Timeline of the Big Cat Coalition
If it seems rather late to be discussing these coalitions, it is because we have to be as stealthy as the cats we are protecting, so that those who abuse wild cats cannot thwart our mission. There are LOTS of exciting things going on behind the scenes right now that we can’t talk about, for that very reason, but now that we have achieved many of our goals, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.
The timeline of the Big Cat Coalition starts with the
Timeline of the International Tiger Coalition
This is being told from the perspective of Carole Baskin, Founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue.
2007 A loose coalition of NGO’s began working together and had achieved some unprecedented goals by 2009 when Big Cat Rescue joined the coalition. Judy Mills was the facilitator for our monthly and sometimes weekly meetings.
2009 Big Cat Rescue attended the launch of the World Bank’s involvement in Washington, D.C. which was emceed by Harrison Ford and attended by Bo Derek and Robert Duvall. The coalition’s initial goal was to stop tiger farming for their parts in China and to increase the wild tiger population to 10,000 animals by the next Year of the Tiger. Big Cat Rescue joined the International Tiger Coalition to ensure that these groups considered the fact that cub handling in the U.S. was exacerbating the poaching in range states and giving China an excuse to farm tigers for their parts since breeders in America farm them for cub handling exploitation.
2010 Big Cat Rescue sponsored the ITC booth at CITES and sponsored the attendance of the ITC Moderator, Judy Mills at the Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
2010 Big Cat Rescue sponsored the International Tiger Coalition booth in Doha, Qatar thanks to your votes for us in the Chase contest where we won $25,000. Your votes help save tigers!
2011 Big Cat Rescue made introductions to the Rose Church of members of the ITC to form the Big Cat Coalition.
4/4/2011 Rose Church a pro bono attorney for the Ian Somerhalder Foundation contacted Big Cat Rescue asking what Ian could do to help Tony the tiger be saved from the truck stop in Grosse Tete, LA. Ian Somerhalder is the star of the Vampire Diaries and from Louisiana and had a Twitter following of 2.3 million fans at that time.
We had been working to save Tony since 2009 and so had the Animal Legal Defense Fund and there wasn’t anything more that could be done at the time as these things drag out through years and years of appeals, so Howard Baskin and I suggested that if Ian really wanted to make a difference for big cats that he help us stop cub handling.
Rose couldn’t believe that such abuse actually existed in this country and contacted her law professor, Diane Sullivan, to see what could be done. They thought that bringing together the big non profits who work on big cat issues together for a round table would be a good idea and asked if I knew anyone. I gave her the contacts we had in the International Tiger Coalition and she managed to get representatives from a number of them to come to a meeting on July 25, 2011.
ALDF Stephan Otto from the Animal Legal Defense Fund
BCR Howard Baskin and Carole Baskin from Big Cat Rescue
BF USA Adam Roberts and Tracy Coppola from Born Free
GFAS Patty Finch from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries
HSUS Debbie Leahy from the Humane Society of the United States
IFAW Jeff Flocken, Nathan Herschler & Gina Miller from the International Fund for Animal Welfare
ISF Rose Church from the Ian Somerhalder Foundation
MSL Dean Diane Sullivan, from Massachusetts School of Law, filmed the Plight of Tigers further down
WCAR World Council for Animal Rights
WCCLAS Wild Cat Conservation Legal Aid Society
WWF Leigh Henry from the World Wildlife Fund
Combined we represent more than 18 million supporters.
8/22/11 After a meeting with the USFWS the Generic Tiger issue was published to the Federal Register for public comment and got over 15,000 comments in support of our request to ban the breeding of non purebred tigers.
The coalition continued to have weekly calls and hundreds of emails to compile the evidence and drafting of our submissions to USDA, USFWS and Congress.
1/26/2012 Met w/ USDA to present all of the evidence that they can and should ban public contact under the Animal Welfare Act.
2/29/2012 Rep. McKeon and Rep. Loretta Sanchez introduced the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act in the House (HR 4122) and Sen. Kerry commits to introducing into the Senate, which he did just prior to the elections.
3/2/2012 Ian Somerhalder tweets it to his fans.
3/28/12 Massachusetts School of Law won a Bronze Telly Award for the Plight of Tigers film.
July 2012 Carole presented this at the Taking Action for Animals conference in Washington, D.C.
One person can be the cat-alyst for change. If you are sitting in this audience, YOU might be the kind of person who has the passion to overcome the impossible in order to help save thousands, or millions of animals. Rose Church is one of those people.
How many of you have heard about Tony the tiger who has been kept at a Louisiana truck stop for the past decade?
How many of you have heard of, or recognize Ian Somerhalder from the Vampire Diaries?
