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Back to Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats

I.  Introduction

Malay tigers are native to the Malaysian Peninsula.[1]  Poaching and habitat loss have led to a huge decline in the population of tigers in the wild, with possibly only around five hundred remaining.  The Malaysian government faced pressure over a number of years to address the situation relating to tigers and other wildlife, including by increasing penalties for wildlife crimes and improving enforcement powers.[2]  In response to these issues, the Malaysian Parliament enacted the Wildlife Conservation Act in 2010,[3] which repealed and replaced the previous Protection of Wild Life Act 1972.[4]  As with the earlier legislation, a range of species, including tigers, are listed as “totally protected” wildlife in the 2010 Act, with special licenses required in order to keep such animals.  However, there are broader protection provisions and increased penalties for illegal activities.[5]  The government has subsequently put in place various regulations under the Act, including requirements relating to captive breeding of wildlife and keeping such animals in zoos.

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II.  Wildlife Protection Law

Tigers (panthera tigris) and other big cats are listed as totally protected species under the Second Schedule of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.[6]  A special permit is required in order for a person to “hunt or keep any totally protected wildlife”; import or export such wildlife; or use totally protected wildlife for a zoo, circus, wildlife exhibition operation, or commercial captive breeding.[7]  Special permits may only be issued by a licensing officer if the application is approved by the relevant Minister.[8]  Licensing officers can attach any conditions or restrictions to a permit as he or she sees fit,[9] and can suspend or revoke a permit if he or she is satisfied that these conditions, or any provisions of the Act, are breached.[10]

Under section 68 of the Wildlife Conservation Act, any person who “hunts or keeps any totally protected wildlife (other than an immature totally protected wildlife or the female of a totally protected wildlife)” without a special permit commits an offense.  This offense is punishable by a fine of up to RM100,000 (about US$32,300) or imprisonment for up to three years, or both.  The penalties are increased in relation to certain named species, including tigers, leopard, and clouded leopard.  Unlawfully hunting or keeping these species is punishable by a fine of between RM100,000 and RM500,000 (about US$161,300) and imprisonment for a term of up to five years.[11]  Unlike those for the primary offense, these sanctions are not listed in the alternative.

There are separate offenses for hunting or keeping female or immature totally protected wildlife.  In relation to tigers and certain other species, the punishments are as follows:

  • Immature tiger, etc.: fine of between RM150,000 (about US$48,400) and RM500,000 and imprisonment for up to five years[12]
  • Female tiger, etc.: fine of between RM200,000 and RM500,000 and imprisonment for up to five years[13]

Offenses are also listed in the Act in relation to using totally protected wildlife for a zoo, circus, or wildlife exhibition operation, or for a commercial breeding program without a special permit.  The penalties are again higher where the offense involves tigers or other named species, being a fine of between RM100,000 and RM500,000 and imprisonment for up to five years.[14]

Cruelty to wildlife is also punishable under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, including where a person neglects to “supply sufficient food or water to any wildlife which he houses, confines or breeds” and for keeping, housing, confining or breeding wildlife “in such manner so as to cause it unnecessary pain or suffering including the housing, confining or breeding of any wildlife in any premises which is not suitable for or conducive to the comfort or health of the wildlife.”[15]  This offense carries a fine of between RM5,000 (about US$1,600) and RM50,000, or up to one year imprisonment, or both.

Offenses under the Wildlife Conservation Act are specified as being “seizable” offenses for the purposes of the Criminal Procedure Code.[16]  Various enforcement powers and associated procedures are listed in Part VIII of the Act.

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III.  Regulation of Zoos and Captive Breeding Programs

Broadly, under the Wildlife Protection Act 2010, a permit to operate a zoo, commercial captive breeding program, circus, or wildlife exhibition will not be issued unless the licensing officer is satisfied that

(a) the establishment or continuity of the establishment of the zoo, commercial captive breeding, circus or wildlife exhibition will not bring ill effects to the health or safety of any person or community in the surrounding area;

(b) there is prepared an emergency plan relating to plague, natural disaster and accidental release of any wildlife; and

(c) the person has never been previously convicted of an offence under this Act or any of its subsidiary legislation or any other written law related to cruelty to animals.[17]

More specific requirements related to the keeping of wildlife are included in recently promulgated regulations.  The relevant government Minister is authorized by the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 to issue any necessary regulations, including in relation to “the conditions under which totally protected wildlife or protected wildlife may be kept and bred” and “regulating the operation of zoo, commercial captive breeding, circus or wildlife exhibitions.”[18]

The following instruments contain rules governing special permits and zoo or commercial captive breeding permits:

  • Wildlife Conservation (Licence, Permit and Special Permit Fees) Regulations 2013[19]
  • Wildlife Conservation (Commercial Captive Breeding) Regulations 2013[20]
  • Wildlife Conservation (Operation of Zoo) Regulations 2012[21] and Wildlife (Operation of Zoo) (Amendment) Regulations 2013[22]
  • Wildlife Conservation (Exhibition) Regulations 2013[23]

Under the first regulations listed above, the fees for special permits[24] (required by the Act in relation to activities involving totally protected species listed in the Second Schedule) include[25]

  • RM20 (about US$6.50) per head for keeping or using totally protected wildlife;
  • no fee for keeping or using totally protected wildlife for the operation of a zoo, wildlife exhibition, or commercial captive breeding;
  • RM100 for research or study on any protected wildlife for wildlife purposes, with no fee applicable for academic or conservation research; and
  • RM50 for the import, export, or re-export of totally protected wildlife.

A.  Commercial Captive Breeding

The Wildlife Conservation (Commercial Captive Breeding) Regulations 2013 state that “[n]o person shall use any totally protected wildlife for a commercial captive breeding activity unless he holds a special permit under section 11 of the Act.”[26]  A commercial breeder is required to ensure that wildlife used for the activity is able to “move freely in an appropriate size and comfortable enclosure” and “is kept in an appropriate number in an enclosure and not overcrowded.”[27]  There are also tagging and record-keeping requirements,[28] and a requirement that the commercial breeder ensure that wildlife used in the activity “is kept in good health under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon.”[29]

Contravention of the regulations is an offense punishable by a fine of up to RM100,000 or up to five years’ imprisonment, or both.[30]

B.  Zoos and Exhibitions

A “zoo” is defined in the Wildlife (Operation of Zoo) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 as being “any area or premises which keeps or places 50 or more wildlife species [of] which the total is 100 or more whether for the purposes of conservation, education, research or recreation, and is open to the public.”[31]  These Regulations also specify that “no person shall use any totally protected wildlife for zoo operation unless he holds a special permit issued under paragraph 11(e) of the Act.”[32]

The required enclosure sizes for different wildlife species are set out in a Schedule to the regulations.  This includes specifications for very large, medium large, medium, and small carnivores.  The “very large carnivores” category includes lions, tigers, and cheetah.[33]  A night stall for one animal must be at least four meters by three meters, with a height of at least three meters.  The minimum size for an exhibition area for a pair of animals must be at least five hundred square meters, with a non-exhibit area for a pair to be at least fifty square meters.[34]

The enclosure must also “have a design appropriate to the natural behaviour and basic needs of the wildlife,” and the design must be submitted to the Director General for approval.[35]  There are also requirements relating to the diet[36] and healthcare[37] to be provided to the wildlife and for the cleaning of enclosures,[38] as well as restrictions and approval requirements applicable to the holding of wildlife shows.[39]  Zoo operators may be required to pay a deposit to the government for the purpose of financing costs incurred in seizing, keeping, and maintaining any wildlife seized from the zoo.[40]

The penalty for contravening the zoo regulations is a fine of up to RM100,000 or five years’ imprisonment, or both.[41]

Similar provisions apply in relation to wildlife exhibitions, including with regard to enclosure sizes,[42] diet,[43] and healthcare requirements.[44]  Only those animals specified in a schedule to the relevant regulations may be shown as part of a mobile, as opposed to a permanent, exhibition.[45]  The schedule does not include any large cats such as tigers.[46]

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IV.  Reports Relating to Tigers in Captivity

We located reports of enforcement officers seizing a tiger and other animals from a private zoo in 2011 due to conditions at the zoo and associated breaches of the new legislation.[47]  In terms of the keeping of big cats in private residences, the following items were found:

  • A news report on a tiger being kept as a pet in Malaysia in 2003, with the owner attempting to release the animal rather than facing heavy penalties for not holding a permit to keep it.[48]
  • A 2007 report by the Malaysian government in relation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) said that, under the 1972 legislation, no special permits had been issued for activities involving trade in tigers other than for noncommercial purposes such as research, captive breeding programs, and exchanges between zoos.[49]
  • A 2008 news item that referenced the lack of strong protections in the previous legislation stated that an organization had called on the government to ban the keeping of wildlife as pets by refusing to issue permits.[50]
  • A 2009 blog post suggested that the Malaysian government allow tigers to be kept as pets to prevent extinction, and stated that
  • A January 2012 newspaper item warned people against keeping small leopard cats as pets, stating that they are protected species and that people can be fined or jailed for having these animals and should hybridization with domestic cats occur.[52]

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Kelly Buchanan
Chief, Foreign, Comparative and International Law Division I
June 2013


[1] This report covers the laws applicable in the Malaysian Peninsula only, not those that apply in the Malaysian Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.

