Summary of the Tiger Trade in FL
Florida leads the country in the number of breeders and dealers of
exotic animals and also leads the nation in the number of killings,
maulings and escapes by big cats. The reason Florida is such a haven
for this activity is because, unlike other states, Floridians cannot
appeal to their legislature to end it.
Back in the 1940’s Florida’s constitution was amended to give the Fish
and Game Department, now called the Florida Wildlife Conservation
Commission or FWC, absolute authority over all that pertains to wild
animals. The legislature only retained the right to set fees and
penalties and was precluded from enacting laws to over ride any other
aspect of managing wildlife. It was intended to pertain to native
wild animals, but didn’t specify that and when keeping wild animals as
pets came into vogue, the FWC maintained that they had ultimate
The FWC boasts that they have the most comprehensive set of laws in
the country, but based upon the fact that these laws create a haven
for breeders, dealers and exotic pet owners, that only goes to show
that regulating the industry is not going to stop the problem. The
only states who have seen a decline in killings, maulings and escapes
are those who ban the trade altogether. In every single case, the
numbers dropped to zero or near zero as soon as the laws were passed.
Washington state just passed the best laws yet and should be used as a
model around the country. What makes their new law the best is that it
limits the loop hole that most other states have in allowing anyone
with a USDA license to be exempted.
Florida classes wild animals into 4 classes: Class I (incl. lions,
tigers, leopards and jaguars, gorillas, bears, etc.), Class II (incl.
cougars, servals, bobcats, most monkeys, wolves, etc.) Class III
(anything that isn’t Class I or Class II) and venomous snakes is the
4th category. Class I permits requires 1000 hrs experience (which is
often falsified because there is no cross check) and costs 150.00 a
year and there are 362 people in FL with such licenses. Class II
requires 100 hrs experience and costs 150.00 a year and there are
roughly 1500 people in FL with this sort of license. Class III
requires no experience and in most cases there is no cost involved and
there are about 8000 people in FL with this sort of license. You are
not allowed to have a Class I animal as a pet, but if you call
yourself an Exhibitor, you can have the Class I animal in your back
yard or in your house. Cougars are legally kept as pets and can be
walked on leashes, taken into schools, flea markets, and driven around
town in the car like a dog.
If you have spent any time on the Internet at all, you probably saw
photos of the alligator-eating-python in the Everglades. Up until
July of 2007, there was no regulation of pythons, boas, nile monitors
and many other dangerous reptiles. Big Cat Rescue, and the Animal Rights Foundation of FL fought for two years to get a bill, called The Python Bill, passed which now
requires people to obtain a permit to have such animals. The most
important part of the Python Bill was a clause that requires all Class
I Exhibitors to post a 10,000.00 bond. The FWC can use the bond money
if the person abandons their animals, or if someone gets hurt and the
owner won’t stand good for the injury. If the person doesn’t want to
post a bond, they can present a bank letter of credit or show that
they carry two million in liability insurance, but the latter does not
give the FWC any money to care for the animals if they are abandoned.
While this was a huge victory this year, it is just a very small step
in the right direction.
In 2008 these same groups were working with Rep. Ellen Bogdanoff, the
majority whip, to try and stop the flood of exotics into Florida’s
ports and to put the power back into the hands of the 17 million
Floridians who do not own exotic animals. Animal protection groups
are hoping to persuade Florida’s legislators to introduce a joint
resolution that amends the constitution to put the decision making
authority back into the hands of the legislature so that voters have a
voice in Florida’s future. None of the FWC are elected officials and
thus do not have to answer to what the public wants. In 2008 the FWC
struck down a measure that would require a person moving into a
neighborhood with tigers to notify their adjacent neighbors of that
In October of 2007 there were public workshops about these neighbor
notification issues but the FWC only seeks input from the industry,
not from the public, so Big Cat Rescue sent letters out to all of the
neighbors surrounding these exotic owners. The big question on the
agenda was: If a tiger gets loose should you have to tell your next
door neighbor? As long as none of the neighbors knew about the
meeting, the resounding answer would be, “NO.”
