After years of tireless advocacy, we are finally closing in on regulations strong enough to outlaw the selling and keeping of Big Cats as “pets” and public attractions in our nation, which has resulted in thousands of Big Cats living in captivity in the United States—most of them not in accredited zoos or sanctuaries.
On December 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act with bipartisan support. If this groundbreaking measure is enacted, private ownership and breeding of Big Cats will be illegal across the nation, and direct contact with the animals by the public will be prohibited.
Shady industries will no longer be able to make a profit stealing and exploiting cubs in cub-petting schemes or cramming Big Cats into filthy cages as “pets” or roadside zoo attractions.
To illustrate the urgent nature of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, there are an estimated over 5,000 tigers living in captivity in the United States alone. Only approximately 3,900 worldwide remain in the wild.
We’re so close to lifesaving victory: the act has passed in the House of Representatives and now needs Senate approval and the President’s signature to become law. But with only two weeks left before the Senate session ends for the year, we have to move fast.
For too long, Big Cats have been traded like objects in a disturbing underground network. Cubs are bred in captivity and ripped from their mothers too early to be used as photo-op props and manhandled in for-profit cub-petting operations. Many Big Cats are shipped to misguided people as “pets,” and subjected to an inhumane environment that cannot come close to meeting their needs.
Though many cubs are purposefully underfed to keep them small, like all babies, they eventually grow up. An adult Big Cat can no longer be easily handled, so they are packed up and passed around again. The luckiest of these cats find a permanent home in a reputable Big Cat sanctuary. Others are locked away in undersized, dingy cages as attractions in rundown roadside zoos or forced to waste away in a backyard as a pet. Even more are discarded and killed for their skin, claws, and teeth to be sold on an illicit market.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act would put an end to all of this by making it “unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase…or to breed or possess, any prohibited wildlife species,” which would include Big Cats, in the United States. In existing facilities housing Big Cats, such as sanctuaries and zoos, the public would be prohibited from making direct contact with the animals.
In other words, no more cub petting and no more buying or selling lions, tigers, pumas, leopards, and other Big Cats to cage them and “own” them.
Individuals who already owned Big Cats before the act’s passing would be permitted to keep them, but must register the animals and cannot breed or let other people near them. Anyone found in violation of the law could be fined up to $20,000, sentenced to five years in prison, or both.
And when Big Cats are protected, people are, too. Keeping lions, tigers, and other Big Cats as pets has led to tragic outcomes for their uneducated “owners” and for the officers who are called to respond. The Big Cat Public Safety Act, as its name emphasizes, is about confronting the public safety risks inherent in keeping Big Cats in unlawful and unsuitable captivity.
For too long, too many Big Cats have been forced to live in inhumane conditions just so someone can make a buck. Now we have a chance to ensure their lives no longer slip through the cracks.