Two years ago, we wrote about “Tiger King,” the popular show that was fun for some and horrifying for others. While the show’s producers were clearly more interested in the salacious aspects of the personal lives of the people being profiled, one surprising (and welcome) outcome has been renewed discussion about the plight of big cats in our country. So much so that a federal bill, which has repeatedly failed to pass Congress, now faces the real possibility of becoming law.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act has finally passed the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate. The bill would limit ownership of big cats – including tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars, cougars and hybrids of these breeds – to wildlife sanctuaries, universities and certified zoos, and ban the breeding unless they are in a certified zoo or animal exhibitor.
The bill would also restrict public contact with these animals, ending cruel cub petting operations and their endless breeding of big cats for profit. According to the Performing Animal Welfare Society, “Cub petting operations continuously breed big cats so they can sell the public for photo and handling sessions with young cubs. The cubs are snatched from their mothers shortly after birth so that they can be exploited for this purpose. When they grow too large to handle and are no longer profitable, they may be funneled into the exotic pet trade or sold to other unsavory exhibitors. Cubs are often bullied, sleep deprived and abused by their owners.
Some will wonder if this is really a widespread problem. Well, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, there are more tigers living in captivity in the United States than there are in the wild. In fact, there are up to 10,000 big cats living in the United States, most of them in terrible conditions. They are often exhibited in for-profit roadside zoos with little control over their living conditions and safety.
Additionally, the non-profit organization notes, “Private ownership of tigers, lions and other exotic cats is also a serious public safety issue. There have been hundreds of dangerous incidents involving big cats in captivity in the United States, including mutilations, escapes, and even deaths. The Big Cat Public Safety Act, which has been endorsed by emergency responders and safety officials across the country, will help bring an end to these tragedies.
At Marin Humane, we encourage those who wish to see this bill passed to contact their senators and consider sharing it on their social media to encourage their friends and family to do the same.
I totally understand the desire for a chance to meet a lion up close or cuddle a tiger cub; these animals are truly majestic. But again, humans’ desire for these “Disney moments” has been exploited by those looking to make a quick buck at the expense of animals. As ‘Tiger King’ illustrates, it is no coincidence that many of those involved in these inhumane operations also have ties to organized crime and violence against people. And it’s no surprise that many of the show’s “stars” have subsequently been convicted of animal cruelty and wildlife trafficking, as well as money laundering and murder-for-hire.
Fortunately, there are reputable sanctuaries, like PAWS, that provide a safe haven for these exploited animals and yes, you can visit some of them – from a safe and respectful distance. To learn more about vetted and certified animal sanctuaries, visit the World Federation of Animal Sanctuaries website at sanctuaryfederation.org.
Lisa Bloch is Director of Marketing and Communications for Marin Humane, which contributes Tails of Marin articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about people and animals in our community. Go to marinhumane.org, Twitter.com/marinhumaneor email [email protected]