Washington, DC—The US Senate passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 263/S. 1210) today by unanimous consent. The bill, which is sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Richard Burr (R-NC), aims to end several abusive practices associated with keeping big cats in captivity. It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 278-134 in July and now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.
First introduced in 2012, the Big Cat Public Safety Act would prohibit private individuals from possessing lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars, or any hybrid of these species. This prohibition would only apply to big cats kept as pets—sanctuaries, universities, and zoos would be exempt. Current big cat owners would be grandfathered in but would be required to register their animals in order to alert first responders and animal control officers that these dangerous cats are being held in their communities.
Additionally, the bill would prohibit public petting, playing with, feeding, and photo ops with cubs. The profit derived from encouraging the public to handle and pose with cubs is the primary driver of a relentless breeding cycle that floods the exotic pet trade with surplus tigers who have outgrown the cub stage. Facilities that offer cub petting opportunities have also been known to kill adolescent tigers once they are too big to handle and can no longer generate profits.
In the wake of the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King” and heightened public attention to the exploitation of captive big cats, the House overwhelmingly passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act in 2020, but the Senate failed to take up the bill.
Thousands of big cats are thought to be in private hands, and they pose a serious threat to public safety, as well as to first responders who must risk their lives when these animals escape or attack. There have been thousands of dangerous incidents involving pet big cats, sometimes resulting in people being severely injured and even killed. As a result, the Big Cat Public Safety Act has been endorsed by a large number of law enforcement organizations and officers.
Big cats are wild animals who suffer when people attempt to keep them as pets. By the time they are fully grown, these animals are too strong and dangerous for private owners to manage. Consequently, they are frequently neglected and locked away in barren cages with barely enough room to move. Proper care and diet are also very expensive, so the cats are often malnourished and unhealthy.
“Following the Senate’s historic approval of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, this essential legislation is finally very close to becoming law,” said Susan Millward, executive director of AWI. “We must end the exploitative and dangerous trade in pet big cats, and ensure that no more cubs are ripped from their mothers at birth to be traumatized for profit. I thank the sponsors, Senators Blumenthal, Collins, Carper, and Burr, for their tireless work to pass this bill and advance protections for captive big cats in the United States.”
“The Big Cat Public Safety Act will end the horrific exploitation of big cats and bolster public safety,” Blumenthal said. “These beautiful but powerful predators deserve to live in the wild, not be kept in captivity for people’s entertainment—even as cubs. I’m thrilled that, after a groundswell of public and bipartisan support, this bill I’ve long advocated for will become law.”
“Big cats like lions, tigers, and cheetahs belong in their natural habitats, not in the hands of private owners where they are too often subject to cruelty or improper care,” Collins added. “Our legislation will prohibit the private ownership of big cats, which threatens the safety of the animals and the public and harms conservation efforts. I am pleased that our colleagues supported our bipartisan effort to improve the welfare of animals.”
Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
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The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) 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. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.