Federal legislation seeks to protect big cats, as tiger and cougar are rescued in Ohio

© IFAW/ V. DeWitt
Friday, March 23, 2012
Yarmouth Port, MA

On Monday, Nikita, a 7-year-old white tiger and Tasha, a 10-year-old cougar are being loaded onto a rescue trailer in Ohio and moving 800 miles away to their new home at The Wildcat Sanctuary. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW- www.ifaw.org) is providing an emergency grant to help cover the costs of the move and spacious enclosure in Sandstone, Minnesota. The rescue comes on the heels of new federal legislation which seeks to prohibit private ownership of big cats. 

“Since 2003, IFAW has helped rescue more than 30 tigers and lions from unsanctioned shelters, closing sanctuaries and other poor and unsafe living conditions in the US,” said Gail A’Brunzo, IFAW Animal Rescue Officer. “Big cats should never be kept as pets. When these wild animals are privately owned, the animals and their owners always suffer.”

Nikita’s first owner, Sam Mazzola was a breeder, exhibitor and ex-convict that used the tigress for public photo opportunities. After Mazzola’s death last year, Nikita was moved to her second home in Ohio where she is today. Nikita suffers from severe temperament issues. The sight of unfamiliar people and cameras sends her into explosive reactions which sometimes result in self-inflicted injuries.

Reminiscent of last year’s tragedy in neighboring Zanesville, Ohio, Tasha the cougar escaped from the garage she was confined to for nine years. Afraid that the cougar would be shot dead, her previous owner didn’t report the escape. Fortunately, Tasha eventually returned before she could pose a danger to people in the community.

Recognizing that stricter regulations were being put into place at the state level, with federal legislation to follow, and continued possession of these animals would prove difficult, the current owner is responsibly relinquishing them to The Wildcat Sanctuary.

“We are thrilled to welcome Nikita and Tasha to our sanctuary. The cats will go from a 300 square-foot cage to an expansive 8,000 square-foot free roaming habitat filled with perches, caves, and water features,” said Tammy Thies, Director of The Wildcat Sanctuary.

Given the alarming numbers of big cats kept as pets in the U.S., more stringent action at the federal level is necessary. Last month, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, (D-CA), seeking to prohibit breeding and private possession of captive big cats. The “Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act” would ensure that lions, tigers and other dangerous big cats do not threaten public safety or end up living in deplorable conditions where they can be subject to mistreatment and cruelty. It will also serve to strengthen global big cat conservation efforts.

“In the wake of the incident in Zanesville, many have come to realize that the current patchwork of federal regulations and disparate state laws on big cat ownership isn’t working,” said Paul Todd, IFAW DC Office Campaigns Manager. “We need a single standard that will protect cats like Nikita and Tasha, as well as the communities where they live, from this kind of cruel and potentially dangerous situation.”

There are more tigers living in captivity in the U.S. than exist in the wild today. Some 5,000 tigers live in captivity in the U.S., but as few as 3,000 tigers remain in the wild.  In the past 21 years, U.S. incidents involving captive big cats have resulted in the deaths of 21 humans, 246 maulings, 254 escapes, 143 big cat deaths and 131 confiscations.

This is the second big cat rescue IFAW has worked on in Ohio. In October 2007, six abandoned big cats (two lions and four tigers) were rescued from an unlicensed facility in Gambier, Ohio and moved to sanctuaries in Florida and Texas.

About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Photos and video will be available for media use at www.ifawimages.com

 

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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Gail A'Brunzo, IFAW Wildlife Rescue Manager
Wildlife Rescue Manager, IFAW HQ
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia