Is this the first prosecution under the Big Cat Public Safety Act?

Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue (BCR) fame was the prime mover and shaker in bringing into the world the Big Cat Public Safety Act. It is an act with bans ownership of big cats in the USA. It was much needed as there was a lot of tiger and lion cub abuse at private zoos etc. in the US. You can read about this important legislation by clicking on this link.

I think that this case might be the first – or one of the first – instances of a violation of the act. It concerns Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan and his wife Deyanira Garza. They are Texans living in Texas (Alamo). They’ve been arrested for allegedly trying to sell a jaguar cub and selling a margay (a small, forest-dwelling wild cat species).

Margay

My understanding is that the arrest for trading the margay did not take place under the Big Cat Public Safety Act as the margay is a small wild cat. But there are other laws covering this kind of illegal trade.

Margay traded in a carpark in the US. Entirely illegal.
Margay traded in a carpark in the US. Entirely illegal. Image: US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

He sold the margay for $7,500 in a carpark. The picture of the margay is distressing to see; so confused and bemused to be in a cat carrier and traded like a product you can buy in a store rather than living in a beautiful forest in South America.

Jaguar

The jaguar is a bona fide big cat and this arrest was made under the act. This jaguar cub is incredibly cute and also utterly bemused and abused.

Jaguar cub traded illegally in the US and the alleged perpetrators have been arrested for violating the Big Cat Public Safety Act
Jaguar cub traded illegally in the US and the alleged perpetrators have been arrested for violating the Big Cat Public Safety Act. Image: US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas.

The pictures are from the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas.

The price of the margay is high. Perhaps this is the normal price for a margay but it shows that there is a lot of money in trading wildlife. And the rarer the cat becomes because of this kind of abuse the more valuable they become which encourages more trade. It is a vicious cycle.

Neither of these two had a license to buy, sell or trade in exotic animals, the news media say. I wonder if that is worth saying. It would seem to be pointless as individuals like this couple will never be granted a license as trade in exotic animals is banned.

It is only authorised zoos and perhaps government facilities which can apply for a license. The whole point of the Big Cat Public Safety Act was to prevent private zoos and individuals abusing big cats and other wild cats.

As mentioned, the jaguar is one of the four classic big cats. It is a fantastic wild cat. Stronger than the leopard but very similar in appearance. The margay can be tamed and is rarely made a pet.

A quick resumé of the Big Cat Public Safety Act

It became law in the US on December 20, 2022. Its purpose: to end the private ownership of big cats as pets and also to prohibit exhibitors from allowing public contact with big cats and especially their cubs. The act puts restrictions on possession, breeding and the general commerce surrounding big cat species.

The act refers to big cats as a “prohibited wildlife species”. These include the following: lion (Panthera leo), tiger (Panthera tigris), leopard (Panthera pardus), snow leopard (Uncia uncia), clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), jaguar (Panthera onca), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), and cougar (Puma concolor).

Under the act, the term “big cat” does not follow the classic concept of the big cats. It’s a reference to large cats which is why the cougar is included although this is not a classic “big cat”. The same applies to the cheetah and snow leopard.

The act makes it unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce, or in a manner substantially affecting interstate or foreign commerce; or breed or possess any live prohibited wildlife species. The act also makes it unlawful for any person to attempt to commit any of these acts with prohibited wildlife species.

The law allows people who have already got a big cat to continue to look after the cat until the animal dies. The act, therefore, is phasing out the possession of big cats in the US.

Certain organisations, as mentioned, are excepted from the law such as a qualifying wildlife sanctuary or qualifying transporters or those exhibiting animals under a Class C licence from the US Department of Agriculture or a federal registered facility with the USDA that exhibits animals.

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