VICTORY: Federal agencies announce long-awaited protections for captive big cats

Two recent US federal agency decisions will help both big cats and the public.Two recent US federal agency decisions bring promise for improving the welfare of big cats in the US and restricting the trade in these imperiled species.

This week, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)—in response to a petition filed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare—issued policy guidance clarifying that it is inconsistent with the Animal Welfare Act for exotic animal exhibitors to allow direct contact between members of the public and cubs under four weeks of age. Although this still leaves big cats over four weeks of age vulnerable to exploitive cub handling displays, it is a long-awaited step in the right direction.

More good news for captive big cats came when the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would close a loophole in captive-bred wildlife registration requirements that exempts “generic” tigers (tigers of unknown genetic makeup or genetic combination of different subspecies) from the reporting requirements that apply to their purebred counterparts.

This loophole has left officials without important information regarding the numbers, whereabouts, and living conditions of these animals, and USFWS’s decision to address this problem is a significant step forward in protecting not only tigers, but also the public.

There is still progress to be made in regulating captive big cats in the US, but the agencies’ recent announcements are consistent with a growing consensus that the breeding, handling and sale of dangerous exotic animals cannot continue unchecked.

--CB

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