No more tiger kings: Bill banning big cat breeding passes house

Big cats rejoice, the House passed a resolution that would ban the breeding of big cats, including tigers and lions, by private owners or for commercial “small animal” businesses.

Advocates who have long sought to end the private breeding of exotic animals as pets or performance animals are celebrating the passage of the Big Cats Public Safety Act. The new law would close loopholes in the Captive Wildlife Safety Act 2003, which banned the sale and trade of big cats as pets. The new resolution prohibits the private breeding and possession of tigers, lions, leopards and panthers, making exceptions for zoos, sanctuaries and colleges.

The bill, introduced by Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) was co-sponsored by 259 Representatives, including 52 Republicans, and passed with a vote of 278-134. A joint statement released Monday by several animal welfare organizations implored Congress to “finish the job and fill in the gaps.”

In a statement to rolling stone, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, explained that “too often people who own and raise lions, tigers, and other wild cats don’t do so because they love animals – they do because they know they can make a quick buck off photo ops and other problematic tourist traps. Grijalva said animals trapped in these operations receive “the proper care the cheapest and the lowest safety standards” from owners, “putting these creatures and people at risk.”

“I am proud to see so many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle recognize the importance of this legislation,” Grijalva added, urging his Senate colleagues to introduce these “common sense protections for these animals and ourselves. in the law”.

Animal welfare advocates believe that having controls in place on the breeding, sale and ownership of exotic animals is not only vital for animal welfare, but also for the preservation of public safety. Private ownership of exotic animals of all varieties has resulted in deaths, mutilations, and escapes that often require law enforcement to euthanize the animal involved. In 2011, dozens of animals, including lions, tigers, monkeys, bears and wolves, were intentionally released from a private zoo in Zanesville, Ohio. Law enforcement was eventually forced to kill 48 of the animals.

Although the Big Cat Safety Act prohibits the breeding of large exotic cat species, it does not require current private owners of these animals to give them up. Current owners will be allowed to keep their animals if they register with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The executive director of Animal Wellness Action in Washington, DC, Marty Irby, believes the bill, which has been backed by the National Sheriff’s Association, will help law enforcement identify abuses, disrupt operations illegal farming and trade and better prepare for dangerous encounters. animals may be present. “In a perfect world, we wish these cats weren’t in neighborhoods and private homes,” Irby says.

“At the end of the day, this legislation is about public safety,” says Rep. Quigley, co-sponsor of the bill. “They are predators, not pets. Law enforcement has long advocated for legislation that will keep dangerous wild animals out of their communities and reduce risk to first responders and the animals themselves.

While the issue of animal welfare has a long legislative history, the 2020 Netflix series tiger king shine a light on rampant animal abuse within the exotic pet industry, including the mass breeding of big cats like lions and tigers for commercial purposes.

At the height of his commercial adventures, the protagonist of tiger king Joe Exotic (legal name Joseph Maldonado-Passage) owned about 200 large breed cats. Exotic bred large cats and their hybrids for lucrative “small animal” shows, and had to manage dozens, if not hundreds, of the adult large cats inevitably produced by his company, often selling them, illegally, to private buyers. The series documented the dangers of working with animals, including the mutilation of an employee who eventually lost his hand, as well as instances of cats biting Exotic and other employees interacting with them.

Exotic was eventually jailed on 17 counts of animal abuse and two counts of attempted murder-for-hire related to a conspiracy to kill Big Cat Rescue sanctuary owner Carole Baskin. Others featured in the docuseries have also been arrested and charged with wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty, including Bhagavan “Doc” Antle (for viewers: the guy with all the women).

Irby credits the show with helping to catapult the work of big cat advocates into the public eye. “tiger king was a big part of this bill getting the attention” it needed, Irby says. “We’ve had so much momentum, we’ve had some great meetings with members who aren’t usually on our side.”

After triumphing in the House, the bill now faces its next challenge in the Senate. “For too long, lax laws have allowed individuals to own felines,” says Quigley. “Animals subjected to these grotesque conditions deserve better. I hope my colleagues in the Senate will quickly pass this legislation so that we can make a difference for communities across the country and save these animals from a life of confinement and restriction.