Rose Church is a pro bono attorney for the Ian Somerhalder foundation and she wanted to get Ian involved in freeing Tony the tiger. Ian has 2,300,000 followers on Twitter and she thought that getting him to Tweet about Tony might help raise awareness about Tony the truck stop tiger. She contacted me to ask what Ian could ask his followers to do.
Even though we get more complaints about Tony than any other single situation and have been working to free him for the past decade, we had exhausted our ability to do anything. We had hired the tiger a lawyer and had shown up with plenty of supporters to testify, but it had become obvious that the state of Louisiana was not going to do anything. USDA has revoked the license to display the tiger, but that rarely seems to stop exhibitors from exhibiting.
The ALDF (Animal Legal Defense Fund) had continued the fight in the only venue left, which was the legal system. Court cases wind their way through the system like a river of molasses so there wasn’t much anyone could do. It seemed like the whole world already knew about Tony, so having Ian Tweet his audience didn’t seem like a terribly productive thing to do. If we had the help of a celebrity we told Rose that he could make a far great impact for thousands of tigers like Tony by educating his fan base about the issue that causes so many tigers and other big cats to end up being bred, exploited and discarded.
The underlying cause for almost all of this suffering is cub petting.
I explained to Rose that it was big business in the U.S. for breeders to charge the public to pet or pose with big cat cubs. One claims to have made $23,000 in a single weekend at a mall, charging people to have interaction with the cubs and / or have their photos made with the cubs. The breeders and dealers were doing these pay to play sessions with older lions and tigers up until the death of a high school student named Haley Hildebrand.
Thanks to pressure from the media and then the public, the USDA issued a FAQ sheet suggesting that cubs under 8 weeks should not be used this way. In a separate appellate court case the judge ruled that cubs over the age of 12 weeks were too dangerous for such interaction. The unintended result was creating a loophole whereby breeders could still charge customers to touch cubs who were between 8-12 weeks old. That resulted in massive breeding in order to have profitable cubs to use. Since their shelf life was only 4 weeks, breeders decided to produce lion and tiger cubs every month so that they would always have “legal” age cubs to use.
Rose could hardly believe her ears. First of all, she had never seen these mall exhibits where tiger breeders set up shop and offer cubs as photo props all day over a four day weekend. Second, she couldn’t believe that USDA hadn’t done something to close that 4 week window they had created.
It can be anything from fixing a broken toy to curing some social ill; have you ever had one of those moments where you see a situation and think to yourself, “I can fix this.” This was Rose’s moment. She said to herself, “I can do something about this!”
Rose figured there at LOTS of animal protection groups out there and if they all worked together they could fix this thing. But, she doubted that anyone would listen to her if she made the suggestion that they do so. She took the information to her professor from Law School, Diane Sullivan because she knew that Dean Sullivan had her own animal law television show and a lot of clout in the animal protection community. She figured that if Dean Sullivan were to ask the big animals groups to come together that it might actually happen.
Rose asked me who the big players are that care about tigers. That was an easy question because I had been part of a team of more than 40 such organizations who worked together as the International Tiger Coalition. The ITC had been formed primarily to end the tiger farming in China, but time and again the hurdle was that China would resist our suggestions by pointing out the fact that the U.S. doesn’t even know how many tigers we have nor where they are nor how they are being housed. I gave her the names and contact info for the people who I felt had been most involved in the ITC and who could work well together.
Rose contacted IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and went over the list to get further input on who would be willing to work together on the tiger issue. The result was a round table meeting in D.C. at IFAW in July 2011. At the table were the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States, Born Free, the World Wildlife Fund, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Wild Cat Conservation Legal Aid Society, World Council for Animal Rights, the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, Ian Somerhalder Foundation, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and Big Cat Rescue. Combined we represent more than 18 million supporters.
I’ve been a part of other animal welfare coalitions but this group has worked better together than anything I’ve ever seen before. The meeting was hugely successful and we got to the root of the tiger problem: cub petting. In your conference bags you will find a four page summary of the Tiger Handling Crisis. There is another page of citations used for the document that we are providing online at BigCatLaws.com
What the group concluded was that we can’t save wild tigers as long as there is such unregulated trade in captive tigers who provide a legal smoke screen for illegal activities such as poaching. China has made the argument that they should be allowed to farm tigers for their parts to fill the demand, but there will always be a demand for the “real” tiger; the “wild” tiger and expanding the market through farming tigers will only result in them being exterminated more quickly in the wild.
Right now there are more tigers in back yard cages in America than are left in the wild. It is thought that there are less than 3200 tigers left in the wild and at last count, by USDA, there were about 5000 tigers in USDA facilities. Only about 200 of those are AZA zoos, so the rest are in roadside zoos, circus acts, and back yards; and that is just the ones who voluntarily reported and who hold USDA licenses. For those who are not licensed by USDA, the people who own them as pets, there has been no census done.
