Summary of the Tiger Trade in FL
Is there a tiger in your neighborhood?
Probably, but the state doesn’t want you to know
Florida leads the country in the number of breeders and dealers of exotic animals and also leads the nation in the number of killings, maulings and escapes by big cats. The reason Florida is such a haven for this activity is because, unlike other states, Floridians cannot appeal to their legislature to end it.
Back in the 1940’s Florida’s constitution was amended to give the Fish and Game Department, now called the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission or FWC, absolute authority over all that pertains to wild animals. The legislature only retained the right to set fees and penalties and was precluded from enacting laws to over ride any other aspect of managing wildlife. It was intended to pertain to native wild animals, but didn’t specify that and when keeping wild animals as pets came into vogue, the FWC maintained that they had ultimate authority.
|The only states who have seen a decline in killings, maulings and escapes are those who ban the trade altogether.|
The FWC boasts that they have the most comprehensive set of laws in the country, but based upon the fact that these laws create a haven for breeders, dealers and exotic pet owners, that only goes to show that regulating the industry is not going to stop the problem. The only states who have seen a decline in killings, maulings and escapes are those who ban the trade altogether. In every single case, the numbers dropped to zero or near zero as soon as the laws were passed. Washington state just passed the best laws yet and should be used as a model around the country. What makes their new law the best is that it limits the loop hole that most other states have in allowing anyone with a USDA license to be exempted.
Florida classes wild animals into 4 classes: Class I (incl. lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars, gorillas, bears, etc.), Class II (incl. cougars, servals, bobcats, most monkeys, wolves, etc.) Class III (anything that isn’t Class I or Class II) and venomous snakes is the 4th category. Class I permits requires 1000 hrs experience (which is often falsified because there is no cross check) and costs 150.00 a year and there are 362 people in FL with such licenses. Class II requires 100 hrs experience and costs 150.00 a year and there are roughly 1500 people in FL with this sort of license. Class III requires no experience and in most cases there is no cost involved and there are about 8000 people in FL with this sort of license. You are not allowed to have a Class I animal as a pet, but if you call yourself an Exhibitor, you can have the Class I animal in your back yard or in your house. Cougars are legally kept as pets and can be walked on leashes, taken into schools, flea markets, and driven around town in the car like a dog.
If you have spent any time on the Internet at all, you probably saw photos of the alligator-eating-python in the Everglades. Up until July of 2007, there was no regulation of pythons, boas, nile monitors and many other dangerous reptiles. Big Cat Rescue and the Animal Rights Foundation of FL fought for two years to get a bill, called The Python Bill, passed which now requires people to obtain a permit to have such animals. The most important part of the Python Bill was a clause that requires all Class I Exhibitors to post a 10,000.00 bond. The FWC can use the bond money if the person abandons their animals, or if someone gets hurt and the owner won’t stand good for the injury. If the person doesn’t want to post a bond, they can present a bank letter of credit or show that they carry two million in liability insurance, but the latter does not give the FWC any money to care for the animals if they are abandoned. While this was a huge victory this year, it is just a very small step in the right direction.
In 2008 these same groups were working with Rep. Ellen Bogdanoff, the majority whip, to try and stop the flood of exotics into Florida’s ports and to put the power back into the hands of the 17 million Floridians who do not own exotic animals. Animal protection groups are hoping to persuade Florida’s legislators to introduce a joint resolution that amends the constitution to put the decision making authority back into the hands of the legislature so that voters have a voice in Florida’s future. None of the FWC are elected officials and thus do not have to answer to what the public wants. In 2008 the FWC struck down a measure that would require a person moving into a neighborhood with tigers to notify their adjacent neighbors of that fact.
|If your tiger gets loose should you have to tell your next door neighbor?|
In October of 2007 there were public workshops about these neighbor notification issues but the FWC only seeks input from the industry, not from the public, so Big Cat Rescue sent letters out to all of the neighbors surrounding these exotic owners. The big question on the agenda was: If a tiger gets loose should you have to tell your next door neighbor? As long as none of the neighbors knew about the meeting, the resounding answer would be, “NO.”
