The passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act has been a massive win, resulting in the end of the wild cat trade in the US and the cruel practice of taking cubs from their mothers for use in roadside zoo petting attractions.
But there’s another, often-overlooked component of the new law that’s about to result in big changes for captive tigers, jaguars, pumas and other wild cats.
While current “owners” of big cats were grandfathered in under the BCPSA, they have until June 18 to register with the federal government, and with registration comes requirements, inspections and minimum standards of living for the wild felids.
In other words, most of the people who “own” the estimated 20,000 privately held big cats are about to get a rude awakening. The days of tiny makeshift enclosures in backyards are over, as is the practice of keeping big cats in the home as if they’re domestic felines. (With apologies to Tippi Hedren, who once owned as many as 60 lions and tigers, and at 93 years old still has “13 or 14” big cats, according to her granddaughter, actress Dakota Johnson.)
If people who have possession of big cats don’t register with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they’ll have their animals taken away. Likewise for people who don’t provide adequate enclosures that not only provide enough space, but are built to contain the apex predators.
As a result, sanctuaries are bracing for an influx of tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, snow leopards, clouded leopards and pumas, all of whom are protected under the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
Experts anticipate a significant number of big cat “owners” could try to part with their animals if they can’t or won’t provide adequate enclosures, and the government is already cracking down on people who are trying to sell their “pets.”
A tiger cub named Indy is one of the first to be taken out of private hands and placed in an accredited sanctuary. Indy was recently sold by her original “owner” and the man who purchased her for $25,000 tried to flip her, advertising the cub online.
Authorities moved in and found Indy in a dog kennel in a closet inside the man’s Arizona home. Police, who said they could hear Indy “moaning” from inside the closet, also seized an alligator and a dozen snapping turtles.
Tammy Thies, founder of the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn. — Indy’s new home — said the cub is lucky she wasn’t confined to the small space for long.
“Many of the cubs we get are suffering from metabolic bone disease, malnutrition, sometimes they have such long confinement that they don’t have use of their back end, so Indy’s a lucky one,” Thies told WKQDS, the local Fox affiliate.
Indy arrived in May and has adjusted well to her new home in less than a month, according to the sanctuary. A page dedicated to tracking her progress has photographs of her meeting another tiger cub for the first time and playing in the grass.
As the deadline fast approaches, we hope Indy’s story is just one of many, and big cats who have suffered for years in tiny enclosures, under the “care” of people who aren’t qualified to keep them, find their way to accredited sanctuaries so they can live out the rest of their lives in sunshine, feeling grass and earth underneath their paws, with enrichment programs created by professionals who care about their well-being.
It’s about time.