As the group looked at the situation in the U.S., it became apparent that the number one cause for so many tigers to end up in deplorable conditions was the very lucrative cub petting industry. Two factors made this abuse possible.
Back in the 1980s white tigers became all the rage. White tigers would sell for $60,000 because the public was so enamored with seeing this freak of nature. What the zoos kept quiet was the fact that the only way to create that white coat was through purposely inbreeding, father to daughter, mother to son and brother to sister. Over time the cubs became more and more genetically impaired, suffering from club feet, open spines, crossed eyes and badly formed bones and teeth. Before long the Bengal tigers were so inbred that they were no longer reproducing or cubs were being born dead. But the public demanded to see white tigers, so the zoos started hybridizing Bengal tigers and Siberian tigers to continue the inbreeding a few generations more.
So many zoos and backyard breeders were cross breeding tigers that the USFWS decided it wasn’t worth their time to process the captive bred wildlife permits that are required for endangered species, so they created the “generic” tiger loophole. What this did was allowed zoos and private owners to breed non purebred tigers with no oversight and the tiger population exploded in the U.S.
The other factor that made it so easy for tigers to be bred and used as photo and petting props was that even though USDA had inadvertently created a four week window, between 8 and 12 weeks when cubs could be petted by the public, they had no way to enforce it because they do not require any sort of registration of tigers and rely almost entirely on what the tiger owner tells them as to the age of the cub or why the cub was taken from their mother. The same person who claims to make over $20,000 in a good weekend at the mall had 23 tiger cubs die over the span of just a little over a year, but to date the USDA has done nothing about it.
So, the coalition decided on a three prong approach to ending the abuse of tigers:
Close the generic tiger loophole at the USFWS
Ask USDA to close the 4 week window of cub petting
A federal bill that ends the breeding and trade in big cats outside of AZA zoos
Only a year has passed since one person arranged for a bunch of animal protection groups to work on this and we have good news so far:
The USFWS has put the suggestion of closing the generic tiger exemption out on the Federal Register for public comment and more than 14,000 commented in favor of doing so. The rule hasn’t been made final, but the government moves slowly.
We met with USDA, presented the Cub Handling Crises flier you have, along with the citations and the concurrence of 20 zoo vets who agree that cub petting should be banned. Unfortunately, the USDA has taken the position that they do not have the power to close the window. They made it; they should be able to close it, but they are unwilling, so we are still working on that one. For the most part their attitude seems to be that they don’t think it is a big enough problem because they don’t hear about it much. With your help we can fix that!
In March of 2013 our federal bill HR 4122 was introduced. It is gaining momentum and we currently have 30+ cosponsors. Senator Kerry’s office is working on a companion bill and we will be shepherding these federal bills through Congress by reaching out to our 18 million supporters and asking them to personally call or visit their Congress men and women to support this bill. These things usually take several years to gain the momentum necessary to be heard before the entire House and Senate, but the good news is that when they are heard, the support is almost universal.
The coalition continues to meet every couple of weeks by phone to update each other on our progress. We visited with Rose in Boston a few weeks ago and she tells us that Ian Somerhalder has met with President Obama. We are hoping that Ian might be able to persuade the President to direct USDA to make it a priority to protect big cat cubs by closing the cub petting window.
In summary I’d like to point out that one person can make a difference. Whether you are a young woman who is donating time to a non profit, like Rose, who gets huge organizations to all work as one, or you are a teen idol like Ian, who can manage an audience with the President of the United States, you can be the voice for the voiceless.
Back to the Big Cat Coalition Timeline
9/2/2012 By this time we had garnered more than 400 phone calls from our visitors to their members of Congress in our gift shop at Big Cat Rescue.
9/17/2012 Senator John Kerry introduced S.3547, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act.
9/20/2012 Presented a unified front to a Congressional Briefing
10/18/2012 Petition to end cub petting was presented to USDA
12/31/2012 Due to a lack of action by the House and Senate, largely to do with the election and then the “fiscal cliff,” the Big Cats & Public Safety Act died.
1/7/2013 Petition to end cub petting was amended and presented to USDA
5/15/2013 Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon & Rep. Loretta Sanchez re-introduced the Big Cats and Public Safety Act as HR 1998.
7/29/13 Sen. Richard Blumenthal re-introduced the Big Cats and Public Safety Act as S 1381.
8/5/2013 The USDA posted a request for public comment on our petition to ban cub handling for 30 days. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2013/08/05/2013-18874/petition-to-amend-animal-welfare-act-regulations-to-prohibit-public-contact-with-big-cats-bears-and See the 21,552 comments and supporting documents here: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=APHIS-2012-0107
11/17/2013 IFAW and Big Cat Rescue arranged for a Fly In of 17 of Big Cat Rescue’s most ardent supporters who were in key Congressional districts.
