Tiger King and the Push to Pass

Madelin Pereira

The beginning of quarantine can be identified by the rush to binge the latest show “Tiger King” on the streaming site Netflix. A docu-series following mad Joe Exotic, his roadside zoo, and his Big Cats. It shined a light on the issue of Big Cats in captivity and the conditions in which they live in and why this type of legislation is important. The show also drew massive attention to the federal legislative action discussed in the show, Big Cat Public Safety Act. The Big Cat Public Safety Act passed the House in December 2020 and is awaiting further action in the Senate. Originally it was introduced last year by the 116th Congress however it was not passed by the Senate before the legislative session ended. Hopefully given a public push from the series the Senate will pass the bill.

There are approximately 10,000 big cats in the U.S., and more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. While in captivity they are held in places with little oversight and accountability. Most commonly Big Cats are used in facilities with a pay to play scheme which allows the public to pet and/or take photos with the cubs. This type of operation requires constant breeding in order to make sure that there is a continuous flow of cubs to be able to continue this practice. Once they hit a certain age it is no longer safe to have the cubs with humans to which they are then sold. Moreover, the cubs involved in this practice are typically lacking nutrients that they require as a result of being removed from their mother too early. This can be seen in bone diseases, which lead to the tiger’s inability to walk. To move around, they drag their bodies.

Big Cats could also pose a public safety issue. Private ownership means that regular people without the proper training and knowledge have full ownership of these animals. This can lead to dangerous situations. Particularly because once something happens law enforcement is not trained in how to deal with the problem and their first responsibility is toward their human counterparts. This can be seen in the Zanesville, Ohio incident where a Big Cat owner decided to let his animals loose which required the police department to find all the released cats and to kill them to protect the larger community. Big Cats are wild animals that aren’t meant to be in human captivity and captivity is shown to be dangerous for the humans and the Cat.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act is a bipartisan act meant to limit the enormous amount of big cats found in the United States. The act prohibits all public contact with Big Cats, meaning that all pay for play schemes must be eliminated. Likewise, it seeks to eliminate the commerce found with Big Cats. This means that the act would make it illegal to breed, sell and transport Big Cats.

However, this statute exempts to wildlife sanctuaries, colleges and universities, state-licensed veterinarians, and facilities with a specific license from the Department of Agriculture from complying with this limitation.

The first question then is, what are we going to do with tigers that people privately own? Well, the statute stipulates that people with their own Big Cats are allowed to have them but are required to register the animal and are prohibited from breeding and from having the Big Cat near the public. So, although there will continue to be cats privately owned, they cannot use them for their commercial gain. If there are violators, then there will be a fine of up to $20,000 and could lead to possible imprisonment of up to 5 years.

While some may argue that in order to keep the Big Cats from going extinct it is necessary to continue breeding, this is not the case. They have no conservation value according to the Animal Welfare Institute. This is because of the way that the animals are bred. The breeding practices that the breeders use lead to deformities and health issues that are not found when the Big Cats are in the wild. Moreover, the Big Cats that are bred in the United States cannot be reintroduced into the wild because they do not have the skills to survive and therefore Big Cats have to be transferred in other captive environments until they die.

Although this bill will not stop the captivity of Big Cats, this step will reap large rewards to Big Cats and prevent new cubs from being handled and torture in the same manner again.

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