[2] See Wildlife Conservation Bill 2010, Explanatory Statement, at 134, billindex/pdf/2010/DR162010E.pdf

[3] Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716), available at (unofficial site).

[4] Protection of Wild Life Act 1972 (Act 76),

[5] See Jeremy Hance, Malaysia Introducing Tough New Wildlife Laws, (May 20, 2010),; Seann Lenihan, New Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Act Including Anti-Cruelty Language Comes into Force, Animal People Online (Oct. 1, 2011),; Natalie Heng, Stronger Prosecution Needed to Deter Wildlife Crime, The Star Online (Mar. 12, 2013), %2F12781668&sec=lifefocus.

[6] Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716), sched. 2.  Other wild cat species listed as totally protected under the Second Schedule (pages 100–101 of the Act) include Bay Cat, Asian Golden Cat, Clouded Leopard, Leopard, Marbled Cat, Leopard Cat, Flat-headed Cat, Cheetah, Iberian Lynx, Asiatic Lion, Jaguar, Florida Cougar, Central American Cougar, Eastern Cougar, and Snow Leopard.  Various other species of wild cats are listed as protected wildlife under part 2 of the First Schedule (page 74 of the Act).  The Second Schedule was subsequently amended by the Wildlife Conservation (Amendment of Schedule) Order 2012, outputp/pua_20120420_P.U.%20%28A%29%20103-perintah%20pemuliharaan%20hidupan%20liar%20%28 pindaan%20jadual%29%202012.pdf

[7] Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716), § 11.

[8] Id. § 14(2).

[9] Id. §§ 14(4), 15.

[10] Id. § 23.

[11] Id. § 68(2)(c).

[12] Id. § 69(2).  Immature tigers and other wild cats are defined by their size under the Third Schedule of the Act.

[13] Id. § 70(2).

[14] Id. § 72(3).

[15] Id. § 86(1)(b), (c).

[16] Id. § 89.

[17] Id. § 28.

[18] Id. § 132(2)(c), (e).

[19] Wildlife Conservation (Licence, Permit and Special Permit Fees) Regulations 2013, http://www.federalgazette.

[24] Wildlife Conservation (Licence, Permit and Special Permit Fees) Regulations 2013, reg. 4.

[25] Id. sched. 3.

[26] Wildlife Conservation (Commercial Captive Breeding) Regulations 2013, reg. 3(2).

[27] Id. reg. 5.

[28] Id. reg. 6.

[29] Id. reg. 7(1).

[30] Id. reg. 9.

[31] Wildlife (Operation of Zoo) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, reg. 2.  The original definition in the 2012 regulations did not specify the number of species or animals.

[32] Wildlife (Operation of Zoo) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, reg. 3(2).

[33] Id. sched. (A).

[34] Id.

[35] Wildlife Conservation (Operation of Zoo) Regulations 2012, reg. 6.

[36] Id. reg. 8.

[37] Id. reg. 9 (as amended by reg. 4 of the 2013 Amendment Regulations).

[38] Id. reg. 10.

[39] Id. reg. 13.

[40] Id. reg. 14 (as amended by reg. 5 of the 2013 Amendment Regulations).

[41] Id. reg. 15.

[42] Wildlife Conservation (Exhibition) Regulations 2013, reg. 6 & sched. 2(A).

[43] Id. reg. 9.

[44] Id. reg. 7.

[45] Id. reg. 5(1).

[46] Id. sched. 1(A).

[47] Vincent Chow, Act of Kindness to Animals in Enclosures, New Straits Times (Oct. 10, 2011), available at %20in%20enclosures.pdf; Mohd Farhaan Shah, Animals Rescued from Johor Zoo, The Star (Sept. 9, 2011), available at Johor%20Zoo.pdf

[48] Jonathan Kent, Malaysian Pet Tiger Reluctantly Goes Wild, BBC News (Jan. 16, 2003), uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2664461.stm.

[49] Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Peninsular Malaysia, Management and Conservation of Tigers in Malaysia at 2 (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Fourteenth Meeting of the Conference Parties (June 2007), CoP14 Doc. 52 Asian Big Cats, Annex 4), common/cop/14/doc/E14-52A04.pdfSee also an updated report from July 2008 at catsgportal/cites/05_standing-committee/sc57-31-1A2_Malaysia.pdf.

[50] ‘Ban People from Keeping Wildlife as Pets’, The Star Online (Apr. 20, 2008), news/story.asp?file=/2008/4/20/nation/20080420115302&sec=nation.

[51] Tigers as Food or as Pets, The Malaysian Life (Jan. 8, 2009), 2009/01/tigers-as-food-or-as-pets.html.

[52] Nicholas Cheng, Letter to the Editor, ‘Don’t Keep Leopard Cats as Pets’, New Straits Times (Jan. 27, 2012), http://www.nst.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020