal. If someone is injured while the animal is in its enclosure, you may still face a premises liability claim. Of course, if someone is killed, you could be responsible for their wrongful death.