U.S. Senator John Kerry recently introduced a Senate version of the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (H.R. 4122/S. 3547), which is intended to protect big cats and the public by putting an end to the private ownership and breeding of big cats in the U.S.
The question of whether or not people should be allowed to own big cats came into the national spotlight last year after Terry Thompson opened the cage doors at his Zanesville, Ohio home and set 56 exotic animals free before taking his own life. Local law enforcement was unprepared for such a situation and ended up killing 50 animals in the interest of public safety… 38 of them were big cats.
Six other animals, including three big cats, were left in cages and spared from the incident, but one was later euthanized at the Columbus Zoo after being accidentally crushed under a gate.
“It is estimated that there are 10,000 to 20,000 big cats currently held in private ownership in the U.S. In the past two decades, more than 300 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have resulted in the deaths of 21 people (including 5 children) and close to 250 additional humans have been mauled or injured. In addition, scores of big cats have been killed,” according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
There are currently only 29 states that have laws banning the private possession of big cats, while the remaining states have weak or no laws at all in place, leaving big cats to suffer in any number of situations that can range from simply not meeting their needs to being downright abusive.
In the case of captive tigers, there are estimated to be thousands that are classified as “generic,” not purebred, and are therefore not protected as endangered due to a USFWS rule that exempts them from the permit and reporting requirements that are required for endangered species, adding to the gaps in regulations where they’re concerned. There is no way to definitively track how many tigers there are, who owns them, where they’re kept or what happens to them when they die.
The lack of regulation has also led to worries that captive tigers may be vulnerable to domestic and international illegal trade, and if they are that it would increase trade and subsequently demand, which would further threaten the remaining tigers in the wild. Keeping tigers and other big cats in captivity also does nothing for conservation or to address the role they play as top predators in the ecosystem.
“It’s a little hard to believe that there’s a crazy patchwork of regulations governing people who try to keep wild cats as pets. I know it sounds like something you just read about when there’s a tragic news story, but it’s all too real for first responders who respond to a 911 call and are surprised to come face to face with a Bengal tiger,” said Sen. Kerry. “This bill will ensure that these endangered creatures are kept in secure, professional facilities like wildlife sanctuaries rather than in small cages in someone’s backyard or apartment building.”
A congressional briefing to support this legislation is also scheduled for September 20 and will feature actress Tippi Hedren, President and Founder of the Roar Foundation, Matt Lutz, Muskingum County Sheriff, Tracy Coppola, IFAW’s Big Cats Campaigns Officer, Nancy Blaney, Federal Policy Advisor for the Animal Welfare Institute, Nicole Paquette, Deputy Director for Programs & Policy for the HSUS and Adam Roberts, Executive Vice President of Born Free USA.
“We are grateful to Senator Kerry for his leadership in seeking protection of big cats and citizens,” said Coppola. “Federal control is essential toward effectively knowing how many dangerous big cats are being kept in private hands, under what conditions, and where.
Please sign IFAW’s petition telling Congress that big cats are not pets.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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