About 3-4 years ago I suggested a new federal statute that I called: Laws on Big Cats (rather crude title). My suggestions are almost mirrored in the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, which is yet to be enacted. It is a bill. Big Cat Rescue and International Fund for Animal Welfare, together with many other organisations, I suspect, are very keen to see it became an effective statute.
To an outsider, the situation regarding the keeping of large wild cats in America seems to be in a semi-anarchic state. No one knows what is happening. Experts estimate the number of captive big cats in America (10,000?). No one can count them. They don’t know where they are or the conditions in which they live. They don’t know how well qualified their caretakers are nor how safe the facilities are etc..
They are sometimes kept as “pets” in the house, basements and backyards or roadside cafes. It is time for change because clearly people obsessed with possessing a tiger can neither demonstrate that they have the skills to care for them properly nor the concern to adequately provide for their welfare. As for safety? Who knows. We read of many “pet owners” killed by their tiger pets. Or it might be a friend or a son. Many people believe it is time for it to stop.
The new act will:
- make private ownership illegal.
- make private, ad hoc breeding of big cats illegal. You have heard of hybrid ligers etc. This should stop too.
- allow the force of the new law to be phased in by making provision for existing private big cat owners to apply – within one year of the statute becoming law – to retain their cats. Their cats will be registered with the US Dept. of Agriculture.
- allow for exemptions for zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and other organisations and even circuses which comply with the Animal Welfare Act.
- make it a criminal offence to be in breach of the law with a maximum $20k fine and 5 yrs in jail on conviction.
The reasons why this act is needed can probably be referred to under three headings:
- Public Safety
- Cat Welfare
Privately possessed tigers and large wild cat species are America’s dangerous “pets”. Most Americans would have heard about a private zoo disaster. PoC has mentioned one or two. The most high profile was probably the owner who released all his animals from cages and then killed himself. The cats were shot by police. A total mess and a disaster. What about servals? There are many in homes as pets. Many escape and cause public safety issues. I don’t believe they are covered by this Act.
The archetypal private big cat zoo owner is Joe Exotic. He breeds hybrids too. Horrible as far as I am concerned. Joe Exotic believes that big cats don’t mind living in small cages because they have never known anything different (you are badly wrong, Joe), which leads me nicely to the next heading…
The most high profile example of crappy big cat welfare is the tiger in a truck stop care park at Grosse Tete, LA. The tiger is Tony and he is a pet! Great. Horrible. There are many other examples such as using tiger cubs as photo props.
There are absolutely no conservation benefits to private zoos; quite the opposite. There is inbreeding and generic tigers (random bred tigers) and weird hybrids. The best known big cat hybrid is Hercules at 900 lbs (a liger). Captive cats do poorly in cages.
Private ownership of big cats encourages breeding for sale. You’ll see it on the internet. Just yesterday a person in Asia advertised on PoC for white tigers. White tigers are the paradigm case of tiger commercialism over welfare.
Ad hoc private, unregulated tiger ownership leads to a devaluing of the tiger worldwide, unscrupulous trading of the tiger for profit and may encourage international trade. In the US there is interstate trade of big cats. Tiger cubs are worth no more than random bred domestic kittens.
To the above you can add that the law needs to be cleaned up and regularised itself. The law has to be enforceable and if it is a state by state hotch-potch of laws and regulations it becomes near impossible to root about abuses and criminality.