big cat public safety act
Source: Getty Images

Bill Prohibiting Keeping Big Cats Passes in the House After 'Tiger King' Boost

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Dec. 4 2020, Published 12:45 p.m. ET

Netflix’s Tiger King did more than just keep you entertained for a few hours during coronavirus lockdowns — it also helped boost a bill aiming to protect big cats across the U.S. This week, the House passed a bill which would ban public contact with and possession of big cats including cheetahs, lions, and, of course, tigers. 

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Keep reading to learn more about the Big Cat Public Safety Act, how keeping big cats hurts the animals, and what the next steps are for making this bill a law.

tiger cub
Source: The HSUS

Tiger Safari Investigation: Sarabi was only 3-weeks-old when she arrived at Tiger Safari infected with ring worm. She died 14 months later.

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The Big Cat Public Safety Act would prevent future “Tiger Kings” from going into business.

The bill, H.R. 1380, known as the Big Cat Public Safety Act, was passed in the House on Thursday, Dec. 3, with 272 members voting in favor (including all 224 Democratic members), 114 against, and 45 abstaining. Rep. Michael Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania, introduced the bipartisan bill.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act proposes two key updates to the rules regarding the trade of big cats, a designation that includes cheetahs, cougars, jaguars, leopards, lions, tigers, and or any hybrid of these species. 

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Firstly, the bill would ban direct contact between the public and big cats, effectively ending “roadside zoos” (small, unaccredited, and often illegal exotic animal zoos) that keep tigers for customers to pet and take pictures with. Secondly, it would prohibit people from keeping big cats as pets in all 50 states. 

Is it legal to keep tigers as pets?

tigers hsus
Source: The HSUS

The Humane Society of the United States has released the results of an undercover investigation into an Oklahoma exotic animal park, where an investigator recorded tiger deaths, unwarranted breeding and dangerous incidents involving children and adults. HSUS undercover video footage taken at GW Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla. in the summer and fall of 2011 shows potentially illegal actions that imperil both animals and humans.

Presently, it is illegal in 35 American states to keep big cats as pets. But if the Big Cat Public Safety Act becomes law, the practice would become illegal nationwide. As Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) leaders Kitty Block and Sara Amundson explained, “to wipe this problem out for good, we need strong federal laws that will prevent unscrupulous people from forcing wild animals to spend their entire lives in abject misery while creating a public safety nightmare.”

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The Humane Society also believes that the bill “has the potential to stop the endless cycle of breeding tiger cubs by those who charge the public to pet and take photos with the animals.”

That of course refers to the roadside zoo owners who made appearances in Tiger King, including Kevin “Doc” Antle, Jeff Lowe, and Tim Stark. Block and Amundson believe these men are “poster boys for why we desperately need the Big Cat Public Safety Act,” adding that these men are responsible for a plethora of unnecessary cruelty against big cats. 

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For example, the big cat keepers have allegedly shot and killed big cats to make room for new ones at their zoos, used a baseball bat to beat a leopard to death, separated newborn cubs from their mothers, and so much more.

In addition to witnessing the “murder, mayhem, and madness” shown on Tiger King, the Humane Society has investigated multiple exhibitors holding tiger cubs hostage around the country, and found evidence of tiger suffering and zookeepers neglecting and even abusing the animals. These roadside zoos typically entice customers to take photos with tigers before shipping them off to become pets, exhibits at other zoos, or even killed for their body parts in traditional Asian medicine.

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Here’s how you can help the Big Cat Public Safety Act become law.

tiger bill house

The bill has passed in the House, but still must pass in the Senate and secure a signature from the president. With a Republican majority in the Senate and a Republican in the Oval Office (though not for much longer), it’s imperative that we encourage Republican Senators to support this bill, seeing as most House Republicans voted no on the Big Cat Public Safety Act. 

The Humane Society set up an online form where you can enter your name and contact information, and it will send a note to your Senators asking them to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

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