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Back to Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats

I.  Private Possession and Trade of Big Cats

The private possession and trade of big cats, particularly those that are native to India, are prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.[1]  Article 39 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act stipulates that every wild animal, other then vermin, is considered state property, and no person without previous permission from the Chief Wildlife Warden is allowed to

(a) acquire or keep in his possession, custody, or control, or

(b) transfer to any person, whether by way of gift, sale or otherwise, or

(c) destroy or damage such Government property.[2]

According to section 40(2) of the Act, no person shall “acquire, receive, keep in his control, custody or possession, sell, offer for sale, or otherwise transfer or transport any animal specified” in Schedule I and Part II of Schedule II of the Act, unless granted an authorization to do so by “the Chief Wildlife Warden or the authorised officer.”[3] 

The Act also prohibits the trade, commerce, and transfer of certain rare and endangered wild animals.  The Act states that a person shall not “sell or offer for sale or transfer whether by way of sale, gift or otherwise, any wild animal specified in” Schedule I or Part II of Schedule II, “or any captive animal belonging to that category or any animal article, trophy, uncured trophy or meat derived therefrom” unless the person has a certificate of ownership or has “previous permission in writing of the Chief Wildlife Warden or the authorised officer.”[4]

Additionally, the Act prohibits the purchasing or acquiring of any captive or wild animal from anyone except a licensed dealer or person otherwise authorized to sell the animal.[5]

Any person who had at the commencement of the Act the “control, custody, or possession” of any captive animal specified in Schedule I or Part II of Schedule II is required to provide to the Chief Wildlife Warden or an authorized officer a declaration that includes the number of animals in question, a description of each animal, and an indication of the place where the animal is kept.[6]  The Chief Wildlife Warden may then “issue a certificate of ownership in such form, as may be prescribed, to any person who, in his opinion, is in lawful possession of any wild animal.”[7]

The above provisions do not apply to recognized zoos, which are subject to a provision that states “no zoo shall acquire or transfer any wild animal specified in Schedule I and Schedule II except with the previous permission of the Authority.”[8]

Any person in contravention of these prohibitions “shall, on conviction, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to [three years] or with fine which may extend to [twenty-five thousand rupees] or with both.”[9]

Part I of Schedule I of the Act lists mammals that are protected under the Act, including Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), Clouded Leopards (Neofelis nebulosa), Fishing Cats (Felis viverrina), Golden Cats (Felis temmincki), Indian Lions (Panlhera leo persica), Leopards, Panthers, Marbled Cats (Felis marmorata), Snow Leopards, and Tigers (Panthera tigris).[10]  Part II of Schedule II also lists the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) as a protected species.  Species that are foreign to India do not appear to be protected under the Act.

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II.  Regulation of Zoos

Under the Wildlife Protection Act, only zoos that are granted recognition (a license) by the Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA) are able to operate.[11]  Zoos are “considered to be any establishment where animals are kept for public exhibition and includes zoos, circuses and rescue centers.”[12]  The Recognition of Zoo Rules, 1992,[13] establishes the criteria for recognition and sets the “minimum standards and norms for housing, upkeep and healthcare of animals” housed in zoos.[14]  The CZA also publishes additional guidelines for the maintenance and upkeep of zoos.[15]  The Authority is charged with evaluating zoos with reference to the standards prescribed under the Rules and as a result are granted or refused recognition.  Zoos that no longer meet the prescribed standards and rules may be denied recognition and ordered to close down.

According to the Recognition of Zoo Rules, zoos are classified into four categories based on “the area, number of animals and their variety exhibited, and the number of visitors.”[16]

Professor Kelch, an animal law expert, has described the Recognition of Zoo Rules as follows:

There are specific strictures relating to the treatment of animals in the Zoo Rules.  The rules prohibit cruelty to any zoo animals as proscribed by the PCAA.  The rules also provide that animals are generally not to be chained or tethered, or exhibited when ill or infirm, and animals are to be provided a clean and healthy environment.  Zoos are required to be closed at least one day a week, presumably to give the animals a break from crowds and being constantly observed.  Animals are required to be provided wholesome food, animals must be checked for health problems on a daily basis and veterinary facilities must meet certain physical requirements … In addition, there are rules dictating the physical conditions of zoos, including fencing, the providing of green belts, limitations on the amount of area at the zoo dedicated to buildings, the type of housing required for animals and so on.[17]


Though most of the rules are of a general nature, Appendix I of the Recognition of Zoo Rules provides the minimum prescribed size for enclosures and cubicles for specified animals, including certain big cats.

In addition to protections for the upkeep and healthcare of animals under the Recognition of Zoo Rules, India also has a Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.[18]

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Tariq Ahmad
Legal Research Analyst
June 2013


[2] Id. § 39.

[3] Id. § 40(2).

[4] Id. § 43(a).

[5] Id. § 49.

[6] Id. § 40.

[7] Id. § 42.

[8] Id. § 38I.

[9] Id. § 51.

[10] Id. sched. I, pt. I.

[11] Id. § 38H.

[12] Thomas G. Kelch, Globalization and Animal Law: Comparative Law, International Law and International Trade 211 (2011).

[13] Recognition of Zoo Rules, 1992, Gazette of India Extraordinary, Nov. 11, 2009, http://www.moef.nic. in/legis/wildlife/RZR,%202009.pdf.

[14] Central Zoo Authority, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, Guidelines for Establishment & Scientific Management of Zoos in India 2 (2008), Establishment%20of%20 zoos%20Jan.%202009.pdf.

[15] Id. 

[16] Recognition of Zoo Rules § 9.

[17] Kelch, supra note 12, at 212.

[18] Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, No. 59 of 1960, as amended, awbi01.pdf.

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Last Updated: 06/30/2015