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May 18, 2012

The HSUS Urges Congress to Take Immediate Action by Passing the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act

Undercover Investigation Reveals Children Injured by Tigers at Oklahoma’s GW Exotic Animal Park

In the wake of an undercover investigation revealing that an Oklahoma roadside zoo with approximately 200 tigers and other big cats is allowing children to interact with dangerous predators, The Humane Society of the United States is calling on members of Congress to take immediate action on the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (H.R. 4122). This bipartisan federal bill, introduced by Reps. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., would curb the private possession and breeding of tigers, lions and other big cats.

The HSUS released the results of an undercover investigation into GW Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla., which revealed unwarranted breeding, tiger deaths and dangerous incidents involving paying customers and their children. The HSUS investigator witnessed or heard reports about numerous dangerous public interactions at the facility—some with a nearly full-grown tiger—including at least six cases where visitors were bitten or scratched. The facility regularly takes tigers across state lines to shopping malls and other venues for photo opportunities with the public.

“With an estimated 200 big cats, GW Exotics may have more dangerous exotic animals than any other roadside zoo in the nation and approximately five times as many predators as the late Terry Thompson of Zanesville, Ohio,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “We should not wait until another tragedy occurs before adopting strict standards in the law. Good policy anticipates and prevents tragedies.”

HSUS undercover video footage taken at GW Exotics in the summer and fall of 2011 shows reckless actions that imperil both animals and humans. At least five tigers died at the facility during the investigation—two of them had been sick for months and may have been shot by GW employees. In addition, the death of 23 infant tigers at the facility over a 13-month period between 2009 and 2010 prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to open an investigation into GW Exotics for the unexplained death rate at the park.

With 21 states still allowing possession or breeding of big cats, a federal ban is urgently needed to address the nationwide trade in big cats. Since 1990, more than 300 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have occurred in 44 states. Four children lost their lives and at least 66 others lost limbs or suffered other injuries. Sixteen adults have been killed and scores have been mauled.

H.R. 4122 allows the possession of captive big cats by professional zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and by qualified wildlife sanctuaries. By preventing unqualified individuals and facilities from keeping and breeding lions, tigers and other big cats, this bill would enhance global big cat conservation efforts and would help ensure that these dangerous predators are not sold to individuals who keep them in abusive and unsafe conditions.

Fewer than 400 of the estimated 7,000 captive tigers in the U.S. are held at facilities accredited by the AZA. The remaining tigers are primarily living in poorly run roadside zoos, traveling zoos, pseudo-sanctuaries, and private menageries that charge the public a fee to view and even interact with big cats where the greatest risk of fatal attacks or injuries are likely to occur.

Ohio lawmakers are poised to pass legislation to ban private citizens from acquiring dangerous wild animals as pets. Final passage of that legislation is expected next week.

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Media Contact: Raul Arce-Contreras, 301.721.6440, rcontreras@humanesociety.org

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