By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
A bill that would prohibit public contact with big cats like tigers, lions and leopards and ban the possession of these animals as pets was swiftly reintroduced in the U.S. House today, suggesting that the measure is poised for early action in Congress.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act had already passed the House in the last Congress with nearly two-thirds of members supporting it but the session ended before it could be taken up by the Senate. The bill, H.R. 263, was reintroduced today by Reps. Michael Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn, the original sponsors of the bill, and we will be working with all of our might to ensure it becomes law.
Americans today are more aware than ever before about the horrors that big cats endure in captivity at the hands of exhibitors and roadside zoo owners like Joe Exotic, Tim Stark, Kevin “Doc” Antle and Jeff Lowe. Cub-petting activities offered by these ramshackle operations provide baby tigers, lions and other big cats for the public to pet, feed, play with and be photographed with. Some exhibitors haul big cat cubs to fairs, festivals, shopping malls and other random venues and charge people to interact with the babies.
As Humane Society of the United States undercover investigations have revealed, these practices inflict cruelty and suffering on so many levels. Tigers are bred continually in order to provide a steady supply of infants. The cubs are torn from their mothers at birth. They are fed irregularly, constantly woken from their sleep, and physically abused when they resist being endlessly handled. When the cubs reach three to four months of age and are too big for public contact, they are typically warehoused at roadside zoos or pseudo sanctuaries, or sold as pets to make way for more infant cubs. This constant cycle of breeding and dumping big cats is why we have such a large surplus of captive big cats in the United States.
Conservationists have also long feared that tigers discarded from the cub petting industry may be feeding the illegal market for animal parts used in traditional Asian medicine.
The pandemic has provided yet another reason to ban cub petting. The coronavirus has been found in tigers, lions and snow leopards in captivity, leading the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a rare advisory to big cat exhibitors to discontinue hands-on encounters with wild cats in the interests of public safety and animal welfare.
There is neither doubt nor debate among a majority of Americans that we need the Big Cat Public Safety Act to become law. This is commonsense legislation and it is long overdue. No one needs a pet tiger or lion in their backyard or garage, and no one needs to take a selfie with one, especially at such tremendous cost to the animals and at such risk to human and animal safety. Please join us in urging your U.S. Representative to cosponsor and push for the passage of this bill, H.R. 263, without delay.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.