When people think of lions, tigers, and other big cats, they will usually imagine them running around their natural habitat. However, there are some people who keep these big cats as pets at home or have enclosures on the grounds of their property in which big cats are kept. While this raises concerns for the safety of the owner for many people, for others, the bigger concern is the welfare of the cats. It was these concerns that prompted the introduction of the Big Cat Public Safety Act. Those who are concerned about the animals’ welfare hope that a recent documentary may help make the act a law.
The Tiger King Documentary
A year ago, Netflix aired a documentary called The Tiger King. The series focused on a man known as Joe Exotic, a roadside zookeeper, and the treatment and living conditions of the animals in his care. Those who watched the series were enraged, and it sparked a public outcry, as there were many concerns raised about the welfare of the big cats living in the zoo. During his imprisonment, control of the zoo was given to animal welfare activist Carole Baskin, and it was she who was the victim of the attempted murder for which Joe Exotic was convicted. Their feud has once again come to attention due to an unexpected quarantine binge, which has highlighted further concerns about roadside zoos.
The documentary series also faced criticism for its handling of the subjects. Instead of focusing on the clear issues with the treatment of the animals, the series focused more on the details of Joe Exotic’s life. One of the topics covered was the mysterious disappearance of Carole Baskin’s first husband and the links that Joe Exotic may have had with this situation. However, while not necessarily focusing on the care of the animals, the documentary did draw attention to his practices. Prior to his arrest and consequent conviction, Joe Exotic was breeding big cats solely to use them for photograph sessions and for profitable petting. Viewers were shocked to see newborn cubs being hauled away from their mothers so paying visitors could pet them. The roadside zookeeper was also trading the Big Cats. He was selling some to private buyers, while similar roadside zoos bought others. Alarmingly, there were also cats that seemingly just disappeared.
The New Version of the Big Cats Bill
Last year, the Big Cat Public Safety Act was introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut. Unfortunately, the bill did not go up for a vote, but Blumenthal remained hopeful that this year the bill would clear the senate while the Democrats are in control, and the legislation also had the support of many Republicans. In fact, it is the support of the Republicans that might see the bill pushed through this year. A new version of the bill is being introduced by Blumenthal, along with Republican Senators Richard Burr and Susan Collins. The former is from North Carolina, while the latter is from Maine. According to the New York Times, Democrat Senator Tom Carper from Delaware is also involved.
Collins says that she is supporting the legislation because big cats belong in their natural habitats. She believes that if they are in the hands of private owners, there is a significant risk of improper care or cruelty. The new bill being introduced is similar to the legislation introduced in 2020 by Representative Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois. In that bill, transporting and breeding big cats was only allowed by official zoos that restrict animal and public contact, wildlife sanctuaries, and educational facilities. It was passed by the house in December 2020 and had 230 sponsors. If the new bill goes through, it will primarily impact private owners of big cats. The legislation will forbid them from owning the cat, breeding them, and transporting them across state lines. Currently, it is a legal requirement for all zoos to have a federal license from the Department of Agriculture. Those who have the appropriate licenses are exempt from the new legislation. Some examples of facilities that possess these licenses and are exempt from the rules include official zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, and organizations or exhibitors who received a license.
Support from Organizations
The bill has received a lot of support from many animal organizations. One such example is the Humane Society Legislative Fund. The organization’s president, Sara Amundson, claimed that it was the support of sanctuaries, zoos, and law enforcement organizations that had given the bill momentum. Amundson made a statement in which she said that roadside operations and private individuals keeping cats could endanger the public. If this happened, then the animals would suffer the worst possible fate. She specifically names Joe Exotic as one of the people who should not continue to keep big cats, but she also named Doc Antle and Joe Blow. Big cat Rescue, an organization founded by Carole Baskin, is also supporting the new bill. Since the first Big Cat Public Safety Act was introduced in 2012, Baskin has continued to push for the legislation. Baskin has also continued to support a ban on cub petting for the last two decades. Baskin agrees that stroking a tiger cub seems like an appealing activity as tiger cubs are so adorable. Her husband, Howard Baskin, describes living only for human enjoyment as a miserable life for tiger cubs.
Opposition to the Bill
While the bill has gained a lot of support, some are opposed to its introduction. Keith Evans is the President of the Lion Habitat Ranch in Las Vegas, which is home to 31 big cats. Evans’ criticism is the reactionary approach of legislators. He fears that this may lead to the punishment of responsible zoo owners and that there is a risk of bureaucratic issues. Rather than protecting big cats, Evans fears the legislation will hamper responsible people who run ethical sanctuaries and zoos.