New IFAW report uncovers public safety dangers at big cat facilities

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AUGUST 24, 2006
9:00 AM

CONTACT: International Fund for Animal Welfare
Andrea Murray, 202-715-1554,

WASHINGTON – August 24 – A new report released today by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) documents a pattern of public safety and animal welfare violations at U.S. facilities that house and exhibit big cats — such as tigers, lions, panthers and jaguars. “Fatal Attractions,” the new IFAW report, culminates an 18-month investigation of 42 USDA-licensed facilities in 11 states. Prompted by more than 100 big cat incidents and over a dozen fatalities in the past decade, the report provides recommendations for changes to federal and state policy.

More than 5,000 big cats are kept in facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and it is estimated that thousands more are kept as pets.

“We’ve seen too many tragedies that could have been prevented,” said Gregory Wetstone, IFAW’s U.S. director. “Against a background of dozens of dangerous big cat incidents, the new report demonstrates that the current USDA license system does not guarantee public safety or humane conditions. Americans with big cat exhibitors in their communities would be very surprised to learn that the licensing agency has such limited legal authority to protect the public safety. Congress should act now to give the USDA the authority it needs to keep the public safe from big cat attacks, and we urge the USDA to improve its standards for big cats in captivity.”

The release of this critical report comes on the heels of new legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) to protect the public from big cat attacks. IFAW worked closely with Rep. Ryun to draft “Haley’s Act” (HR 5909), named for 17-year-old Haley Hilderbrand who was fatally attacked a year ago by a tiger at a USDA licensed facility in Kansas. Haley went to the facility to have her senior photo taken with tiger cubs, but when the cubs became too frisky, a 550-pound tiger was substituted in the photo shoot. The tiger attacked and killed Haley.

In the 42 big cat facilities that IFAW visited:

— The majority of big cat facilities were structurally unsound and some had no barriers at all.

— Direct contact between big cats and young children was common.

— Many facilities had no attendants to handle the big cats and some allowed children to work as attendants.

— Some animals were fed rotten meat and housed in cages with dead animals, filthy water buckets and sewage.

There are nearly 700 USDA big cat licensees in the United States with the highest number of facilities in Florida, Texas and California. In the past decade, there were 13 big cat incidents in Florida, 12 in Texas, six in California and five each in Illinois, Nevada, Minnesota and Kansas. Since 1990, big cats killed 13 people in the U.S. alone.

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) Founded in 1969, IFAW works around the globe to protect animals and their habitats and to create a better world for animals and people. To download IFAW’s new report and to learn how to help, please visit

Editors: Download the report, photos and broadcast quality video at:

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