Priya Tiger can't decide if she wants to play in the pool or take a big cat nap. Photo by Sarah Copel

Coronavirus and Cub Petting

The Coronavirus is a Zoonotic Disease

As the word, zoonotic implies, it is an infectious disease caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites that spread from non-human animals to humans. Major modern diseases such as coronavirus also known as COVID19, ebola virus disease, anthrax, bird flu, cat scratch fever, influenza, leprosy, lyme disease, monkey pox, rabies, swine flu, toxoplasmosis, zika, west nile virus and salmonellosis are all zoonoses.  Everyone knows you can catch all of these from contact with animals, and according to the Center for Disease Control, scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.

So why are people paying to have their toddlers pet wild animals like lion cubs, tiger cubs and liger cubs?

Maybe even more important to ask is; Why hasn’t Congress passed the bipartisan bill, that has 227 co-sponsors in the House, that would ensure people aren’t duped into touching wild cats by the handful of charlatans who pimp them out for a living?

Given the fact that just 2 days ago, on March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared the spreading coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, acknowledging what has seemed clear for some time — the virus will likely spread to all countries on the globe.  While stores and warehouses are being depleted of hand sanitizer, face masks and toilet paper, people are still paying to touch and pose with big cat cubs for a selfie.

Baptize a catAs someone who’s worked with exotic cats since the 1970’s, you can’t sanitize them.  Have you ever tried to baptize a cat?  Even if you could hose them down with antiseptic shampoo between each petting session, there is so much we don’t know about how zoonotic diseases are spread that we are playing with fire anytime we come into close contact with the wild cats.

There are so many reasons why it is cruel to the cubs and their mothers, when they are bred to be used as pay to play props, but right now maybe people should think about themselves.  Why is engaging in a few moments of animal abuse worth it to you, if you could be the next typhoid Mary to infect your loved ones with a virus that has no cure and is proving to be far more fatal than any before it?  Even if the coronavirus isn’t the one to wipe out a substantial percentage of humans; we obviously didn’t see this one coming and we don’t know what’s coming next.

Remember Casper the wild bobcat we rescued last Halloween?  He died within a couple of days and had tested positive for a coronavirus (not specifically COVID-19) and feline leukomyelopathy which is causing neurological issues in Florida panthers and bobcats all across the state of Florida. Scientists still don’t know what is causing some Florida panthers and bobcats to display signs of this neurological disorder, but they’ve given it a name: feline leukomyelopathy.  Whenever we bring in an injured wildcat, we always assume they are carrying every disease known and unknown to mankind, and handle them under the strictest of quarantine procedures.

While we are doing all we can to protect exotic cats, and those here who provide care, there are others making money off enticing people to touch them. Don’t touch wild animals!  It’s not worth your life or those around you.

The most important thing you can do for big cats, their cubs and yourself is to take action at the link.  Our federal bill bans cub handling and phases out private ownership of dangerous big cats including lions, tigers, ligers, leopards, and jaguars.  Call, Tweet, or Email your U.S. legislators and ask them to champion the Big Cat Public Safety Act today!

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