Animal Welfare and Public Safety Advocates Applaud Senate Action to Restrict Possession of Dangerous Big Cats

Photo from Flickr by Andrey

Lions, tigers and other exotic felines are kept as pets, photo props and roadside zoo spectacles across the US

Washington, DCThe Animal Welfare Institute, Big Cat Rescue, Born Free USA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund are celebrating the introduction of the Big Cat Public Safety Act (BCPSA) in the US Senate. Championed by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the bill would ensure that unqualified individuals, including chronic animal abusers, are prohibited from obtaining and keeping dangerous big cats like tigers, lions, leopards and pumas.

By reintroducing the BCPSA, senators from six states across the nation are joining more than 130 bipartisan members of the US House of Representatives in calling for an end to the unregulated trade and nationwide abuse of captive big cats. Recent national headlines have documented public outrage at the inhumane display of a tiger at a high school prom, alarm as federal agents discovered a tiger cub in a duffel bag, and confusion when a young tiger was spotted roaming a Texas neighborhood. Such examples underscore the public’s growing concern about the treatment of big cats­­—and the sponsors of the Big Cat Public Safety Act have made it clear that they are listening.

The bill, if enacted, would keep dangerous big cats out of the hands of private individuals, breeders and exhibitors with egregious, ongoing Animal Welfare Act citations, and unscrupulous menageries that have historically taken advantage of loopholes to circumvent existing restrictions. The BCPSA would close these loopholes while providing exemptions for qualified wildlife sanctuaries and exhibitors licensed by the US Department of Agriculture that meet basic standards intended to protect the public and animals.

According to Kate Dylewsky, senior policy advisor at the Animal Welfare Institute, “Across the country, thousands of big cats are kept in miserable and unsecure conditions by irresponsible owners. It’s a problem that causes immeasurable animal suffering and appalling threats to human safety. The solution is simple. Big cats should not continue to end up in facilities or with individuals who are unsuited to handle them. The Big Cat Public Safety Act is a smart solution to a dangerous and cruel situation.”

Prashant Khetan, CEO and general counsel of Born Free USA, added: “This common-sense bill is an urgently needed answer to the problem of big cats kept in unsafe and abusive situations around the country. Thousands of big cats are currently owned as pets or maintained in ill-equipped roadside zoos and menageries, which pose a severe risk to the safety of people in surrounding communities, as well as the welfare of the cats themselves. It’s about time that we had a federal law that can serve to stop this inhumane practice around the country.”

Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States, said, “Tigers, lions and other big cats should not be kept in peoples’ homes or backyards. In order to protect the public, there needs to be strong oversight of these private owners who, in most cases, do not have the expertise needed to properly care for these animals in captivity. Some states have few or no laws regarding the keeping of big cats and it’s time for a uniform federal law that ends this dangerous industry once and for all.”

Carson Barylak, campaigns officer at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, noted that “there are now more tigers in backyards, roadside zoos, private menageries, and other unqualified facilities across the US than remain the wild worldwide. They are often kept in inhumane conditions, deprived of even the most basic needs such as adequate nutrition, veterinary care, stimulation and space.” In addition to jeopardizing the well-being of countless captive big cats, she explained, “the poorly regulated trade that the Act seeks to address also threatens the public and first responders, who are left to handle dangerous—and sometimes deadly—escapes, attacks, maulings and other emergencies driven by the captive big cat trade.”

"Relying on accredited sanctuaries to take in unwanted and usually neglected big cats is not a viable solution to the big cat crisis in this country," said Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue. "When big cats are wrongly kept as pets or cruelly exploited in entertainment businesses, they often endure tremendous suffering for years in deplorable conditions with inadequate nutrition and little, if any, veterinary care. Then when owners no longer want the cats or they are seized by authorities, the substantial financial burden to house, feed and provide long-term vet care for these big cats falls upon sanctuaries. It costs Big Cat Rescue $10,000 per year for food and vet care for one tiger. The Big Cat Public Safety Act will finally address the inhumane treatment of the vast majority of big cats in America."

Facts:

  • There have been more than 700 dangerous incidents in the US involving tigers, lions and cougars, including hundreds of human injuries, maulings and deaths. In many cases, the animals were shot and killed, often by first responders who are not equipped to deal with these situations. Among the most dramatic examples was an October 2011 incident in Zanesville, Ohio, in which a private exotic animal owner released dozens of big cats near a community, requiring law enforcement to kill the cats—and risk their own lives—for the sake of public safety.
  • Big cats are wild animals and suffer when kept as pets. They are often purchased as babies, and private owners typically are not able to manage them once they’re fully grown. Consequently, the animals are frequently left to languish in grossly substandard conditions and are often deprived of sufficient space, adequate veterinary care, a nutritious diet, and enrichment.
  • It is standard procedure for some roadside zoos to separate babies from their mothers so they can charge the public to pet and play with the cubs. This is an inhumane and unhealthy practice that can cause lifelong physical and psychological problems—or even death—for the cubs. Young cats, who very quickly outgrow their usefulness in the cub handling industry, end up warehoused at substandard “zoos,” sold into the exotic pet trade, or possibly even killed and sold for parts—all while a vicious cycle of constant breeding churns out more babies to be exploited.

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Media Contact

Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, margie@awionline.org

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home and in the wild. For more information, visit www.awionline.org.

Big Cat Rescue is one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world devoted to rescuing and providing a permanent home for abused and abandoned exotic cats. Located in Tampa, Fla., Big Cat Rescue is home to approximately 80 exotic cats, most of whom were abandoned by owners who mistakenly thought they made good pets, abused, seized by authorities, orphaned or retired from performing acts. The sanctuary’s dual mission is to provide the best possible home for the cats in our care and to educate the public about the plight of big cats in captivity and in the wild. www.BigCatRescue.org.

Born Free USA is a global leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, with the largest primate sanctuary in the United States. Born Free's mission is to end suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation globally. More at www.bornfreeusa.org, www.twitter.com/bornfreeusa, and www.facebook.com/bornfreeusa.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund is a social welfare organization incorporated under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code and formed in 2004 as a separate lobbying affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States. The HSLF works to pass animal protection laws at the state and federal level, to educate the public about animal protection issues, and to support humane candidates for office. On the web at hslf.org.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization, rated most effective by our peers. For 60 years, we have celebrated the protection of all animals and confronted all forms of cruelty. We are the nation’s largest provider of hands-on services for animals, caring for more than 100,000 animals each year, and we prevent cruelty to millions more through our advocacy campaigns. Read more about our 60 years of transformational change for animals and people. HumaneSociety.org

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on social @action4ifaw and Facebook/IFAW.

Photo from Flickr by Andrey