Ryun bill would protect public from big cat attacks

Tuesday, August 1, 2006
Washington, DC
IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) today commended Congressman Jim Ryun (R-KS) for introducing bipartisan federal legislation to protect the public from attacks by captive large cats, including lions and tigers.
Rep. Ryun worked closely with IFAW to draft the legislation after a fatal attack last year in Kansas.  The Congressman named the bill ‘Haley’s Act’ in memory of Haley Hilderbrand, a 17-year-old killed last August at a federally-licensed exhibition facility where she went to have her senior photo taken with tiger cubs.  Instead, a 550-pound tiger was used, restrained only by a handheld leash.  The tiger attacked and killed Haley, and then was shot.  Over recent years, 13 Americans have been killed in dozens of big cat attacks.
 
“Haley’s tragic death shows the urgent need for more caution when dealing with large cats,” said Congressman Ryun, whose legislation (HR 5909) was cosponsored by his three Kansas colleagues: Reps. Dennis Moore, Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt.  Kansas has been a national leader for new safety protections.
 
In April, the state of Kansas banned the private ownership of large cats as pets and forbade public contact with big cats at facilities licensed by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), such as the one where Haley was killed.  While Kansas officials have shown strong leadership, the big cat problem is national.  Across the US today, there are more than 5,000 big cats kept in USDA licensed and inspected facilities, and thousands more kept as pets.  Two weeks ago, a 4-year old boy was attacked by a tiger on display at the Saratoga County Fair in New York.
 
“If Rep. Ryun’s bill had been law last year, Haley might still be with us today,” said her parents, Ronda and Mike Good, who have worked closely with Rep. Ryun and IFAW to champion the new legislation in Topeka and Washington.  “If Congress acts soon, we can save lives.”
 
Currently, the federal Animal Welfare Act requires licenses for public exhibition of big cats.  USDA regulates these facilities to ensure humane care of the cats, but not with regard to public safety.  Haley’s Law would amend the statute to prohibit direct human contact with large cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars and hybrids.  The bill does not discourage public display of big cats in accredited zoos or sanctuaries, but rather to strengthen precautions for the viewing public.  It also obligates licensees to adopt stronger safety precautions to protect the public; and significantly increases fines for violations.
 
"Haley's parents endured a horrible tragedy because common sense precautions, that will be required under this new bill, were not observed,” said Gregory Wetstone, US Director of IFAW, who said the Ryun bill is one of his top national legislative priorities.  “Even in captivity, big cats are unpredictable and there is no margin for error.  For pennies, we can ensure humane treatment of these remarkable animals, while also sparing families from such unimaginable anguish.”

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