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Back to Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats

I. Introduction

Austria has no native populations of big cats. The European lynx, which is classified as a small cat in Austria,[1] may be making a come-back after having been extinct. The lynx is strictly protected in Austria, yet conditions for recovery are not optimal due to the decrease in contiguous forest lands.[2] 

In Austria, the keeping of big cats and other dangerous or wild animals is addressed in legislation that serves the purposes of

  • animal welfare,
  • species conservation and protection,
  • veterinary law, and
  • public safety.[3]

The laws that protect these public interests are issued at different levels.  Species conservation and protection is governed primarily by international agreements to which Austria is a party.  With respect to big cats, the most significant of these is the Washington Endangered Species Agreement,[4] its implementation regimes at the EU level,[5] and their transposition in Austrian federal law.[6]  Animal welfare is addressed in a federal Animal Welfare Act[7] that applies to all animals and that is further implemented through regulations dealing with specific activities, including regulations on zoos.[8] Veterinary law (not further discussed in this report) is also governed by federal legislation.[9]  The protection of the public from dangerous animals that individuals may want to keep falls within the police power of the states and is governed by state legislation.[10]  The laws that protect the public and the welfare of animals are enforced at the local level.

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II. Private Possession of Big Cats

In Austria, big cats cannot be kept anywhere except in qualified zoos.  This restriction is expressed in section 9 of the Regulation on the Keeping of Wild Animals,[11] and it applies to all members of the Pantherinae subfamily[12] as well as to cheetahs[13] and smaller wild cats, except for native wild cats (felis sylverstris) and lynx.[14]  Limiting the keeping of big cats to big zoos aims at protecting the welfare of these animals, in adherence to the purposes of the Austrian Animal Welfare Act.[15]

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III.  Keeping Big Wild Animals at Private Homes

Due to the above-described provisions, big cats cannot be kept in private homes, and many other wild animals fall under the same prohibition.[16]  To the extent that big wild animals are not subject to this prohibition,[17] they can be kept in private homes only if they live up to the laws that protect animal welfare and to those that protect public safety (for the latter, see below, Part VI).[18]

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IV.  Private Zoos

Big cats may only be kept in Category A zoos,[19] and these are the most highly qualified zoos and are most likely to be owned at the municipal level.  Category B and C zoos are intended for animals that are less difficult to keep; their licensing requirements are less restrictive,[20] and it is more likely that some of them may be privately owned.  Category A zoos must be headed by an experienced biologist or veterinarian and have a sufficient well-trained staff. Category A zoos serve the public interest by providing education, conducting research, and participating in species preservation efforts.[21]

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V.  Requirements for Keeping Big Cats in Captivity

Detailed specifications are prescribed for the living conditions of big cats living in zoos. The enclosures in which big cats are kept must provide sufficient interior and exterior space that must be suitably equipped and be kept at appropriate temperatures for each species. For most big cats, the exterior space for a male and a female or for a female with young must measure 500 square meters with an additional 10% of space required for each additional adult animal.  This space requirement applies to tigers, lions, and pumas.  For clouded leopards, only 200 square meters are required, whereas 800 square meters are required for cheetahs.  Depending on the species, the interior space must measure either ten or fifty square meters, and for some species a protection against inclement weather and litter on the floor must be provided.  The height of the enclosure for most big cats must be at least 3.5 meter, yet four meters are required for cloudy leopards and 2.5 meters for cheetahs. [22]

Access to the exterior space must be provided throughout the year.  The exterior space must be landscaped with vegetation and sand.  It must also be enhanced with opportunities for climbing and scratching, and raised platforms to serve as look-out posts must be provided, as well as places for lying down that are protected from the weather. For tigers and jaguars, bathing basins are required.   Lions are to be kept in prides (groups) whereas other cats are to be kept in pairs, yet females giving birth and raising their young must be kept separated at least part of the time. 

For fodder, whole carcasses, muscle meat attached to the bone and enriched by mineral supplements, and, occasionally, organ meats must be offered.[23]

In addition to these specific requirements, the overall provisions of the Austrian Animal Welfare Act must be observed.  The most important restrictions result from section 5 of the Act, which contains a long list of actions that constitute cruelty and are therefore prohibited. Among them are breeding practices (see below, Part VII); training that makes animals more aggressive; requiring performances by an animal that cause it pain and suffering, injury, or fear; subjecting an animal to unsuitable temperatures or unsuitably small enclosures; force-feeding or other feeding practices that induce fear; and neglect of an animal and its living conditions in a manner that causes the animal pain, suffering, injury, or fear.  Also prohibited are surgical interventions except for those needed for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes.  Exceptions from this prohibition are narrowly worded yet they include the castration of animals.  In any event, all necessary surgical interventions must be carried out by a veterinarian who must administer anesthesia when appropriate as well as post-operative pain medication.[24]

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VI.  Procedures for Licensing Facilities that Keep Ferocious Animals

All zoos must be licensed in accordance with the Zoo Regulation of 2004.[25] Circuses also must be licensed and they must live up to stringent requirements for the animals kept by them.[26] Circuses, however, are not authorized to keep wild animals.[27]  Regulations also exist for the keeping of animals for sale, yet big cats cannot be traded by pet shops and similar institutions.[28]

A license is also required for individuals who want to keep a ferocious animal in their homes or in other properties.[29] On the basis of various police laws of the Austrian states, keepers of wild mammals (except for hoofed animals) that in principle may be kept in private homes or other properties must obtain a license, which will be granted only if the local authorities are satisfied that the animal will be kept in a manner that protects public safety and private property and that lives up to the statutory and regulatory animal welfare provisions.[30]

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VII.  Permission for Breeding

Since the private keeping of big cats is not possible, there are no legal frameworks that would require permission for their breeding.  In category A zoos, where big cats may be kept, breeding may be part of a planned species preservation effort and it would be carried out under appropriate veterinary guidance.  Breeding is also addressed in section 5 of the Animal Welfare Act, which prohibits cruelty against animals.  This provision prohibits breeding that could cause the animal or its descendants pain, suffering, injury, or fear, and could lead to genetic mutations that impair the animal’s health or physiological condition by causing the animal to suffer from a variety of conditions including shortness of breath, lameness, inflammations, blindness, deafness, hair loss, neurological symptoms, and various bodily abnormalities including those that would make natural childbirth difficult.

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VIII.  Trade in Wild Animals

Austria is a member of the 1973 Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and has implemented the Convention through a Species Trade Act of 2009[31] that also transposes the relevant European Union Legislation.[32]  The latter distinctly refers to big cats as being subject to stringent export/import controls.[33]  In Austria, implementation and enforcement of the endangered species regime are handled at the federal level, in part by the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry, and in part by the Ministry for Finance.[34]

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IX.  Penalties and Enforcement

Violations of animal welfare provisions are administrative offenses, punishable by fines that in serious cases may amount to €15,000 (US$19,500).  Violations of trade in endangered animals restrictions are also administrative offenses, and penalties may range up to €20,000 (US$26,000).

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Edith Palmer
Chief, Foreign, Comparative, and
International Law Division II
June 2013


[1] Verordnung der Bundesministerin für Gesundheit, Familie und Jugend über die Haltung von Wirbeltieren, die nicht unter die erste Tierhaltungsverordnung fallen, über Wildtiere, die besondere Anforderungen an die Haltung stellen und über Wildtierarten, deren Haltung aus Gründen des Tierschutzes verboten ist (2. Tierhaltungsverordnung) [Regulation of the Federal Minister for Health, Family and Youth on the Keeping of Vertebrate Animals that do not Fall within the Scope of the First Regulation on the Keeping of Animals, on Wild Animals for which Special Requirements Must Be Met, and for Wild Animals that May Not Be Kept for Animal Welfare Reasons (Second Animal Keeping Regulation)], Bundesgesetzblatt [BGBl.] II 486/2004, as amended, § 9 no. 10, up-to-date version available at Bundeskanzleramt/Rechtsinformationssystem [RIS],

[2] Bär, Luchs und Wolf kehren heim nach Österreich, der (Aug. 10, 2012), http://derstandard. at/1343744469158/Baer-Luchs-und-Wolf-kehren-heim-nach-Oesterreich.

[3] Martina Dörflinger, Voraussetzungen für die Haltung gefährlicher Tiere, Recht und Finanzen für Gemeinden 22 (2009), available at (by subscription).

[4] Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Mar. 3, 1973, 27 U.S.T. 1087, T.I.A.S. 8249, 993 U.N.T.S. 243,, as amended, June 1, 1979, T.I.A.S. 11079, and Apr. 30, 1983, http://www.cites. org/eng/disc/gaborone.php (Gaborone Amendment).  Austria first ratified the Agreement in the version of the 1979 amendment on April, 27, 1982, BGBl. No. 1982/188, and promulgated the latest version of Appendices 1, 2, and 3 in BGBl. III No. 2012/69.

[5]  Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein, 1997 O.J. (L 61) 1, as amended, consolidated version at

[6] Artenhandelsgesetz [Species Trading Act], BGBl. I No. 16/2009.

[7] Tierschutzgesetz [Animal Welfare Act], BGBl. I No. 118/2004, as amended, up-to-date version available at RIS,

[8] Zoo-Verordnung [Zoo Regulation], BGBl. II No. 491/2004, as amended.

[9] Tierärztegesetz [Veterinary Act], Dec. 13, 1974, BGBl. No. 16/1975, as amended.

[10] Dörflinger, supra note 3.

[11] Second Animal Keeping Regulation, supra note 1, § 9.

[12] Id. § 9, no. 9.

[13] Id. § 9, no. 11.

[14] Id. § 9, no. 10.

[15] Animal Welfare Act §§ 24–25.

[16] Second Animal Keeping Regulation, supra note 1, § 9.

[17] The brown bear, for instance, does not need to be kept in a zoo. Id. § 9, no. 12.

[18] Dörflinger, supra note 3.

[19] Second Animal Keeping Regulation § 9.

[20] Zoo Regulation §§ 5–8.

[21] Id. § 4.

[22] Second Animal Keeping Regulation, supra note 1, App. 1, ¶

[23] Id.

[24] Animal Welfare Act § 6.

[25] Id. § 26; Zoo Regulation, supra note 8, § 2.

[26] Tierschutz-Zirkusverordnung [Circus Animal Welfare Regulation], BGBl. II No. 489/2004.

[27] Animal Welfare Act § 27.

[28] Tierhaltungs-Gewerbeverordnung [Commercial Animal Keeping Regulation], BGBl. II No. 487/2004, as amended.

[29] Dörflinger, supra note 3.

[30] In Upper Austria, for instance.  Polizeistrafgesetz, Landesgesetzblatt für Oberösterreich No. 36/1979, as amended.

[31] Artenhandelsgesetz [Species Trading Act], BGBl. I No. 16/2009.

[32] Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 on the Protection of Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by Regulating Trade Therein, 1997 O.J. (L 61) 1, as amended, consolidated version at

[33] Id. App. A.

[34] Species Trading Act § 14.

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Last Updated: 06/30/2015