WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate just passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 263, Senate companion bill S. 1210) by unanimous consent. This follows the bill’s passage by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 29. The legislation prohibits keeping tigers, lions and other big cat species as pets, and bans public contact with these species, including paid interactive experiences like cub petting. The legislation was sponsored and championed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Rep. Michael Quigley, D-Ill., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. The bill now goes to the White House to be signed into law by President Biden, who has expressed support for it.

Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society Legislative Fund, said: “An extraordinarily cruel era for big cats in the U.S. finally comes to an end with the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act. We’ve been fighting for this moment for years because so many so-called ‘Tiger Kings’ have been breeding tigers and other big cats to use them for profit. And once the cubs grow too large for cub-petting or selfies, these poor animals get dumped at roadside zoos or passed into the pet trade, which is not only a terrible wrong for the animals, but also a threat to public safety. Now that the Big Cat Public Safety Act will become law, it’s the beginning of the end of the big cat crisis in the U.S.”

Sara Amundson, president of Humane Society Legislative Fund, said: “Passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act addresses a reckless cruelty that has festered for years. For too long tiger cubs have been exploited by ‘pay to play’ operators like Joe Exotic and Doc Antle who profited from charging people for photo ops of their children holding these potentially dangerous wild animals. Since 1990, more than 400 incidents involving captive big cats have occurred in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Five children and 19 adults have been killed and hundreds of others injured, some losing limbs or suffering other traumatic injuries. The bill’s enactment stops what was an endless cycle of exploiting and mistreating big cat cubs, who were dumped after they grew too large for photo ops. The legislation’s lead sponsors Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Mike Quigley and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick rightly saw this as a public safety threat and a gross cruelty. We urge President Biden to sign the bill without delay.”

There are untold numbers of captive tigers, lions, leopards and other big cats in the U.S., most living in shoddy roadside zoos, private menageries or in homes as pets. The presence of these cats in our communities is often the consequence of predatory businesses that operate substandard facilities and charge the public for photo ops and for feeding and petting sessions with infant tigers and other big cats. Bred specifically to turn a profit, cubs are torn from their mothers at birth and subjected to neglect and mistreatment as props for these public encounters. This exploitation occurs for a few months until the animals have grown too large to be handled. They are then warehoused in roadside zoos, sold into the pet trade, and some are killed. Meanwhile, in a never-ending cycle, new cubs have been produced, used and disposed of, increasing the number of captive big cats in backyards and basements across America.

These large, dangerous predators are often kept in small, barren cages. When sold to private owners they may be kept in basements or backyards where they have no means to express their complex behavioral needs, are deprived of veterinary care and a proper diet and are sometimes subjected to cruel procedures like declawing in misguided and unsuccessful attempts to make them safer to handle.

Keeping big cats as pets is not only inhumane but is also a serious public safety issue. Since 1990, more than 400 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have occurred in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Five children and 19 adults have been killed and hundreds of other people injured, with some losing limbs or suffering other traumatic injuries. When captive big cats attack or escape, local law enforcement professionals must respond even though they typically lack the training or resources to handle such emergencies.

India, Elsa and Loki, former “pet” tigers now living at Black Beauty Ranch—a Texas sanctuary run by the Humane Society of the United States—embody what has happened to many big cats in this country. Loki arrived at Black Beauty in February 2019 after being found in an abandoned Houston home where he was living in a cage so small, he could barely move. In 2021, the Bexar County Sheriff’s office seized Elsa after responding to a call about a crying animal and finding the six-month-old tiger outdoors in freezing temperatures and wearing a harness. Just a few months later, authorities rescued India after a viral video showed him wandering the streets of a Houston neighborhood.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said: “The Big Cat Public Safety Act will end the horrific exploitation of big cats and bolster public safety. These beautiful but powerful predators deserve to live in the wild, not be kept in captivity for people’s entertainment—even as cubs. I’m thrilled that, after a groundswell of public and bipartisan support, this bill I’ve long advocated for will become law.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said: “Big cats like lions, tigers and cheetahs belong in their natural habitats, not in the hands of private owners where they are too often subject to cruelty or improper care. Our legislation will prohibit the private ownership of big cats, which threatens the safety of the animals and the public and harms conservation efforts. I am pleased that our colleagues supported our bipartisan effort to improve the welfare of animals.”

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