See this report on Tiger Trafficking in the US.
Cities and Counties Want To Protect You
But in Florida They Are Not Allowed
Cities and counties should be given the right to enact their own more restrictive rules. The Florida Association of Counties wants the ability to ban these kinds of abusive back yard menageries. Big Cat Rescue is also working to have the cougar re classed from a Class II pet to Class I. That would require the cougar owners to post the 10,000.00 bond which should eliminate a lot of the trade.
On a Federal level the most important big cat bill in 2008 is Haley’s Act HR 1947, a bill to ban contact with big cats and their babies. The main reason so many big cats are bred and discarded is because people make money off letting people pet and pose with babies. Many pseudo sanctuaries breed big cat babies and then charge the public to feed them. If that became illegal, then there would be no reason to breed so many big cats. When this bill passes, it will take care of more than 90% of the problem.
This link is to the 188 pages of rules FL has regarding wildlife: http://myfwc.com/codebook/2006/68A_Freshwater_Fish_and_Wildlife.pdf
Link to permit applications so you can see how little is required: http://myfwc.com/permits/index.html#Wildlife
What Does the Public Say?
The following poll shows that 77% of the public would support a ban on all exotic cats as pets:
Would you support a ban on exotic animals as pets?
Answers Votes Percent
Yes ………..6,372…… 77%
No ………… 1,929…… 23%
Public opinion isn’t the only reason why these back yard menageries should be outlawed:
Killings, maulings and escapes
Change is coming
According to the Internet dictionary, the definition of Critical Mass is:
1. The minimum quantity of fissile material required for a nuclear chain reaction.
2. The minimum amount of people with shared understanding to tip the balance and instigate change.
When a proportionately small fraction of electrons line up in an atom it creates an invisible force that causes all of the other electrons to snap into the same line. When enough people begin to think in certain ways, and reach a critical mass, then all of a sudden all of society begins to align that way. Changes that happen in one place begin to happen all over the world at the same time. Slavery began to be stopped in England in 1807 and around the middle of the 19th century, not only here, but in Asia, Africa and Indonesia because the belief emerged that this was no longer something we could tolerate. It started because one man, William Wilberforce, began to change the way the English viewed slavery and the rest of the world snapped into alignment.
If you saw the movie called Amazing Grace, you may remember that in 1824 William Wilberforce started the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It was the beginning of a change in consciousness toward animals. Up until 1920 women weren’t allowed to vote because they were thought to be irrational creatures and not as intelligent as men. The movement for female equality began in the 1500’s, but it wasn’t until 400 years later that it became law. We are seeing the same changes in attitudes toward the animals.
Big Cats have had big wins in the past couple of years. It began in 2003 with a law to ban the sale of big cats across state lines as pets. It was called the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act and even though it took six years to get it done, the vote was unanimous when it was finally heard. Since then eight states, including AR, IA, IN, KY, LA, MD, NY and WA have banned the keeping of big cats as pets. Three countries including So. Africa, Australia and Ireland and 12 communities in Canada have banned the keeping of big cats as pets. Five countries, including Brazil, Croatia, India, Scotland, the UK and 20 communities in Canada have banned circuses that use big cats in their performances. Five states, including AL, IN, MT, OR and WA have banned killing exotic animals in canned hunts and 27 states, including AL, CA, IA, IL, KY, LA, MD, MS, NH, NJ, NM, OR, RI, SC, TX, WI & WY have banned killing animals over the Internet. Scores of cities and counties have also enacted similar protective measures for the cats and many more have bills that are currently pending.
One definite sign that things are changing is that on May 16, 2008 the Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian opens in theaters and not a single display of a baby lion petting booth has been announced. In times past there would have been dozens of baby lions bred to capitalize on such an event; babies that would soon be discarded if they didn’t die from all of the handling. Thanks to the Internet the public and the press are better informed and that means a much more humane world for all of us.
Carole Baskin, Founder of Big Cat Rescue