Finally, The US Is Poised To Outlaw Big Cat ‘Ownership’

Even though Tiger King, the tawdry Netflix documentary about a redneck and his “zoo” full of tigers, focused more on the eccentric people involved than the plight of the big cats in their “care,” it got people talking about the problem of captive tigers in the US.

In 2020, congress passed a rare bipartisan bill to ban all big cat ownership in the US. The bill stalled when the senate failed to vote on it before the end of the legislative session, but now it’s back — and the recent saga of a confused tiger wandering around Houston may finally provide the nudge for politicians to pass the badly-needed bill.

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After almost exterminating tigers, Chinese poachers have turned to South America, where they’re poaching jaguars at unprecedented rates to feed demand for big cat parts in the traditional Chinese medicine market. Jaguar poaching has increased 200-fold in the past five years to fuel Chinese demand for their body parts.

There are more tigers living in Texas and Florida backyards than there are in the wild, an ignominious fact that says volumes about humanity’s indifference to the plight of the Earth’s most powerful and iconic predators. Devastated by habitat destruction and poaching to feed the bottomless Chinese appetite for tiger parts used in traditional Chinese “medicine,” the worldwide wild tiger population is about 3,900, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

By contrast, there’s an estimated 7,000 tigers kept as “pets” in the US, with as many as 5,000 of them in Texas.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act would ban the private ownership of tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cougars and cheetahs. It would also outlaw the practice of taking tiger cubs from their mothers so guests can hold them and take selfies with them, which has become an increasingly-popular and controversial feature of “roadside zoos” — unregulated, poorly run, unaccredited facilities — in the US.

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Cheetahs, already critically endangered due to habitat loss, are on the verge of extinction as they’ve become the exotic pet of choice among the wealthy of the UAE and Russia.

The Houston tiger, named India, is one of those unfortunate cubs. While the public freaked out and Houston residents huddled in their homes, hoping to record footage of the wandering tiger, an important fact was often left out of media reports: India is only eight months old. He’s essentially a baby, albeit a 175-pound one, and he had no idea what was happening to him, where he was, how to feed himself, or how to escape the endless sprawl of urban and suburban Texas.

Despite the fact that he was a confused-yet-playful cub, India could have easily been shot by authorities. Thankfully he survived his ordeal, and while his “owner,” Victor Cuevas, is sitting in jail on $300,000 bond, India has been relocated to a sanctuary in northern Texas, where he’ll be looked after and will get to live in the company of other tigers.

In the meantime, we all have an opportunity to lobby our respective senators and demand that they vote for the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You can fire off a letter to your senators and congressional representative in less than two minutes using the Animal Welfare Institute’s site — just punch in your address and the site will draft automated letters to all three, with fields to sign your name and to personalize the letters.

Tell them you support the Big Cat Public Safety Act, and you’ll take their vote into consideration the next time you head to the ballot box.

All images credit Wikimedia Commons.

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In the wild, tigers range more than 50 miles a day. Backyards, no matter how large, are not suitable environments for them.

 

5 thoughts on “Finally, The US Is Poised To Outlaw Big Cat ‘Ownership’”

  1. Years ago I was at some animal welfare event, and one of the booths had a caged tiger. The cage was not a whole lot bigger than the tiger, and I almost always shed a tear when I remember that beautiful animal stuck in that cage. Even though the tiger was brought there by a big cat sanctuary, and so probably had a fairly happy life at the sanctuary.. .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t believe wildcat pet ownership isn’t illegal already. It’s one of the sickest things going on against the welfare of animals in the world. Not to mention dangerous to all involved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, it’s somewhat of a miracle that more people haven’t been mauled or otherwise hurt. One of the links in my post mentions that, while Texas requires tiger “owners” to register the big cats, authorities believe there are thousands of unregistered tigers. Then you have situations like one Texas woman who has a tiger and two bears in her backyard, and she controls them with a taser.

      Like

  3. One of the many sad things that happens to these sideshow big cats is they are almost always declawed and their fangs filed or removed. Because you can’t have kids being mauled in photos, they also are drugged so as to be docile.
    What I would be interested to know is when this pill becomes law, what will happen to all those privately held animals? Is there a plan included in the bill, providing a true sanctuary and allocating funds? How many “owners” will simply kill the cat instead of turning it over to the law?

    Liked by 1 person

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