US has more captive tigers than the world has wild ones. A new bill aims to stop that

James Crump
·3-min read
<p>A pair of the 39 tigers rescued in 2017 from Joe Exotic’s GW Exotic Animal Park relax at the Wild Animal Sanctuary on 5 April 2020 in Keenesburg, Colorado</p> ((Getty Images))

A pair of the 39 tigers rescued in 2017 from Joe Exotic’s GW Exotic Animal Park relax at the Wild Animal Sanctuary on 5 April 2020 in Keenesburg, Colorado

((Getty Images))

A group of US senators are attempting to ban the private ownership of big cats after being influenced by the popular Netflix documentary series Tiger King.

On Monday, a group of bipartisan senators, Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Tom Carper alongside Republicans Susan Collins and Richard Burr, announced that they will introduce and support a bill that would ban unlicensed ownership of lions and tigers in the US.

The bill, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which was passed in the House in December 2020, also proposes banning the public handling of cubs at zoos and exhibits.

Ownership of Tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars or leopards as pets would be banned, but zoos, sanctuaries and other licensed venues would be exempt from the ban.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are around 5,000 tigers living in the US either in zoos or private facilities, which dwarfs the more than 3,890 estimated in the wild across the world.

The announcement of the impending Senate legislation comes about a year after the release of Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, which followed several people running private zoos that housed big cats they owned.

The series highlighted the poor treatment the big cats faced at the hands of the owners, and the senators revealed in a press release on Monday that the show influenced their support of the legislation.

“The series showed the abysmal conditions big cats including tigers, lions, and leopards, as well as their cubs, live in throughout the United States, and the immense risks private ownership of these animals poses for the individuals who keep them, the general public, and the animals themselves,” the senators wrote in a statement.

They then claimed that the new restrictions on owning big cats would improve the safety for the animals and the public.

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“Big cats like lions, tigers and cheetahs belong in their natural habitats, not in the hands of private owners where they are too often subject to cruelty or improper care,” Ms Collins wrote.

Mr Carper added: “This legislation is a win-win. It would prevent big cats from living in inhumane conditions and protect the public from the safety implications of these beautiful creatures being kept as pets.”

Following the senators’ announcement on Monday, the World Wildlife Fund also released a statement, writing that “this legislation will help prevent captive tigers from ending up in the illegal trade in tiger parts and products, the primary threat to the species in the wild.

“The bill will also help ensure the welfare of captive big cats, as well as public safety.”

A date for a potential Senate vote has not yet been decided, but the legislation passed by a large majority of 272 to 114 in the House late last year.

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