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Protecting our Big Cats

The alarming number of captive big cats throughout the United States has increased radically over the last few years. The Big Cat Public Safety Act (BCPSA), also known formally as H.R. 1380- S.2561 is a federal bill addressing two of the largest sources of abuse of big cats by ending the owning of big cats as pets and stopping exploitative roadside zoos from offering cub petting and photos. Many of these animals that are kept as pets are mistreated, malnourished and kept in substandard conditions often contained in basements or backyards suffering greatly and endangering big cat species globally. This Act helps to protect big cats from abuse, the public and first responders from injury and death, and protecting species of large cat from extinction. The Bill would amend the previous Captive Wildlife Safety Act to prohibit the possession of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, and jaguars by individuals not licensed by the US Department of Agriculture. Universities, sanctuaries, and zoos qualified to look after and care for these animals are exempt from the new bill and restrictions.

Two tigers in small metal enclosures. Photo from

As of 2020, there are roughly 10,000 big cats that are captive in the United States, with more tigers in captivity in the United States than are free in the wild, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Big cats are wild animals. Unlike companion animals such as dogs or household felines, who have been domesticated, big cats retain their natural instinct to hunt and attack, no matter how they are raised. Since 1990, there have been nearly 380 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats throughout 46 US states and Canada.

One of the more detrimental effects that impacts big cats as cubs is within roadside zoos and cub “petting” photo ops. The main issue with roadside zoos and cub “petting” is that most cubs are disposed of or abandoned by twelve weeks old, having grown up too much to be

Mountain lions are the "big cats" local to Orange County. Photo sourced from

“cute” or have become an issue. These young cats are then either sold to the exotic pet trade, other exhibitors, or even the black market. Not only will this Bill reduce risks to the public and aim to improve the welfare of big cats throughout the United States, but can also help to prevent wild populations of lions, tigers, and other threatened species from being illegally poached or slaughtered to supply this harmful and illegal wildlife trade. Big cats have a critical ecological of maintaining stable prey populations and recent research suggests they are “ecosystem engineers” as their leftovers provide food for a plethora of other species. Locally, the Big Cat Safety Act could positively impact the estimated thirty mountain lions that are known to be within our local County of Orange by protecting cubs or adult mountain lions from poaching or trapping for the industry. In fact, the Orange County Zoo has a rescued Serval that was kept as a pet locally and rescued!

A promotional image for Netflix's "Tiger King," a documentary that features Joe Exotic (featured), a former zookeeper who was accused of abusing and exploiting wild animals.

Fortunately, the Big Cat Public Safety Act passed the House of Representatives Natural Resources committee in late 2019, and then later passed the House of Representatives on December 3rd 2020, gaining momentum and notoriety as a companion measure to the original Captive Wildlife Safety Act, and has since been introduced into the United States Senate. The Bill passed the United States House of Representatives with a vote of 272 to114 after the public's view of captive big cats shifted as a result of several wildlife documentaries and films. Documentaries such as Netflix’s “Tiger King” which highlights the Big Cat Public Safety Act became extremely popular in 2020 and brought how these animals were mistreated to the forefront of the media and public. The signing of this Bill would be a major victory for conservationists and animal lovers globally. Therefore, it is critical that the American public educate themselves and encourage their elected officials to support the Bill. Please show support by urging our US Senators to cosponsor and push for the passage of H.R. 1380- S.2561.

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