Hollywood can help us protect tigers
I saw a wild tiger once.
It was a quiet early morning in India. An ethereal mist was rising off the bank of a flood plain.
The tiger was not hunting, but merely roaming though her territory most likely looking for a comfortable spot for a daytime snooze. I was far away, at a very safe distance, leaving her to go about her morning unimpeded.
It struck me at that moment: how could a poacher kill such an animal for the skin off its back? How could a small roadside zoo exploit such a majestic creature for a lousy admission ticket of a mere few dollars? How could somebody be so vain and disrespectful to keep her chained up in his home, apartment or garage for his own folly, as some sort of bizarre status symbol? Or keep her on a leash and exploit her for risky photo-ops with well-meaning animal lovers willing to pay for the privilege of sitting beside a tiger as a photo memento?
Tigers are disappearing from the wild, and yet there are thousands of tigers in individual private ownership in the United States alone. What’s more, they often live perilously close to where unsuspecting people reside. Such a situation can undoubtedly become a public threat if they were to escape.
After all, they are supposed to be wild animals.
The fact that there are far more tigers living in the United States in a variety of less-than-ideal conditions than there are in the wild is maddening to me.
It’s exasperating to actress and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) ambassador Joely Fisher and her husband, filmmaker Christopher Duddy, too. They gathered 13 other Hollywood stars—during the hustle and bustle days before the Golden Globes earlier this year—who feel the same way they do and produced a compelling public service announcement (PSA) to spread awareness of the tigers’ plight and the bill before Congress, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (H.R. 1998/S.1381), which we know will protect tigers and other big cats—and people—from inevitable tragedy.
In fact, we have joined forces with Joely and Chris to produce a whole series of “PROTECT” PSAs that address other endangered species such as elephants and whales, as well as animal welfare education for youth worldwide.
As you read this, I am on my way to Los Angeles for a sneak preview of this PSA at IFAW’s Big Cats in Our Backyard Public Forum, to be held at the National Museum of Animals and Society with actress Tippi Hedren.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is a leading force when it comes to protecting big cats globally, and we’re proud of our recent accomplishments here in the U.S.
We have helped rescue more than 100 big cats from backyard menageries and failed sanctuaries and relocate them to safer and better-equipped facilities.
Last October, we hosted the Big Cat Sanctuary Workshop with the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). Representatives from 21 big cat sanctuaries, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) GFAS, and IFAW met in Durham, North Carolina to discuss common problems and concerns as well as share ideas and successes.
Last month, IFAW joined the HSUS, Big Cat Rescue, and Born Free USA in filing a legal petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to permanently revoke the USDA exhibitor license of one of the nation’s largest breeders of tigers—Joe Schreibvogel of the Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma—in order to protect animal welfare and public safety. And IFAW helped the New York legislature recently propose a bill aimed at prohibiting direct contact between members of the public and tigers, lions and other dangerous wild animals owned by licensed dealers and exhibitors throughout the state.
The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act addresses the vastly under-resourced USDA licensing system that is failing to protect public safety and animal welfare. Passing the bill would phase out private possession and breeding of lions, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, and cougars, as well as any hybrid of these species. Violators of the law could have their animals confiscated, along with any equipment used in violation, and could face fines up to $20,000 and up to five years in jail.
This important initiative would eliminate so much unnecessary tragedy, like the sad story of one man in Arkansas, who depleted his savings account attempting to keep a tiger, but eventually had no choice but to relinquish her. We moved his beloved Sheba, who had lived in a small cage made of concrete and steel at a Christian youth camp - dangerously close to 800 attending children.
Many more tigers need rescue. We will never forget the USDA-licensed facility ironically called Tiger Rescue that operated for years in Colton, California until 30 dead adult tigers and close to 60 dead cubs were found on the property, along with dozens more barely alive.
With the help of Hollywood stars and other caring citizen advocates, we hope Congress passes the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act.