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Goodbye Tiger King: Biden to Sign Law Banning Big Cat Ownership

Tiger in cage

The House and Senate recently passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which conservationists praise as ending the "horrific exploitation" of big cats.

President Joe Biden is set to sign a new bill into law that would ban keeping big cats as pets or petting zoo entertainment.

In July, the House of Representatives passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which mandates that only certified zoos or universities may house big cats, such as lions, tigers, jaguars, and panthers. The Senate passed the bill just last week, with President Biden expected to sign it in upcoming days.

Susan Millward, executive director of the Animal Welfare Institute, told The Guardian that the new law marks a large step forward in the fight to end the “horrific exploitation” of big cats.

“We must end the exploitative and dangerous trade in pet big cats, and ensure that no more cubs are ripped from their mothers at birth to be traumatized for profit,” she said.

As of 2020, there were around 5,000 tigers in the United States, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. That's less than the estimated 3,900 living in the wild.

Before the BCPSA, the process for obtaining a pet tiger was shockingly easy, with 30 states simply requiring a $30 license fee. While the new law will not force those who already own tigers to return them, it mandates that any viewed by the public must be kept behind a safety barrier.

Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said that the bill is the “death knell for the cub petting industry."

“By closing the door on cub petting and the era of private citizens keeping big cats inappropriately, we’re making the country safer, better and kinder for all,” she elaborated. “It couldn’t happen fast enough.”

The big cat industry was first exposed to the American public with Netflix's 2020 series Tiger King, which made private zoo owner Joe Exotic into a household name. Exotic has since been convicted of animal abuse, and his plot to assassinate big cat sanctuary owner, Carole Baskin, who has backed the BCPSA.

Since 1990, big cat attacks have killed 24 people in the United States. Mike Quigley, the Democratic House member who introduced the bill, said that the new law will not just ensure quality of life for big cats, but will also bolster public safety.

“For too long, lax laws have allowed private citizens to own big cats. Big cats are wild creatures – they should not be subjected to a life of confinement, where they are used and abused for entertainment purposes," he said. "Additionally, the possibility of one of these cats escaping, will no longer loom over our communities and first responders. These cats will be safer, and so will we. I look forward to President Biden signing this bill into law.”

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