Big Cat Act
The Most Important Big Cat Bill Ever
The Big Cat Public Safety Act HR1818 is a federal bill that would end the private possession of big cats as pets, end cub petting, and limit exhibitors to those who do not repeatedly violate the law. It bans private ownership and breeding of big cats with limited exemptions. You can make sure this law gets passed by contacting your members of Congress and asking them to champion the bill.
Take action by visiting BigCatAct.com or, on your mobile phone, text CATS to 52886 (Msg and Data rates may apply. Text Stop to stop, Help for help.)
“Hello, my name is ___________ and my zip code is ________. Please ask your boss to cosponsor The Big Cat Public Safety Act.”
Print out your own Big Cat Public Safety Act business cards to help inform others about big cat abuse and have them take action.
Big Cat Rescue and our coalition partners have been working on this bill to end the private possession of big cats since 2011. Our bill allows that people who possess these wild animals may keep them until they die of old age, but they cannot buy or breed more. None of the exotic cats in private possession serve any conservation purpose. In fact, the legal trade in these animals in the U.S. provides a smokescreen for illegal poaching and trade, so we have to stop it if we are going to save wild cats in the wild, where they belong.
In essence here is what the bill does:
– ends owning the cats as pets going forward (grandfathering in the existing owners)
– stops the cub petting and photos that drive a huge percentage of the abuse
– and screens out the really bad actors (while creating meaningful incentives to comply with the rules, which does not exist now).
In the 112th session of Congress we had 60 legislators sign on and in the 113th session we built momentum and got to 119 cosponsors. We ended the 114th session with 95 cosponsors and we recently introduced this bill in the current 2017-2018 session (115th Congress).
2015 Version (114th Congress):
Big Cat Public Safety Act HR3546 / S2541
Introduced in House on 09/17/2015 by Representative Walter Jones (R-NC). Introduced in Senate on 02/11/2016 by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). At the end of the session, the Big Cat Public Safety Act had 95 co-sponsors in the House and 6 in the Senate.
2014 Version (113th Congress):
Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act HR 1998 / S 1381
On May 15, 2013, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1998, and in July 2013 Senator Blumenthal introduced S 1381, to prohibit the private possession and breeding of big cats. The bill will insure that lions, tigers and other dangerous big cats – which are kept as pets and exploited in roadside zoos and traveling exhibits – do not threaten public safety, diminish the global big cat conservation efforts, or end up living in deplorable conditions where they can be subject to mistreatment and cruelty.
The debate over private ownership of big cats garnered national attention in October 2011 when the owner of a backyard menagerie in Zanesville, Ohio, opened the cages of his tigers, leopards, lions, wolves, bears and monkeys before committing suicide. Local police, who were neither trained nor properly equipped to deal with a situation of that magnitude, were forced to shoot and kill nearly 50 animals—38 of them big cats—before they could enter populated areas.
The bill would make it illegal to possess any big cat except at accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries where they can be properly cared for and sheltered, and would only allow breeding at accredited zoos, along with some research or educational institutions. Current owners would be allowed to keep the cats they currently have provided they register their cats with USDA but they would not be allowed to acquire or breed more. This “grandfather” clause is necessary because there is no place for the animals to go if owners were forced to give them up, and the prospect of confiscation might create an incentive to kill animals and illegally sell their parts. Violators of the law could have their animals confiscated along with any vehicles or equipment used to aid in their activity, and could face stiff penalties including fines up to $20,000 and up to five years in jail.
It is estimated that there are 10,000 to 20,000 big cats currently held in private ownership in the U.S., although the exact number remains a mystery. In the past 21 years, U.S. incidents involving captive big cats—including tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs and lion/tiger hybrids—have resulted in the deaths of 22 humans, 248 maulings, 260 escapes, 144 big cats deaths and 131 confiscations.
Illegal trade in big cat parts and impact on conservation in the wild
Despite the claims of breeders who profit from selling these animals, the rampant breeding of big cats in private hands to exploit in exhibits or inappropriately keep as pets does absolutely nothing to further conservation in the wild. In fact, the opposite is true. In the case of tigers, of the estimated 5000 in this country, only about 250 are pure bred subspecies and those are housed in AZA accredited zoos. All of the rest are “generic,” i.e. cross bred between two or more subspecies, and have no conservation value whatsoever. Undercover operations by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service over the last decade and as recently as January 2012 have demonstrated that there is an illegal trade in big cat parts, including skins and bones. According to the International Tiger Coalition, the more these parts are supplied from the captive big cat population, the more the market for these parts grows, and the more demand grows for the “real” or premium product, i.e. parts from big cats poached from the wild.
Deplorable conditions are the rule, not the exception.
