A success story for big cats in New York
Today, I am proud to announce that the New York State Assembly voted in favor of Assembly Bill 9004. The bill, initiated by IFAW and introduced by New York State Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan), prohibits direct contact between members of the public and big cats owned by licensed exhibitors - an accomplishment that could not have been achieved without the help of our New York supporters who contacted their Assembly members and urged them to co-sponsor the bill.
Although 30 states, including New York, have strong bans on keeping big cats as pets, they do not ban public contact. This loophole is why we continue to see certain individuals, including some USDA-licensed facilities, regularly advertise opportunities for the public to hold, take photos and otherwise interact with these animals at roadside zoos, fairgrounds, malls, and other public areas. This for-profit industry requires an ongoing supply of big cat cubs, prematurely separated from their mothers to be groomed for human handling. The animals often die due to constant human contact, and are even subjected to abusive training in a futile attempt to make them safe for public contact once they mature. When these animals get stronger and more dangerous, and after they are bred and inbred to supply more cubs, they are often restrained via leashes with no protective barriers, discarded to other substandard facilities where some suffer from abuse and neglect, or are potentially killed.
Allowing public handling of captive wildlife poses multiple threats to the public, law enforcement and the welfare of handled animals. There is no reason why any member of the public should ever come in contact with big cats – mature adults or cubs. Nationwide, dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have resulted in the deaths of 24 people in just the past two decades – five of them children. In addition, nearly 300 people have been mauled or injured. In New York alone, there have been 7 separate incidents involving big cats in just the last ten years. (Check out our map of big cat incidents and laws at www.ifaw.org/bigcatadvocates)
“Though the photos may be cute and the animals may look sweet and fluffy, they are dangerous wild animals capable of serious violence, and the public should not be permitted to come into such close contact with them,” said Assemblymember Rosenthal. “Though some claim that these photo ops contribute to wildlife rescue or conservation, that’s empty rhetoric that disregards the real danger here.”
Assemblymember Rosenthal’s valiant efforts have prevailed, and thanks to the passage of A. 9004, direct public contact with big cats will be prohibited in the state of New York. IFAW congratulates Assemblymember Rosenthal for a job well done, and thanks all of our New York supporters who took action and encouraged their Assemblymembers to co-sponsor the bill.
IFAW’s work is not done. In addition to the New York legislation, IFAW is spearheading a federal bill, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (H.R. 1998/S. 1381) to end the big cat pet and roadside zoo trade. Stay tuned, the bill continues to gain support from the public and first responders across the country.