Legislation Now Awaits President Biden
With “Tiger King” and other cub-petting enthusiasts in jail, the Congress closes out abuse of dangerous big cats in our communities
Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 263, today by Unanimous Consent, completing Congressional work on the subject four months after the House passed the measure. The measure next heads to the President’s desk to be inked into law – a likely outcome given that White House has already provided public support for the bill.
Animal Wellness Action commends Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., for introducing the legislation in the 117th Congress.
“The Congress recognizes that chaos and cruelty result when people breed big cats for use as pets or for commercial petting operations,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Center for a Humane Economy. “We applaud the Senate and House for establishing a national policy to stop the trade and breeding of endangered lions and tigers as pets in homes and props at roadside zoos.”
“We applaud Sens. Blumenthal and Collins for their tireless work to secure the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which will keep families in suburbia safe from dangerous tigers and lions,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action. “After a decade of legislative work on the bill and tremendous publicity for the issue, cub petting will soon become a thing of the past in the U.S.”
“For me, this fight for the big cats was never personal,” said Carole Baskin, president and founder of Big Cat Rescue.“This was always about developing a national policy to shut down the trade in these animals as props in commercial cub handling operations and as pets in people’s backyards and basements.”
“Big cats like lions, tigers, and cheetahs belong in their natural habitats, not in the hands of private owners where they are too often subject to cruelty or improper care,” said Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine. “Our legislation will prohibit the private ownership of big cats, which threatens the safety of the animals and the public and harms conservation efforts. I am pleased that our colleagues supported our bipartisan effort to improve the welfare of animals.”
“The Big Cat Public Safety Act will end the horrific exploitation of big cats and bolster public safety,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “These beautiful but powerful predators deserve to live in the wild, not be kept in captivity for people’s entertainment—even as cubs. I’m thrilled that, after a groundswell of public and bipartisan support, this bill I’ve long advocated for will become law.”
The bill builds on the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, passed unanimously in 2003, which sought to ban the trade in big cats as pets. That original measure had a drafting flaw, and the Big Cat Public Safety Act seeks to correct that problem and to ban breeding big cats for the pet trade and for commercial cub petting.
The bill had been introduced long before the salacious reality television series “Tiger King,” but that blockbuster Netflix program 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.
Down from nearly 60 cub-petting operations just 10 or 15 years ago, there are now maybe two or three commercial such outfits in the United States. Nearly all cub-petters featured in “Tiger King” are incarcerated, have had their animals seized, or are facing prosecution.
- Joe Exotic 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. Lowe’s animals have been confiscated and placed at sanctuaries.
- 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 “Doc” Antle was arrested on charges of money laundering. He’s also facing charges by the State of Virginia with 15 counts of wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty.
The tigers and lions bred for the pet trade or roadside attractions never lead good lives. They typically live in substandard conditions, and in almost every case, their lives end tragically. We reduce these remarkable beasts to shadows of themselves in dilapidated roadside menageries or in backyards or basements. The people who acquire the animals on impulse or for profit almost always give them up because they cannot be safely managed by individuals without sufficient resources or professional staff.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act is backed by the National Sheriffs’ Association, state sheriffs’ associations throughout the nation, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Animal Care and Control Association, and countless other agencies and organizations.