In the case of big cats owned as pets, i.e. not exhibited to the public, there is no federal regulation governing how they are kept. State laws vary from no restrictions, to simply requiring registration, to some states banning ownership as pets. But, the bans are often ineffective because the states that ban ownership as pets often do so by exempting those who hold USDA licenses as commercial exhibitors. According to a 2010 audit of USDA by OIG, 70% of private owners with four or less cats were actually pet owners simply using USDA registration to evade the state law. So, individuals buy cute cubs that grow up to be dangerous, unmanageable and expensive to feed. They end up in tiny, barren cages in back yards, abandoned to sanctuaries that are struggling financially to support the steady flow of unwanted cats, or in the illegal trade for their parts. Cats owned by exhibitors do fall under the regulations promulgated by USDA under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), but they fare no better. The USDA sets minimum standards that allow these cats to spend their entire lives in small, concrete and chain link cages that in effect are prison cells. And even these minimal standards are totally impractical to enforce. USDA has about 100 inspectors to police over 2700 exotic animal exhibitors and thousands of other animal facilities. Horrible facilities are cited year after year and only a few of the very worst are ever shut down. As a result, the vast majority of big cats live in conditions that any compassionate person would view as cruel and inhumane.
HR 1998 and S 1381 would avert unnecessary human suffering from deaths and injuries from these inherently dangerous animals, stop the illegal trade in captive animal parts that encourages poaching of the wild population, and end the widespread misery these majestic animals endure in private hands when exploited for exhibition or inappropriately kept as pets. This bill is supported by Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Big Cat Rescue, Born Free USA, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS, Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), ROAR Foundation and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Listen to a radio interview with Howard Baskin done by one of the Cox Radio stations
2012 Version (112th Congress):
Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act HR 4122
The bill below died in Congress in 2012 due to the Fiscal Cliff being the only issue that Congress was focused on even though there were more than 60 bipartisan co-sponsors for both a House 4122 and Senate 3257 bill.
Press Release from IFAW: Congressman McKeon and Congresswoman Sanchez Introduce Bipartisan Bill.
Washington, D.C.- Today, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) introduced the “Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act.” Unfortunately, an alarming number of wild cats have been bred and sold as domestic pets in the U.S. This trend threatens public safety and often results in the mistreatment of these animals. Just recently, the tragic events in Zanesville, Ohio, where 49 wild animals were killed after they were let loose on an unlicensed wild animal preserve, showcases the dangerous implications of this trend. Currently, only nine states have laws enforcing “no wild animals permitted,” and the remaining states have weak or no laws in existence. This bi-partisan bill will ensure that lions, tigers and other dangerous big cats, do not threaten public safety, diminish global big cat conservation efforts, or end up living in horrible conditions where they can be subject to mistreatment and cruelty.
The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act would prohibit private possession of big cats except at highly-qualified facilities like accredited zoos where they can be properly cared for and restrained. Also, since nobody, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), state agencies, and local first responders knows exactly how many dangerous big cats are being kept in private hands, under what conditions, and in what locations, the bill would require any persons who currently possess big cats to register those animals with USDA in order to keep the cats they currently own. The bill would also outlaw the breeding of any big cat except at accredited zoos and research and educational institutions. Violators of the law could have their animals confiscated along with any vehicles or equipment used to aid in their illegal activity, and could face stiff penalties including fines as much as $20,000, and up to five years in jail.
“No matter how many times people try to do it, wildcats such as lions, tigers, panthers, cheetahs are impossible to domesticate for personal possession and require much higher living standards compared to a domestic house cat,” said Congressman McKeon. “When accidents happen and these wild cats are released into our neighborhoods, it causes panic, puts a strain on our local public safety responders and is extremely dangerous. This bill is a step forward in protecting the public and ensuring that wildcats reside in proper living conditions.”
“The events in Ohio last year showed the tragedy that can occur when exotic animals are privately owned by individuals, with little to no oversight,” said Congresswoman Sanchez. “Wild animals are dangerous and we clearly need better laws limiting their ownership. Exotic species should be regulated to high quality facilities with the ability to properly care for them.”
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is working on introducing a companion bill in the Senate.
“It’s a little hard to believe that there’s a crazy patchwork of regulations governing people who try to keep wild cats as pets,” said Senator Kerry. “I know it sounds like something you just read about when there’s a tragic news story, but it’s all too real for first responders who respond to a 911 call and are surprised to come face to face with a Bengal tiger. This bill will ensure that these endangered creatures are kept in secure, professional facilities like wildlife sanctuaries rather than in small cages in someone’s backyard or apartment building.”
This legislation is supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Born Free USA, Humane Society of United States, and Big Cat Rescue of Tampa, FL.