Washington, D.C. – Despite pointless obstructionism today by some committee Republicans, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 263, by a vote of 25 -17. The bill is cosponsored by 52 House Republicans and has the backing of the national law enforcement community, the mainstream zoo community, and vast numbers of animal welfare and conservation groups.
The measure, led by Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., passed the House in the previous Congress by a vote of 272 to 114. The bill had been introduced long before the salacious reality television series “Tiger King” but that series put the issue of private ownership of tigers and lions on the American radar screen. NBC’s streaming platform, Peacock TV, also featured the bill in its series “Joe vs. Carole” released in March.
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 responsible for the import and breeding of non-domesticated cats. These cats are imperiled when they become too big and dangerous to handle, with many ending up at refugees at great cost to the charities who operate them. If these animals escape—and some invariably do—they pose a significant threat to the public and first responders.
“Big cats are amazing but best experienced at a distance in the wild or through a physical barrier at an accredited zoo or reputable sanctuary,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Center for a Humane Economy. “Breeding them for the pet trade or for cub-petting is a hazard for people and the animals.”
“There’s no legislation we’ve worked harder to pass in the 117th Congress than the Big Cat Public Safety Act, and we applaud Chairman Grijalva for advancing this widely supported measure with more than 250 bipartisan cosponsors in the chamber closest to the American people,” said Marty Irby executive director at Animal Wellness Action. “Breeders who pump out countless big cats for cub-petting are worse than puppy millers, placing unfunded mandates on animal rescues who have to clean up their mess and care for these majestic creatures once they’ve grown too big to exploit.”
“I’ve experienced the worst-case scenario first-hand, and it is a gut-wrenching experience to think about tigers, lions, and other big cats on the prowl in such close proximity to our homes and our schools,” said Sheriff Matt Lutz from Zanesville, Ohio, whose office was forced to respond to mass release of tigers, lions, and other animals in his community more than a decade ago. “Congress should step up and support those of us in law enforcement, who risk our lives every day, and pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act.”
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 for the remainder of their lives, and it is an enormous expense.
Captive big cats are not animals that first responders are trained to handle.
Down from nearly 60 cub-petting operations just 10 or 15 years ago, there are now maybe two or three commercial cub petting outfits in the U.S. Nearly all cub petters featured in “Tiger King” are incarcerated, have had their animals seized, or are facing prosecution.
- Joe Exotic, as everyone knows, is serving 21 years in federal prison for 17 wildlife related charges as well as murder for hire charges.
- Jeff Lowe, who took charge of Joe Exotic’s GW Zoo and intended to open a cub petting operation in far eastern Oklahoma, had his operation raided by federal authorities, who brought civil charges against him. Jeff Lowe’s animals have been confiscated and placed at sanctuaries. There are warrants out for Lowe’s arrest in Las Vegas, and he has recently been found in contempt of court and fined $96,000 by a federal judge in Oklahoma.
- Tim Stark, another prominent Tiger King “star,” had his animals confiscated by the State of Indiana for multiple animal related and nonprofit operation violations. He fled the State after a criminal charge was filed and was arrested in New York.
- Bhagavan Antle was arrested by the on charges of money laundering. He’s also facing charges by the State of Virginia with 15 counts of wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty.
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.