Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., today introduced the Big Cat Public Safety Act, S. 2541, which would restrict the private ownership and breeding of big cats in the United States. Enactment of this legislation cannot come soon enough, to address the national crisis of big cats in captivity and stem the tide of problems created by reckless individuals owning and breeding tigers, lions, and other big cats and putting the rest of society at risk.

Katie Birk/The HSUS
Alexander, the tiger rescued from a filthy and flimsy backyard
enclosure in Atchison, KS now resides at Black Beauty Ranch.

Most captive big cats are kept in inhumane conditions, pose a threat to the communities in which they are held, create a burden for law enforcement agencies and sanctuaries, and compromise global conservation efforts. For example, last September, a 10-week-old declawed tiger cub was found abandoned and wandering through a Hemet, California, neighborhood. A Las Vegas man has a 6-acre backyard menagerie crammed with nearly four dozen caged African lions, necessitating that county officials deal with ongoing safety concerns. A tiger and two cougars were among 11 animals seized in Atchison, Kansas, in 2013 after they had largely been abandoned in flimsy, filthy cages on a rural property. Eighteen tigers, three cougars, and 17 African lions were among the 48 animals shot and killed in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2011, after their suicidal owner released them into the community. 

Hundreds of big cats are bred every year at roadside zoos to produce a steady supply of cubs for temporary use in public photo-ops and play sessions, with the older animals dying prematurely from neglect, warehoused in small cages, sold into the exotic pet trade, or even killed. Two tiger cubs named Maximus and Sarabi at Tiger Safari in Oklahoma—the subject of an HSUS undercover investigation into the sordid world of tiger cub photo-ops—are now dead just more than a year later. A roadside menagerie in Ohio, accredited by the deceptively named “Zoological Association of America,” uses lion cubs for photo-ops with the public and has had the older lions slaughtered for meat. And at another Oklahoma roadside menagerie, 23 tiger cubs died over a period of 13 months—taken from their mothers immediately after birth when they most need her.

Big cats in the U.S. have contributed to nearly 350 dangerous incidents in 44 states since 1990. Four children lost their lives and dozens of others lost limbs or suffered other often traumatic injuries. Eighteen adults have been killed, and scores have been mauled.

Enough is enough. The people peddling tiger and lion cubs are not credible in their claim to the status of small business owners. They are perpetrators of abuse who are passing their costs onto the rest of us—the taxpayers, government agencies, and nonprofit animal sanctuaries that spend millions of dollars dealing with the cast-off big cats, and the families of the victims whose lives were lost due to this unregulated madness in our neighborhoods and at roadside attractions.

The Obama administration can take important and overdue actions on this issue, with a pending U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule to substantially improve oversight of endangered tigers in captivity, and a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban public contact with big cats and other dangerous wildlife. But Congress must also do its part, and Sen. Blumenthal’s bill would restrict the owning and breeding of big cats, with the exception of legitimate animal sanctuaries and professional zoos accredited by the widely respected Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)—those with the resources and expertise to provide for their complex needs. The House version of the bill, H.R. 3546, introduced last year by Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C. and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., has 57 bipartisan cosponsors.

Please urge your U.S. senators and representative to support this important legislation. You can find their contact information here. It’s time to take this decisive step to protect public safety before the next person is killed by a lion or tiger, and to greatly reduce the suffering inflicted on these creatures kept as exotic pets and in miserable roadside zoos.