Cities and counties should be given the right to enact their own more
restrictive rules. The Florida Association of Counties wants the
ability to ban these kinds of abusive back yard menageries. Big Cat
Rescue is also working to have the cougar re classed from a Class II
pet to Class I. That would require the cougar owners to post the
10,000.00 bond which should eliminate a lot of the trade.
On a Federal level the most important big cat bill in 2008 is Haley’s
Act HR 1947, a bill to ban contact with big cats and their babies.
The main reason so many big cats are bred and discarded is because
people make money off letting people pet and pose with babies. Many
pseudo sanctuaries breed big cat babies and then charge the public to
feed them. If that became illegal, then there would be no reason to
breed so many big cats. When this bill passes, it will take care of
more than 90% of the problem.
This link is to the 188 pages of rules FL has regarding wildlife:
Link to permit applications so you can see how little is required:
The following poll shows that 76% of the public would support a ban on
all exotic cats as pets:
Would you support a ban on exotic cats as pets?
Answers Votes Percent
Public opinion isn’t the only reason why these back yard menageries
should be outlawed:
Killings, maulings and escapes:
Recent laws to protect big cats:
Change is coming.
According to the Internet dictionary, the definition of Critical Mass
is: 1. The minimum quantity of fissile material required for a
nuclear chain reaction. 2. The minimum amount of people with shared
understanding to tip the balance and instigate change.
When a proportionately small fraction of electrons line up in an atom
it creates an invisible force that causes all of the other electrons
to snap into the same line. When enough people begin to think in
certain ways, and reach a critical mass, then all of a sudden all of
society begins to align that way. Changes that happen in one place
begin to happen all over the world at the same time. Slavery began to
be stopped in England in 1807 and around the middle of the 19th
century, not only here, but in Asia, Africa and Indonesia because the
belief emerged that this was no longer something we could tolerate.
It started because one man, William Wilberforce, began to change the
way the English viewed slavery and the rest of the world snapped into
If you saw the movie called Amazing Grace, you may remember that in
1824 William Wilberforce started the Royal Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals. It was the beginning of a change in
consciousness toward animals. Up until 1920 women weren’t allowed to
vote because they were thought to be irrational creatures and not as
intelligent as men. The movement for female equality began in the
1500’s, but it wasn’t until 400 years later that it became law. We
are seeing the same changes in attitudes toward the animals.
Big Cats have had big wins in the past couple of years. It began in
2003 with a law to ban the sale of big cats across state lines as
pets. It was called the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act and even
though it took six years to get it done, the vote was unanimous when
it was finally heard. Since then eight states, including AR, IA, IN,
KY, LA, MD, NY and WA have banned the keeping of big cats as pets.
Three countries including So. Africa, Australia and Ireland and 12
communities in Canada have banned the keeping of big cats as pets.
Five countries, including Brazil, Croatia, India, Scotland, the UK and
20 communities in Canada have banned circuses that use big cats in
their performances. Five states, including AL, IN, MT, OR and WA have
banned killing exotic animals in canned hunts and 27 states, including
AL, CA, IA, IL, KY, LA, MD, MS, NH, NJ, NM, OR, RI, SC, TX, WI & WY
have banned killing animals over the Internet. Scores of cities and
counties have also enacted similar protective measures for the cats
and many more have bills that are currently pending.
One definite sign that things are changing is that on May 16 the
Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian opens in theaters and not a
single display of a baby lion petting booth has been announced. In
times past there would have been dozens of baby lions bred to
capitalize on such an event; babies that would soon be discarded if
they didn’t die from all of the handling. Thanks to the Internet the
public and the press are better informed and that means a much more
humane world for all of us.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
Sign our petition to protect tigers from being farmed here:
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