WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) - A bill preventing people who aren't qualified to own dangerous big cats such as tigers, lions, leopards and cougars was reintroduced to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Reps. Michael Quigley (D-IL) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) reintroduced the Big Cat Public Safety Act (BCPSA) to advocate for an end to the unregulated trade and nationwide abuse of captive big cats.
"From irresponsible breeding to inhumane living conditions and public exploitation, the mistreatment of big cats comes in a variety of forms," said Rep. Quigley. "By introducing the Big Cat Public Safety Act, we are working to address a serious issue that causes immeasurable animal suffering and introduces inexcusable threats to human safety. State laws regarding private ownership of big cats are inconsistent or nonexistent, which is why a uniform federal law is necessary to end this dangerous industry once and for all."
Earlier this month, a 350 pound tiger was found in an abandoned home in Houston.
Police named the tiger "Tyson" and said it appeared to be well-fed and in good shape. However, its living conditions were poor.
"He's in a rinky-dink cage that could easily bust open. It was secured with a nylon strap and a screwdriver for the top of the cage," said Sgt. Jason Alderete with the city's animal cruelty unit.
Tyson fared better than many other big cats found in similar conditions, and was taken to Cleveland Black Amory Black Beauty ranch in Murchison about 80 miles southeast of Dallas.
Since 1990, at least 375 dangerous incidents have occured, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, involving big cats in the United States. Twenty-four people were killed, including four children, and hundreds of others have sustained critical injuries, the non-profit said. In many cases, the animals were shot and killed, often by first responders who were not equipped to handle these situations but had to intervene as a matter of public safety.
In addition to keeping dangerous big cats out of private hands, the bill would prohibit the public from petting, feeding, taking photos with, and playing with cubs. Allowing the public to handle and pose with tiger and lion cubs is considered an unscrupulous practice by many animal advocates. The believe the practice has caused misery for untold numbers of animals and is the primary cause of surplus tigers flooding the U.S. exotic animal trade.
The abuse begins, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, when the babies are prematurely and forcibly separated from their mothers, usually immediately after birth. The cubs can be used for public handling until they are just a few months old, at which point they are often discarded—often to end up in poorly run roadside zoos, pseudo-sanctuaries or private menageries. Babies must be continually produced to fuel this lucrative business. The practice also poses a safety risk; even very young big cats have sharp teeth and claws that can inflict serious injury, and a number of tiger cubs used for photo ops have been found with ringworm infections.
"There is a big cat crisis in the United States," said Cathy Liss, president of AWI. "There are thousands in captivity and we don't even know where they are. Private individuals keep big cats as 'pets,' where they languish in grossly inadequate conditions and pose a severe risk to the surrounding community, including law enforcement."
Surplus tigers discarded by cub-petting operations can also fuel the illegal market for animal parts used in traditional Asian medicine, according to the Animal Welfare Institute. The rampant breeding of tigers in America, the lack of a system for tracking them nationwide, and the reality that tigers are often worth more dead than alive means there are ample opportunities for these animals to enter the black market. In addition, cub-petting exhibitions damage the credibility and influence of the United States in working with other nations on international tiger conservation efforts.
"To make matters worse," said Liss, "unscrupulous facilities selling cub petting or photo opportunities perpetuate the problem by engaging in a vicious cycle of breeding then dumping big cats. It causes immeasurable animal suffering and appalling threats to human safety. The Big Cat Public Safety Act is a smart solution to a dangerous and cruel situation."
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