Tiger found roaming an Atlanta neighborhood underscores the need for the Big Cat Public Safety Act

UPDATE: The tiger has now been identified. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reports that an official with Feld Entertainment, a company contracted to transport the tiger, called to report the missing tiger after seeing same-day news reports. The six-year old tiger's name was Suzy, and she was being transported from Sarasota, Florida to Tennessee where she was to be flown to Germany for a European circus.

On Wednesday, a tiger was seen roaming an Atlanta-area neighborhood. A Henry County woman contacted police when she noticed the big cat on a nearby property; when the police arrived, the tiger, which had begun to attack the woman’s dog, had to be shot and killed for the safety of the community and the officers involved.

National and local news outlets have reported on this incident, highlighting a variety of details, but universally acknowledging that (1) police had no choice but to kill the tiger, as it posed a serious and immediate threat to the community, and (2) no one on the scene knew where the tiger came from.

This unfortunate incident underscores the importance of closing the loopholes in federal law that allow for unqualified owners to possess deadly predators like tigers, lions and leopards. The current patchwork of state laws fails to protect the public from dangerous animals that are regularly traded in interstate commerce and which—surprise!—don’t recognize state borders. Georgia state law, for instance, restricts private ownership of big cats, but Alabama and the Carolinas have minimal limits on who can own these deadly animals, where they can keep them, and how the public is to be protected.

It’s shocking that any U.S. jurisdiction would allow individuals to keep tigers without notifying any public safety officials—local law enforcement, emergency medics, animal control officers, or others who have to respond when a dangerous incident occurs. Yet upwards of 10,000 big cats are believed to be held in such conditions nationwide.

This is certainly not the first time the public has been put in harm’s way by a backyard tiger or “pet” big cat, but it should be the last. What if someone had been mauled? What if a child had been killed? After all, the Atlanta tiger was killed a short distance from a school bus stop. Such tragedies have occurred—and will continue—unless Congress takes action.

Fortunately, Representatives Jeff Denham, Walter Jones and Niki Tsongas have introduced Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1818). This bipartisan bill, if enacted, will prohibit unqualified owners from breeding or acquiring captive tigers, lions and other dangerous big cats in the U.S. I hope you will join me in asking Congress to do the right thing—pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act. 


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