In addition to the cruelty they spawn, so many animal-use enterprises – from puppy mills to animal fighting operations – pass on costs to the rest of society, including the cost of care for confiscated and discarded animals who need medical attention and lifetime homes. The exotic animal trade is one of the biggest contributors to this problem, churning out animals for the pet trade, use in movies or commercials, and for photo shoots for tourists For example, it cost The HSUS and its affiliate, The Fund for Animals, hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a new enclosure for three tigers we confiscated in a cruelty case. Why should we have to pay for the reckless actions of people who should never have had these endangered, powerful carnivores in the first place?
Last year, an HSUS undercover investigation of Tiger Safari, a roadside menagerie in rural Oklahoma, exposed tourists physically manhandling baby tigers and the personnel at the facility using harsh methods of discipline and offering up an improper diet that compromised the health of the animals. At these roadside menageries, newborn tiger cubs are yanked away from their mothers immediately after birth in order to draw in paying customers for endless rounds of photo shoots. Tired, overheated, thirsty, hungry, or even sick cubs are required to endure a cascade of people with no experience in handling the animals. When they weren’t being manhandled, the tiger cubs featured in our investigation were relegated to barren cages once they grew too large to be handled, and both died mysteriously before they were one-and-a-half years old. A just-released U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection report cited Tiger Safari for five Animal Welfare Act violations, including three repeat violations.
In 2012, The HSUS and a coalition of animal protection organizations filed a legal petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, requesting that the agency issue a rule under the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit public contact with tigers and other dangerous wild animals. This would help end the cycle of unfettered breeding of big cats for the exploitation of their cubs, the resulting surplus of adult big cats, and the animal welfare and public safety implications when large cubs are discarded after ceasing to be profitable—often at the expense of taxpayers, government, and nonprofit organizations. But more than three years later, the agency has failed to act on the petition.
We will continue to push USDA to adopt the public contact rule. In the meantime, there is another federal agency that can make progress for big cats and that action is also overdue. In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to increase the agency’s oversight of captive tigers by eliminating the so-called “generic tiger exemption,” which is not unlike the decades-long split-listing of captive chimpanzees that was eliminated recently. Currently, generic tigers (those of unknown or mixed lineage, including thousands of tigers at roadside zoos and private menageries) are not subject to the same permit application and recordkeeping requirements as the approximately 280 tigers managed for genetic diversity by zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. That means people can breed, trade, and otherwise use tigers for whatever purpose they wish and not trigger any federal oversight or even basic recordkeeping for these endangered species.
The trade in tigers is out of control, and there are now immense abuses. Lawmakers from across the political spectrum wrote last summer and earlier this month to the Obama Administration to make rules final. Apparently the roadside menagerie operators are crying foul about this proposed rulemaking action. These are not credible businesses, their reckless behavior places an incredible burden on the rest of society, and they have a documented record of abusing the animals in their care. It’s one thing for tigers to live at AZA-accredited zoological facilities, which have the resources and staff to provide adequate care for them. It’s another matter, however, for private citizens and fly-by-night menageries to breed and trade these animals for display or for the pet trade.
Finalizing the rule would ensure that any person who seeks to breed or engage in interstate commerce in tigers has the resources, capacity, and good faith to actually enhance the survival of endangered tigers, as required by the Endangered Species Act. It is a common-sense measure that will go a long way in ensuring that these beautiful animals are not subjected to unnecessary torment and abuse just so someone can make a fast buck.