The Senate unanimously passed the bipartisan Big Cat Public Safety Act on December 7, which was spurred by the popular TV series Tiger King and other controversies involving these animals. The White House has expressed support for the bill, and President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law.
A coalition made up of Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the act to Congress alongside the help of Carole Baskin, president and founder of Big Cat Rescue and Tiger King star. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) headlined the efforts with the coalition.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act builds upon the 2003 Captive Wildlife Safety Act by fixing a drafting error that left loopholes for big cat owners. With the passage of the new act, privately owned lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, or cougars will be prohibited. Current owners are “grandfathered” into the law, which means they are allowed to keep their pets as long as they are properly registered, and local authorities are made aware of the animals.
“Texas has one of the highest populations of big cats in the country with numerous instances where these animals have escaped and injured and even killed people in our state,” said Shelby Bobosky, executive director at the Texas Humane Legislation Network. “Passing the big cat public safety act means less risk to our first responders and safer Texas communities for all of us. We applaud Animal Wellness Action and Big Cat Rescue in passing this monumental legislation.”
World Wildlife estimates that there are roughly 5,000 tigers in private captivity in the United States, with most of those likely in Texas. In fact, behind India, Texas is believed to have the second-largest population of tigers in the entire world. Despite state law, only 50 of these tigers are registered with the state, with most owners choosing to keep their pets a secret from the government.
By banning the ownership of these tigers and other cats, public contact and “cub petting” would also be prohibited. Many of the big cats currently in captivity were bred to be attractions for photos and to be petted. “There was just this almost obsession with keeping these animals as pets,” says Texas Humane Legislation Network. “And we know that these animals should not be kept as pets.” Big cats raised in captivity do not have the necessary skills to survive in the wild, so they must stay captive forever.
Baskin stated, “This was always about developing a national policy to shut down the trade in these animals as props in commercial cub handling operations and as pets in people’s backyards and basements.”