U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Strengthens Protections for Captive Tigers under the Endangered Species Act
April 5, 2016
In an effort to strengthen protections for certain captive tigers under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized a rule declaring that captive “generic” tigers — tigers of unknown genetic background or crosses between two different subspecies of tigers — are no longer exempt from certain permitting requirements.
Anyone selling tigers across state lines must now first obtain an interstate commerce permit or register under the Captive-bred Wildlife Registration program regardless of whether it is a generic tiger or a pure subspecies.
“Removing the loophole that enabled some tigers to be sold for purposes that do not benefit tigers in the wild will strengthen protections for these magnificent creatures and help reduce the trade in tigers that is so detrimental to wild populations,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “This will be a positive driver for tiger conservation.”
The wild tiger is under severe threat from habitat loss and the demand for tiger parts in traditional Asian medicine. Once abundant throughout Asia, today the species numbers only 3,000-5,000 animals in small fragmented groups. As a result, tigers are protected as endangered under the ESA and under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – the highest levels of international protection. Tigers readily breed in captivity, however, and the number of captive tigers in the United States alone likely exceeds the numbers found in the wild, although the exact number is currently unknown.
The Service has worked with international partners to implement measures that ensure wild tigers survive in their native habitats and that captive tigers do not contribute to the illegal trade in tiger parts.
While this new rule does not prevent individuals from owning generic tigers, extending the permitting or registration requirement to all tigers strengthens the Service’s efforts in addressing the illegal wildlife trade, both domestically and internationally. This rule results in a uniform policy that applies to all tigers and will help Service law enforcement agents enforce the ESA.
The final rule will publish in the Federal Register on April 6, 2016, and will go into effect 30 days after publication on May 6, 2016.
For a copy of the final rule, please go to https://www.fws.gov/policy/frsystem/default.cfm and click on 2016 Final Rules for Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. U.S. Captive-Bred Inter-subspecific Crossed or Generic Tigers 81 FR 19923 19923-19931 04/06/2016 1018-AW81 Docket ID: FWS-R9-IA-2011-0027
Note: 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. Carole Baskin emailed those in charge, at least every six months, during this 9 year process, always asking when they would finally take action. According to their Q&A it sounds like the USFWS may still rubber stamp activities that really don’t help tiger conservation, but it’s a step. Regulations can’t work, because USDA and USFWS don’t have the resources nor apparently the will to enforce the weak rules they have, so that is why we need an all out ban on the private possession of big cats. You can help get that done at https://BigCatAct.com
Questions and Answers
U.S. Captive-bred Inter-subspecific Crossed or Generic Tigers
What action is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking?
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized a rule that strengthens protections for certain captive tigers under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The final rule declares that captive “generic tigers” (Panthera tigris) (i.e., specimens not identified or identifiable as members of Bengal, Sumatran, Siberian or Indochinese subspecies (P. t. tigris, P. t. sumatrae, P. t. altaica and P. t. corbetti, respectively)) are no longer exempt from certain permitting requirements.
Anyone selling tigers across state lines must now first obtain an interstate commerce permit or register under the Captive-bred Wildlife Registration (CBW) program, regardless of whether it is a generic tiger or a pure subspecies.
What is a generic tiger?
Inter-subspecific crossed or “generic” tigers are of unknown genetic origin and are typically not maintained in a manner to ensure that inbreeding or other inappropriate matings of animals do not occur.
What is the CBW program?
In 1979, the Service established Captive-bred Wildlife (CBW) regulations to reduce federal permitting requirements and facilitate the breeding of endangered and threatened species for conservation purposes. Under the CBW program, otherwise prohibited activities, such as interstate commerce, are authorized, but only when the activities can be shown to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. Registrants of the CBW program must provide a written annual report with information on activities including births, deaths and transfers of specimens.
Why were generic tigers exempted from the CBW?
In 1998, the Service amended the CBW regulations to delete the requirement to register under the program for holders of inter-subspecific crossed or generic tigers. This exemption was based on the alleged lack of conservation value of these specimens due to their mixed or unknown genetic composition, and the belief there was conservation value in exhibition designed to educate the public about the ecological role and conservation needs of the species. The intention behind the exemption was for the Service to focus its oversight on populations of “purebred” animals of the various tiger subspecies to further their conservation in the wild. Despite this exemption, inter-subspecific crossed or generic tigers are still protected under the ESA. Tigers have been listed under the ESA as endangered since 1970.
Why should generic tigers now be included under CBW registration?