11/18/2013 The above comment period had been extended due to the AZA wishing to exempt their cheetah petting fundraisers, but closed today with over 15,000 responses and over 100,000 responses if you include those submitted via coalition partner’s supporters.
2/10/14 Big Cat Rescue hired a Republican lobbyist to assure Republicans that this is a bipartisan bill where everyone can agree that big cats don’t belong in backyards and basements.
6/26/14 Big Cat Rescue was the Diamond Sponsor at Taking Action for Animals in Washington, D.C. and brought the bill to the attention of 1,200 attendees through our booth, two one hour presentations, 3 workshop panels and a presentation at the plenary.
7/1/2014 Now that Congress is back in session we will continue to build the cosponsors for our bills. We currently have 108 cosponsors in the House and 5 cosponsors in the Senate. Want to help? Call your lawmaker or send an email here: BigCatAct.com
1/6/2015 Judith A. Mills releases her expose on the tiger trade called Blood of the Tiger. It connects the thousands of tigers being bred and killed for their parts in China to the U.S.’s own failure to regulate the captive trade in tigers, and how this is exterminating tigers in the wild.
2/5/2015 Our bills died without being heard last year, but the House version had 119 cosponsors and the Senate version had 6 and did have a sub-committee meeting that went very well. In fact, the only negative statement made during the meeting was that the Senators thought we should be banning more and restricting more with our language. We are currently looking to re-introduce the bill and will keep you posted.
7/7/2015 We expect the bill to be reintroduced any day now. Aids keep telling us they will be introducing the bill soon.
9/17/2015 HR 3546 was re-Introduced in the House. A senate version is ready and the sponsor has committed. A congressional briefing has been scheduled.
2/11/2016 SB 2541 was introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Blumenthal. Congress moves VERY slowly.
2/11/2016 Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders and Senator Richard Blumenthal wrote a formal letter to USDA asking that they take action to protect big cats and their cubs. Bernie Sanders Richard Blumental USDA
4/3/2016 USDA cracks down on abuse of cubs under the age of four weeks. In response to a 2012 legal petition filed by The Humane Society of the United States, World Wildlife Fund, Detroit Zoological Society, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free USA, Big Cat Rescue, Fund for Animals and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued guidance making clear that exhibitors violate the Animal Welfare Act by allowing members of the public to handle or feed infant exotic cats like tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars or leopards. Read more.
4/5/2016 USFWS announced that they are rescinding the generic tiger loophole. Big Cat Rescue has been pressuring the USFWS since at least 2007 to rescind this loophole and on 8/22/11 after a meeting with the USFWS the Generic Tiger issue was published to the Federal Register for public comment and got over 15,000 comments in support of our request to ban the breeding of non purebred tigers. Read more.
6/24/16 USDA posts an additional request for comments regarding the handling of dangerous wild animals and their cubs. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/06/24/2016-14976/petition-to-amend-animal-welfare-act-regulations-to-prohibit-public-contact-with-big-cats-bears-and
8/31/16 The Coalition petitions USDA with Additional Information In Support of Petition to Prohibit Public Contact with Dangerous Wild Animals (Docket No. APHIS-2012-0107)
9/2016 NSA CONFERENCE
In 2011 Muskingum County Sheriff Matthew J. Lutz and his deputies came face to face with a nightmare: a private owner of exotic animals in Zanesville, Ohio had opened the cages of his 56 tigers, lions, cougars, bears and wolves and let them loose. Recognizing that the animals were a serious public safety risk as dusk approached, deputies had no choice but to shoot most of the animals before they could scatter into the night and threaten the lives of the nearby community. Tranquilizers don’t work like you see on TV as there is a 20-30 minute delay, if they work at all.
Law enforcement should never have to be put in that scenario and we understand why they made the decision they did. But we don’t ever want this to happen again, which is why we are working with Sheriff Lutz and the National Sheriffs’ Association to spread awareness and gain support for the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
Last month Big Cat Rescuers attended the National Sheriffs’ Association’s annual conference in Minneapolis with this message: tigers, lions and other exotic cats kept in people’s homes, backyards, and roadside zoos pose a serious and completely unnecessary risk to public safety, law enforcement, and first responders.
The National Sheriffs’ Association has been very welcoming of our message, recently publishing our article about big cats and public safety in their July/August issue of Sheriff & Deputy magazine and passing a Resolution in support of the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
We are grateful to the National Sheriffs’ Association and look forward to building relationships with Sheriff departments across the country. To learn more visit: