Big cats roar with approval as new bill is introduced in Congress
As many of you may recall, last October, in Zanesville, Ohio, the owner of a backyard menagerie opened the cages of his tigers, leopards, lions, wolves, bears and monkeys before killing himself, giving police no choice but to shoot and kill nearly 50 animals – 38 of them big cats – before they could enter populated areas of the community.
One neighbor reported later that he hid in his barn with his horse after spotting a full grown male African lion standing nearby, just on the other side of a short fence. The local police arrived quickly and had no choice but to systematically gun down the animals, in some cases firing at animals that were charging in for an attack using only small arms. Later, the Zanesville Chief of Police said in an interview that he and his staff were not trained or equipped to deal with animals like a 300-pound tigers.
Unfortunately, tigers and other dangerous big cats are kept as pets in the U.S. in alarming numbers, which threatens public safety, diminishes global big cat conservation efforts, and often results in mistreatment and cruelty towards the animals themselves. Experts think that there are 10,000 to 20,000 big cats in private ownership in the United States, though the exact number remains a mystery.
What we do know is that a very few of these animals live where we think they should, namely in zoos or maybe wildlife sanctuaries. Most of them are where they shouldn’t be at all – in people’s backyards and basements, on farms and ranches, in garages, sheds, and barns, and oftentimes in very small cages. When they get out, very bad things can happen. But, in part because of the tragedy in Zanesville, this could all finally change.
Today, two Members of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives that would prohibit breeding and private possession of captive big cats. Exceptions would be made for adequate facilities like accredited zoos, along with wildlife sanctuaries and some research or educational institutions where these species can be properly cared for and restrained. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate soon.
The importance of this legislation cannot be overstated. In the past 21 years, 21 people, including 5 children, have been by killed by captive big cats in the U.S. Other incidents include 246 maulings, 254 escapes, 143 big cats deaths, and 131 confiscations. And, big cats in captivity are often neglected and abused – owners and exhibitors are frequently cited by authorities for cruelty and other animal welfare abuses. It all has to stop.
IFAW congratulates Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) for bringing this issue to the attention of Congress, and urges other Members of Congress to jump on board. Needless to say, the bipartisan support behind this bill is a tremendous step in the right direction, and provides proof that the party politics that frequently dominate the headlines in Washington, DC, can be put aside to help protect the welfare of humans, as well as our animal counterparts.