By exempting holders of inter-subspecific crossed or generic tigers from the CBW registration process in 1998, the Service may have inadvertently suggested that the breeding of inter-subspecific crossed or generic tigers qualifies as conservation. By removing the CBW exemption, the Service can reinforce the value of conservation breeding of individual tiger subspecies and discourage the breeding of inter-subspecific crossed or generic tigers. The Service has finalized this change to the regulations to ensure the agency can maintain strict oversight of captive tigers in the United States.
Withdrawing the CBW exemption for generic tigers would also close a loophole in current federal and state regulations that could allow for the use of captive U.S. tigers in trade in a manner inconsistent with conservation of the species. It places the United States in a stronger position in international negotiations regarding commercial tiger breeding farms in Asia and trade in tiger parts.
How will removal of the generic tiger exemption from the CBW regulations impact current owners of generic tigers?
Removing the CBW exemption for generic tigers will not result in control of private ownership, and will not impact sale of generic tigers within their state of residence (intrastate commerce) or non-commercial movement across state lines. However, other activities, such as the sale of animals across state lines (interstate commerce), would require authorization from the Service before such actions could be taken.
While this new rule does not prevent individuals from owning generic tigers, the permitting or registration requirement for all tigers strengthens the Service’s efforts in addressing the illegal wildlife trade, both domestically and internationally. Tigers are listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
This final rule results in a uniform policy that applies to all tigers and will help Service law enforcement agents enforce the ESA.
Would all private owners have to apply for a permit before breeding their tigers?
Private owners would still be able to breed generic tigers without a permit for sale or commercial purposes within their state or for non-commercial movement across state lines, provided that you meet the criteria of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act.
I own a male and female tiger and would like to breed them so that I can give a cub to my daughter. Would I need to apply for a permit under this new regulation?
If you plan to give the cub away as opposed to selling it, you would not need to apply for a permit, regardless of the recipient’s state, provided that you meet the criteria of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act if the cub is going across state lines. If you have additional cubs in the litter, you could sell them within your state to someone else who resides in the same state or donate them to sanctuaries or others, either inside or outside of your state. Again, you would need to meet the criteria of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act if moving tigers across state lines.
I’m a private owner of tigers and I often display them at fairs and festivals in other states. Would the new regulation prohibit me from doing this?
The new regulation would still allow generic tigers to cross state lines for exhibition purposes, as long as the tigers are not to be sold or offered for sale.
How can I meet the standard to get a permit or register under the CBW regulations to sell a generic tiger across state lines if the Service is saying that generic tigers have no any conservation value?
The CBW registration was set up to allow institutions that were breeding listed species for conservation purposes to sell animals across state lines to other registered facilities. While it is true that breeding these animals would not provide a direct conservation benefit to the species in the wild and therefore the Service probably would not register a facility with generic tigers, it is still possible to obtain an individual permit authorizing interstate commerce with a generic tiger if the applicant meets the issuance criteria established in our regulations, i.e., if the parties involved in the sale are carrying out activities that enhance the propagation or survival of the species. While it is unlikely that such a commercial transaction would provide a direct benefit to the species, such as reintroduction, there may be indirect benefits that could be obtained from the transaction. It should also be noted that the requirement to show this benefit could be met through an individual or institution, or a group of individuals or institutions together, working to provide a benefit to the species in the wild.
For example, if one or more zoological institutions were purchasing inter-subspecific crossed or generic tigers for educational and display purposes, they could provide support (e.g., via the solicitation of donations
from visitors) to carry out on-the-ground conservation efforts in the tiger’s native range. The Service prefers a clear on-going commitment of several years on the part of the applicant for such conservation or research support. This on-going commitment could be fulfilled by a group of institutions working together to maximize their resources for the benefit of tigers in the wild.
What will the economic impact be on the public and small businesses?
The Service does not have data on how many businesses are involved in the interstate commerce of generic tigers, the number of businesses for which an interstate commerce permit or registration in the CBW program will be a viable option, and the economic impacts if prospective applicants are unable to either secure an interstate commerce permit or registration in the CBW program. Nonetheless, the Service believes that the regulatory change is not major in scope and would create only a modest financial or paperwork burden on the affected members of the general public.
This rule would not have a significant economic effect. If individuals or breeding operations wish to carry out an otherwise prohibited activity, such as interstate commerce, it would require that a permit application be submitted to the Service at a cost of $100-$200 per application. Submission of an application, however, would not be a guarantee that authorization will be granted.