Fox’s "Bones" echoes need to end private possession of big cats

A recent episode of Fox’s hit series BONES follows a farmer’s decision to purchase a tiger, which ultimately leads to the mauling and death of an innocent bystander.  After the accident, the tiger is killed to prevent further human fatality and injury.  This episode serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of private big cat ownership, both for the animal and owner. In this case it is fiction, but we know that far too often the reality is just as grim if not worse.  

During the episode, Dr. Temperance asks a key question that we hear, and ask, time and time again, “Why would someone willingly keep these animals as pets?”

Great question. Why would and how could someone do this—not only to the beautiful animal, but to a public at large?  I’m glad BONES posed this question and I hope that it continues to build momentum around the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (H.R. 4122/S.3547). IFAW and its Congressional champions are committed to passing this important bill.

People are often intrigued by the idea of keeping big cats like lions and tigers as pets.  Big cats are wild animals that cannot be domesticated.  As a result of private big cat ownership, casualties and dangerous incidents continue to pile up.  Over the past two decades, there have been 21 deaths (five of which were children) and more than 300 dangerous incidents that stem directly from inappropriate big cat ownership.  Without a nationwide ban on private big cat ownership, public safety and animal welfare will continue to be gravely compromised.  

Surprisingly, while some state regulations make big cat pet ownership difficult, keeping big cats as pets is generally legal in the United States.  An estimated 10 to 20 thousand big cats are kept in private possession, but there is no federal registry and not enough USDA inspectors to review licenses, so there is no way to keep track of big cat ownership. 

To remedy the hazardous lack of regulation of big cat ownership in the United States, IFAW and its Congressional champions are working to pass the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, H.R. 4122/S.3547.  This legislation would require current owners to register their big cats and would prohibit future private ownership, ensuring that big cats do not threaten public safety or live in an environment where they are subject to cruelty or inappropriate conditions.

This problem will not solve itself—the exotic animal trade is a U.S. epidemic.  If you agree with Dr. Temperance and advocate for big cat welfare and human safety, urge your Representative and Senator to cosponsor H.R. 4122/S.3547 today.

-- TC

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Experts

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