Tiger King Watches from Prison as House Pass Big Cats Legislation


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By Wayne Pacelle

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act on December 3rds by a vote of 272 to 114, eight months after the salacious reality television series “Tiger King” put the animal welfare and public safety issues of private ownership of tigers and lions on the American radar screen.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act on December 3rds by a vote of 272 to 114, eight months after the salacious reality television series “Tiger King” put the animal welfare and public safety issues of private ownership of tigers and lions on the American radar screen. The bill can only be signed into law if the Senate takes action on the legislation, introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and that also has bipartisan support.

The legislation seeks to ban the trade in big cats as pets and to halt exploitation of the animals for cub petting at roadside zoos — two forms of commerce that have been creating a stream of big cats who soon get too big and dangerous to handle and then are discarded by the industry and face subsequent peril. Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, and the Center for a Humane Economy were among a major set of animal welfare, law enforcement, and conservation groups backing the measure. 

“Many of the major roadside zoo operators featured in ‘Tiger King’ — including Joe Exotic Maldonado-Passage and Jeff Lowe of Oklahoma, Tim Stark of Indiana, and ‘Doc’ Antle of South Carolina — are either in prison or facing criminal or civil charges from the government because of their alleged mistreatment of animals,” noted Drew Edmondson, co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council for AWA and AWF and a former four-term attorney General of Oklahoma.

The measure is endorsed by the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, along with former attorneys general throughout the nation.

“Big cats are wild animals that simply do not belong in private homes, backyards, or shoddy roadside zoos,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., the lead author of H.R. 1380. “Too often, law enforcement and first responders are the ones who end up in danger from these animals and, in a time when our first responders are already facing increased risk from the pandemic, we owe it to them to limit the additional dangers they face on the job.”

“For too long, big cats have been mistreated, exploited, and abused in private roadside zoos,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), the lead Republican author of the measure to protect big cats. “It is crucial we stand up for animals, both as individuals and as a society, and our legislation takes an incredible step to protect all animals.”

In many cases, when big cats are discarded by roadside zoos, it is a network of animal sanctuaries that are asked to house the animals at an enormous expense for the remainder of their lives. A juvenile tiger taken into a sanctuary may cost that non-profit organization a million dollars if the animal lives to a normal life expectancy.

In 2003, Congress unanimously enacted the Captive Wildlife Safety Act to ban the trade in big cats as pets, and President George W. Bush signed it into law. The measure had a drafting error, and the Big Cat Public Safety Act seeks to correct that problem and to ban breeding big cats for cub petting. 

Big cats are amazing, but best viewed at a distance in the wild or through a sound barrier at an accredited zoo.  Breeding them for the pet trade or for cub petting is a hazard for people and the animals.

Wayne Pacelle is president of Animal Wellness Action and president of the Center for a Humane Economy.

 



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