If the Netflix series Tiger King did anything at all, it was to draw attention to the serious and grotesque problem of big cat ownership in America. The surprisingly popular series was a Grade A train wreck from start to finish. The real losers were not the big cats depicted in it but rather the people who spent hours absorbing it. But good things can come from bad situations.
In this case, a bill restricting the private ownership of big cats in the U.S. has thankfully passed in the Senate by unanimous consent.
Known as the Big Cat Public Safety Act, it would keep big cats out of the hands of private citizens desiring to own them as pets and limit their exposure to public petting and photo opportunities. This is a great step toward the more ethical treatment of exotic animals in this country.
Exotic Pet Ownership
All that’s left to be done at this point is for the bill to be signed into law by the president, and there’s no indication that Biden will hesitate when presented with the opportunity. Introduced into the House by Congressman Mike Quigley (D), he happily noted on social media that it will mean “a lot of big cats will live better lives.” According to conservationists, as many as 7,000 tigers are currently living in U.S. zoos or privately owned. That number is nearly double the global estimation of 3,890 tigers living in the wild.
Carole Baskin, who appeared on the Tiger King as the founder of the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary, became an early champion of the bill and admitted that she’s “thrilled” with the outcome.
Big Cat Public Safety Act
Under this new bill, possession of tigers, lions, leopards, snow leopards, jaguars, cougars, or any hybrid of these species would be limited to certified zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, and universities. If put on display, the animals would need to be kept at least 15 feet away from the public or behind a barrier to prevent direct contact.
While all of this is terrific news, the one sticking point is that current big cat owners will be allowed to keep them with the understanding that they don’t allow direct contact between the cats and the public and that they will register them with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Better Late Than Never
While long overdue, Susan Millward, the executive director of the Animal Welfare Institute, optimistically noted that the Big Cat Public Safety Act “will end the horrific exploitation of big cats and bolster public safety.” But she also went on to add, “These beautiful but powerful predators deserve to live in the wild, not be kept in captivity for people’s entertainment—even as cubs.” While there’s more to be done, this is clearly a step in the right direction.
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