By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
It’s easy for tigers weeded out from the petting zoo to feed the illegal market for animal parts used in traditional Asian medicine. Photo by the HSUS
The US House of Representatives just passed legislation banning public contact with, and pet ownership of, big cats like tigers, lions and leopards. The measure, which now has to pass the Senate, has the potential to stop the endless cycle of breeding tiger cubs by those who encourage the public to pet the animals and take pictures with them.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act, HR 1380, passed through the House tonight 272 to 114 (with 44 non-voting members). Introduced by Rep. Michael Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., it gained momentum after the publication of Netflix series Tiger King. about the notorious roadside zoo owner, Joe Exotic, who bred big cats and urged the public to pet the cubs and take selfies with them.
The series also featured other roadside zoo owners, including Tim Stark, Kevin “Doc” Antle and jeff lowe— all posters for why we desperately need the Big Cat Public Safety Act. Together, these men were responsible for horrifying and senseless atrocities against captive big cats in their care, including shooting tigers to make room for new big cats, slaying a leopard with a baseball bat, and causing long-lasting physical and psychological harm Harm to boys by separating them from their mothers.
But they’re not the only ones exploiting captive big cats in the United States; There are many more exhibitors across the country, including some that we have examined, who ruthlessly breed these animals and/or use tiger and lion cubs for the public to feed, pet, play with and photograph. The animals’ own essential needs and well-being are usually ignored and they are subjected to physical abuse if they resist endless handling.
When the young are three to four months old and too large for public contact, they are usually stored in roadside zoos or pseudo-sanctuaries, or sold as pets. It’s all too likely that tigers discarded while petting cubs are also feeding the illicit market for animal parts used in traditional Asian medicine.
In addition to ending this cycle of abuse, the Big Cat Public Safety Act will ban private ownership of big cats. Many will remember the 2011 incident in Zanesville, Ohio, when a deranged man unleashed his menagerie of 50 wild animals before committing suicide. Authorities were forced to shoot and kill the animals, including dozens of big cats. It was a somber reminder of the serious public safety risks involved in allowing unqualified individuals to keep dangerous wild animals as pets.
Since 1990, more than 400 dangerous incidents involving big cats in captivity have occurred in 46 states and the District of Columbia. 24 people were killed, including five children, and hundreds were injured, some even losing limbs or others suffering often traumatic injuries. In many cases, like in Zanesville, the animals are shot, often by first responders untrained for such situations.
35 states now ban big cats as pets. But to end this problem for good, we need strong federal laws that stop unscrupulous people from forcing wild animals to spend their entire lives in abject misery while creating a public safety nightmare. We have supported the Big Cat Public Safety Act since its inception and couldn’t be happier that the House voted strongly to stop the abuse. We now urge the Senate to address this bill immediately. Please join us in urging your US Senators to sponsor and push for the passage of p. 2561. No one needs a pet tiger or lion in their backyard or garage, and no one needs to take a selfie with one, especially at such a tremendous cost to the animals. It’s time we put an end to this madness for good.
Sara Amundson is President of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.