IFAW Urges Congress to ban the private possession and breeding of big cats

May 16, 2013, 10:18 ET from International Fund for Animal Welfare

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- U.S. Representatives Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) today introduced (H.R.1998) the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act. The bill, spearheaded by IFAW and other animal welfare groups, is aimed at prohibiting private possession and breeding of captive big cats in the United States.  

"No matter how many times people try, big cats such as lions, tigers and cheetahs are impossible to domesticate for personal possession," said Congressman McKeon. "This bill is a step forward in protecting the public and will ensure that big cats are taken care of humanely in proper living conditions." 

State laws that address private ownership and breeding of big cats in the U.S. vary greatly, with some states banning the practice outright while others impose partial or no restrictions.

"The patchwork of regulations coupled with numerous exemptions for USDA exhibitors is confusing and jeopardizes the safety of the public and the welfare of our animals," said Representative Sanchez. "The Big Cats bill is a federal solution that will clarify these regulations and will lessen the interstate traffic of various species."

There are an estimated 10,000—20,000 lions, tigers and other big cats living as pets and kept for profit in backyards, basements and in roadside zoos across America.  IFAW's big cats database (www.ifaw.org/bigcatadvocates) shows that since 1997, incidents involving the animals have resulted in 22 human deaths including five children; and over 200 people have been mauled or injured.  Also, at least 80 cats have escaped and hundreds of big cats have been killed.

"Whenever a big cat escapes or attacks a human, it is always public safety officers that respond first," said Tim Harrison, Director of Outreach for Animals and IFAW Big Cat Public Safety Consultant.  "I was among those who responded to the 2011 Zanesville, Ohio incident and will never forget the look on those officers' faces that had to shoot and kill lions and tigers in their small community."

In addition to the human and animal fatalities, the private possession and breeding of big cats also undermines wildlife conservation particularly for tigers.  Of the tens of thousands of big cats estimated to live in the U.S., 5,000 are thought to be tigers.  In contrast, experts believe roughly 3,000 tigers remain in the wild. 

IFAW Campaigns Officer, Tracy Coppola added, "Passing the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act is a commonsense solution to ensure that captive big cats do not threaten public safety, diminish global conservation efforts, or end up living in deplorable conditions."

The bill now heads to the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs.

About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org/bigcatadvocates.

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SOURCE International Fund for Animal Welfare