Big cat got your tongue, Congressman?

This past Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Members of Congress were given the rare opportunity to handle two tiger cubs that were only four weeks old. 

Unfortunately, by doing so, the Members and their employees were unwittingly exacerbating a growing nationwide problem.  They also may have been violating U.S. Department of Agriculture policy against such activities.

The tiny cubs, which had barely opened their eyes and screeched loudly when handled, were kept in a briefing room in the Longworth House Office Building all day. Later, the cubs were put on display for several hundred people, including Members of Congress, at the International Conservation Caucus 2012 Oceans Gala.

USDA guidelines recommend against the handling of cubs under eight weeks old, when they are the most vulnerable to illness and other conditions.  Stress from being handled and travel (from South Carolina to Washington, DC in this case) also pose serious risks to the health of the animals.  

And, intensive, for-profit breeding of big cat cubs creates a surplus of unwanted big cats, which could now number 10,000 to 20,000 in the U.S. Once they are too old to be safely handled, they are often warehoused, kept in squalid conditions, or even killed.  If improperly sheltered and cared for, they can also pose a serious safety risk to communities – just ask the residents and police officers in Zanesville, Ohio.

The Members of Congress who went to handle the tiger cubs yesterday might not have realized the full implications of their actions, but now they can take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again, thanks to the bipartisan “Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act” (H.R. 4122), introduced in March by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA). 

The bill would prohibit private possession of big cats except at highly qualified facilities like accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, ensuring that big cats do not threaten public safety, diminish global big cat conservation efforts or live in deplorable or abusive conditions.

Whether in the halls of Congress or the in local mall, there is no acceptable time when the public should be in contact with big cats, period.

Please urge your member of Congress to support H.R. 4122 and help to protect the public from dangerous big cats and big cats from cruelty and abuse. 

-- PT

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