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.

-- PT

Click here to take action and tell your elected representative to support H.R. 4122.

Comments: 14

6 years ago

I wish those animals in Zanesville could've been trankie-darted instead of killed!!!.

6 years ago

Keep the valued campaign ongoing to protect and preserve our special animals. Their voice is our voice for nature , peace and kindness.

6 years ago

Animal ownership does not equal animal cruelty. There is not enough "wild" to sustain these cats well enough to prevent extinction. The idea that "They don't belong in captivity" is merely an opinion. One which (from my own observations) often comes from individuals who place their feelings of unhappiness onto an animal who's care requirements they have zero working knowledge of. With all the human suffering on the planet, I can't imagine what makes an individual feel they need to "save" animals who are being fed, housed and given vet care.

6 years ago

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed with all the animal cruelty in this world. You would think that at least here in the United States we would be more concerned with protecting and respecting what God has given us but sadly that is not true. I sign petitions, I make calls to my representatives and make donations and still I feel helpless. I want it to be illegal to own big cats or any wildlife animals but I worry of what will be become of all the kept cats in this country when this law passes.

6 years ago

To the good question of what will happen to the 10,000 to 20,000 big cats currently in private possession, the Big Cat and Public Safety Act contains a provision that will allow any currently possessed big cats to stay where they are as long as the owners register the animals with the US Department of Agriculture. Those people can't breed, buy, sell, etc. those animals, though, and it only "grandfathers in" the ones they currently have. This was necessary because, as the comment noted, accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries don't have room for them.

6 years ago

These wildlife animals are not meant to be enclosed in cages. They should be in their natural environment. When a human gets attacked or killed, the animal has to suffer by being put to death. Lets stop these beautiful creatures from being put in these situations.

6 years ago


6 years ago

I agree that breeding and private possession of captive big cats is completely wrong. And it's way beyond a state matter. The United States as a country needs to take a stand so these cats will no longer be imported or bred anywhere in our country. But what provisions does Reps. McKeon and Sanchez' bill make for the 10,000 to 20,000 big cats now living in private ownership? There aren't enough zoos to hold them all and they certainly can't be returned to the wild.

6 years ago

Get Tony the Tiger out of the Tiger Truck Stop in Louisiana! He was to have been sent to the Big Cat Sanctuary in Tampa, Florida before December, 2011. However, he is still held captive and on display a midst bad living conditions and diesel fumes! He needs an Act of Congress to invoke intervention, since the Judge in that case can't get the work done to free this 10 yr old Siberian Tiger. Thousands have already signed petitions to do what is needed, but the Judge is stalling or allowing the owner to delay. Please DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS. Thank you.

6 years ago

Federal legislation is the only way to protect exotic animals, citizens and end the horrific trade of breeding exotics...

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime