U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) today introduced (S.1381) the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act. Initiated by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and supported by a coalition of animal welfare groups, the bill aims at banning private possession and breeding of tigers, lions, and other captive big cats in the United States. The House version of the bill (H.R. 1998) was introduced earlier this year by U.S. Representatives Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA).
Current state laws addressing keeping big cats as pets widely fluctuate, with some states banning the practice while exempting a host of USDA exhibitors, and others with partial to no restrictions at all. The bill would establish a single, nationwide policy against the captive big cat pet and roadside zoo trade, while requiring current owners to register their big cats.
"The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act is a common-sense solution to a situation that has spiraled out of control,” Senator Blumenthal said. “Thousands of dangerous big cats are kept in deplorable conditions as backyard pets and in roadside zoos across the nation. This bill would alleviate the threat these animals pose to the general public.”
Congress first introduced the bill in light of the tragedy in Zanesville, Ohio and many others preceding it. In Zanesville, an exotic animal owner released 38 big cats and 18 other dangerous animals and then took his own life. To protect the surrounding community, first responders, who were neither trained nor properly equipped to handle a situation of that magnitude, were forced to shoot and kill nearly all of the animals.
IFAW Campaigns Officer Tracy Coppola notes, “Apart from the serious animal welfare aspects of this issue, we must not forget that it poses a massive burden on the first responders who often find themselves at the forefront of dealing with the dangers that captive big cats pose when kept in private hands across America.”
IFAW’s big cats database (www.ifaw.org/bigcatadvocates) shows that since 1997, incidents involving these captive animals have resulted in 22 human deaths, including five children. Meanwhile, over 200 people have been mauled or injured and scores of big cats have been killed
In addition to the human and animal fatalities, private ownership and breeding of big cats also undermines wildlife conservation because it can contribute to illegal international wildlife trade. There is currently no way to know how many U.S.-born big cats are disposed of or when their parts are illegally sold into the black market.
The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act now heads to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. IFAW is calling on citizens, including all first responders, to urge their Senators to co-sponsor the bill today.
More information is available at www.ifaw.org/bigcatadvocates.
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.