IFAW Applauds Congresswoman Boyda’S (D-Ks) Initiative To Prevent Further Tragedies From Direct Public Contact With Captive Big Cats
(Washington, DC – 24 July 2007) – Following a recent rash of attacks and maulings involving captive big cats such as lions and tigers, Congresswoman Nancy Boyda (Kansas Second District) has sponsored federal legislation to protect the public from further incidents. H.R. 1947, “Haley’s Act,” aims to protect the public from attacks by captive big cats at facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The act is named in memory of Haley Hilderbrand, a 17-year-old high school student who was killed at a USDA-licensed facility by a 550-pound Siberian tiger while being photographed for her senior picture. A.J. Cady, IFAW’s (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) Program Director of Animals in Crisis and Distress, as well as Haley’s parents, Ronda and Mike Good, were on hand at a briefing before the House Committee on Agriculture to urge immediate Congressional action.
Haley’s Act would amend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to prohibit direct contact between the general public and big cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars and hybrids. The bill does not discourage public display of big cats in accredited zoos, or housing big cats in sanctuaries, but rather seeks to strengthen safety for the public. It also significantly increases fines for violations of the AWA to further encourage facilities to abide by the law and treat the animals well.
“Allowing public contact with big cats is a public policy failure and a threat to public safety. Congress must establish strict guidelines to prevent further tragedies from occurring due to poor safety standards and minimal fines,” said Congresswoman Nancy Boyda (D-KS), whose legislation is cosponsored by 26 Representatives, including her three Kansas colleagues Reps. Dennis Moore (D-KS), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Todd Tiahrt (R-KS).
It is estimated that there are currently more than 10,000 big cats held captive in the U.S. In recent years, captive big cats have killed more than a dozen people and injured more than 50 people. Many big cats are owned by individuals or organizations that have been licensed by the USDA to exhibit, breed, or sell these dangerous wild animals. However, the AWA does not allow for USDA to address risks to public safety, nor does it firmly prohibit direct contact between the public and big cats. Haley’s Act would correct this.
“The U.S. represents 4% of the global population, yet 78% of ALL captive cat incidents happen in the United States,” said IFAW’s Cady. “Lions and tigers are wild animals, not pets, and USDA-licensed facilities should treat these creatures accordingly. When the public is allowed to have direct contact with big cats it is simply a matter of time before a tragedy occurs.”
After Haley’s death, the Kansas state legislature banned the private ownership of big cats as pets and forbade public contact with big cats to help prevent future tragedies. However, the problem extends well beyond Kansas. In 2006 and 2007 alone there were big cat incidents, including escapes or attacks, in California, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina and Texas. These states have yet to enact a prohibition on direct contact with the public.
“We urge Congress to act now,” said Ronda and Mike Good, who were in Washington DC from Kansas, and have worked closely with legislators and IFAW to champion the legislation in Topeka and Washington. “If a law to prevent direct contact between big cats and the public were in place already, Haley might still be with us today.”
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