Federal Legislation Introduced To Protect Public

Monday, 23 April, 2007
Washington, D.C.
IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org) today commended members of the 110th Congress for introducing bipartisan federal legislation to protect the public from attacks by captive big cats, such as lions and tigers, at facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. H.R. 1947, also known as Haley’s Act, is named in memory of Haley Hilderbrand, a 17-year-old high school student who was killed at a USDA-licensed facility by a 550-pound Siberian tiger while being photographed for her senior picture. Haley was originally scheduled to be photographed with two tiger cubs.
There are currently more than 10,000 captive big cats, such as tigers and lions, held captive in the U.S. In recent years, captive big cats have killed more than a dozen people and injured more than 50 people. Many big cats are owned by individuals or organizations that have been licensed by the USDA to exhibit, breed, or sell these dangerous wild animals. While the terms of the license include certain requirements for the care of the big cats, the license does not address risks to public safety, nor does it firmly prohibit direct contact between the public and big cats.

“Lions and tigers are wild animals, not pets, and USDA-licensed facilities should treat these creatures accordingly. Congress must establish strict guidelines to prevent further tragedies from occurring due to poor safety standards and minimal fines,” said Congresswoman Nancy Boyda (D-KS), whose legislation, H.R. 1947 is cosponsored by her three Kansas colleagues Reps. Dennis Moore (D-KS), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), as well as Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Barney Frank (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), George Miller (D-CA), James Moran (D-VA), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), Fortney “Pete” Stark (D-CA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

Last year after Haley’s death, the Kansas state legislature banned the private ownership of big cats as pets and forbade public contact with big cats at USDA facilities to help prevent future tragedies. However, the problem extends well beyond Kansas. In 2006 and 2007 alone there were big cat incidents, including escapes or attacks, from California to Texas to Indiana to North Carolina and Florida. These states have yet to enact a prohibition on direct contact at USDA facilities. “If a law to prevent direct contact between big cats and the public were in place already, Haley might still be with us today,” said Haley Hilderbrand’s parents, Ronda and Mike Good, who have worked closely with legislators and IFAW to champion the legislation in Topeka and Washington. “If Congress acts soon, we can save lives.”

Haley’s Act would amend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to prohibit direct contact between the general public and big cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars and hybrids. The bill does not discourage public display of big cats in accredited zoos, or housing big cats in sanctuaries, but rather seeks to strengthen safety for the public. It also significantly increases fines for violations of the AWA to further encourage facilities to abide by the law and treat the animals well.

“Even in the hands of experienced trainers, big cats are unpredictable and there is no margin for error”, said Monica Medina, U.S. Deputy Director of IFAW, who added that Haley’s Act is one of IFAW’s top legislative priorities. “Haley’s Act will spare families from the horrible anguish caused by such attacks, while also ensuring the humane treatment of these remarkable animals who are forced to live in captivity.”

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