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Tigers in Texas: Explaining state laws on owning dangerous animals

Yes, it is legal to own a tiger in Texas. But there are stipulations.

AUSTIN, Texas — After the arrest of a Houston suspect at the center of a tiger investigation dominated headlines on Monday, questions about the legality of owning dangerous animals in Texas are in the spotlight.

While the suspect was arrested after bringing the tiger inside a home, the whereabouts of the animal remain unknown as of Tuesday evening. Also unknown to many are state laws on possessing a big cat.

According to Texas law, to own a tiger, one must carry at least $100,000 liability insurance. Owners are required to register their dangerous animals with local health authorities and submit a copy of the registration to the Department of State Health and Human Services. 

Of note, animals in accredited zoos are not registered in the same way.

There are also caging requirements: Each tiger needs at least 300 square feet of space and an 8 foot fence. This cage must be covered but not if that enclosure is more than 1,000 square feet, and the rules for surrounding walls will range from a 12- to 16-foot minimum, depending on how the wall is built.

You can click here to view the Texas statutes on dangerous wild animals, and here for more information on caging requirements.

Here's a rundown on dangerous animals currently registered across Texas:

Bastrop County

  • 1 tiger
  • 2 lions
  • 3 leopards
  • 3 bears
  • 2 servals

Collin County

  • 34 tigers
  • 2 cheetahs
  • 14 bobcats
  • 4 lions
  • 8 cougars
  • 3 servals
  • 1 lynx
  • 5 leopards

Comal County

  • 2 hyenas
  • 3 cougars
  • 2 lions
  • 3 jaguars
  • 2 leopards

Guadalupe County

  • 4 tigers
  • 1 lion
  • 1 leopard
  • 1 hyena

Kaufman County

  • 17 tigers
  • 3 lions
  • 1 hyena
  • 2 bobcats
  • 6 bears

Potter County

  • 4 tigers
  • 4 chimpanzees
  • 5 lions

Specifically, in the city of Austin, not everyone can own a tiger. Dangerous animals are permitted:

  • in a zoo, shelter, museum or educational or medical institution;
  • for temporary public exhibition by a circus, carnival or other traveling exhibition;
  • at or in transit to a licensed veterinary clinic; or
  • if the person holds a license or permit that authorizes the person to attempt to rehabilitate the dangerous animal.

Those permitted must also follow cage requirements and obtain liability insurance in an amount no less than $500,000 per claim. Local code on dangerous animals is posted here.

This legislative session, House Bill 4049 was introduced and assigned to a committee, but it was never heard. It would have made it illegal to own a list of pets, which included tigers.


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