In a major win in the long fight against animal cruelty, the U.S. Senate just passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 263/ S. 1210), a bill that prohibits keeping big cats as pets. The bill also bans contact between big cats and the public.
The science and other stuff to know
The scale of private ownership of big cats in the United States is staggering. According to International Fund for Animal Welfare, there are as many as 10,000 big cats in captivity in the U.S., which is more than double those in the wild.
Many of these animals languish in captivity and are often used for commercial activities such as cub petting, photo opportunities, or shows. Others end up in roadside zoos or private homes, enduring appalling conditions and abuse.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act, thankfully, will protect these wildlife treasures from exploitation by the public. Under the bill, possession of the big cats and cross-breeds would be limited to wildlife sanctuaries, state universities, and certified zoos, according to BBC.
Once the Big Cat Public Safety Act is signed into law, exhibitors will be prohibited from using cubs as photo props or for cub petting. Private ownership of big cats will also be illegal.
As per the bill, current unlicensed pet owners can keep their cats if they register with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, but they can’t replace them once they die. It also prohibits exhibitors from increasing the number of cats they have or breeding the cats in their current possession.
The big cat bill will help put an end to the abusive use of animals like tiger cubs and other big cat cubs for petting and photo ops. Cubs used for this purpose are often ripped from their mothers at or close to birth.
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society Legislative Fund, said in a statement: “An extraordinarily cruel era for big cats in the U.S. finally comes to an end with the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act.”
“We’ve been fighting for this moment for years because so many so-called ‘Tiger Kings’ have been breeding tigers and other big cats to use them for profit. And once the cubs grow too large for cub-petting or selfies, these poor animals get dumped at roadside zoos or passed into the pet trade, which is not only a terrible wrong for the animals but also a threat to public safety.”
Meanwhile, Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, added: “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. Our legislation will prohibit the private ownership of big cats, which threatens the safety of the animals and the public and harms conservation efforts.”
The big cat bill now heads to President Biden for signature. It’s hoped the success of this new U.S. legislature will inspire action for big cats and other wildlife kept in private pet collections in other parts of the world.