I have worked in zoos for more than forty years. During that time I have hand reared a number of Lions, Tigers, Leopards, Jaguars, and Pumas. I have never had occasion to declaw a single one of these and nor has the thought of doing so ever passed through my mind.
Declawing is as barbaric and inhumane as it is unnecessary! There can only be one instance where such a procedure should be considered and that is if the animal was self-mutilating and even then it would be after all other options had been explored, and explored twice over. Euthanasia would be a kinder and more considerate option than declawing.
This cruel procedure is not simply a matter of trimming the animals toenails but is actually the surgical amputation (Onychectomy) of the end of the animals toes. It is much the same as cutting off the end of a human beings fingers and toes. It is not minor surgery! It permanently maims the animal. Such an action effects the big cats natural behaviours and instincts and in turn its long term physical and mental state. Such disablement affects the ability to groom itself, to climb and to defend. The removal of an essential part of the body leads to a change in the way nature intended the animal to move and unnatural locomotion is used to compensate which will eventually cause painful arthritis. Abscesses of the feet are common after surgery. Fifty percent of all cats which are declawed have some form of obvious complication and with twenty percent of these it would be long term.
Declawing is actually illegal in many countries and considered extremely inhumane. These include England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Germany, Italy, Austria, Brazil, Switzerland, Norway, Israel, Malta, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Australia and New Zealand.
Sadly in some other countries the declawing of domestic cats has been almost a standard mutilation to protect furniture or similar.
Why would anyone consider such an awful and cruel procedure with a wild animal such as a lion or tiger which is never going to come any where near a piece of household furniture? The short and true answer is simply so that someone can enter an enclosure with such an animal and come to next to no harm. Providing the animals are hand reared and humanised then such a person can play Tarzan, showing off as to how clever, brave and 'in touch' with nature they are. Teaching an animal not to bite is very easy. Teaching a clawed animal not to scratch is more difficult and actually does need someone who understands animals.
Entering an enclosure with a Big Cat serves no useful purpose. It is not educational and it plays absolutely no part in research or conservation. Playing with Big Cats is pure circus and has no place in the modern zoological garden.
The so called 'Lion Man', Craig Busch of Zion Wildlife Gardens in New Zealand has achieved an almost cult status through regularly appearing on TV playing with declawed Big Cats. The only educational value is in showing how easy it is to dupe the public.