President Joe Biden signed the Big Cat Public Safety Act into law Dec. 20, 2022, banning public contact with big cats and putting an end to the cub petting industry in the United States.
The law bans private individuals from owning lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars and hybrid species. Private owners who currently own big cats have 180 days to register their animals with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The law also bans private owners from breeding and acquiring more big cats.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act was spearheaded by Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, who worked for years to get a federal law passed to stop the mistreatment of tigers and other wildcats at roadside zoos and under-regulated facilities.
Baskin and her husband, Howard, were joined by animal welfare groups across the country who supported the law's passage.
There are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. than exist in the wild, with many of them wasting away in derelict roadside zoos, where they're often denied medical treatment, fed inadequate diets and lack access to enrichment activities, which leads to psychological distress.
Many roadside zoos speed breed tigers and other big cats and then pull the cubs from their mothers to be hand raised by humans. The cubs are used in paid cub petting interactions and exploited on social media. When the cubs become too big to safely handle, they're traded, discarded or euthanized.
The passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act will not only end the cub petting industry, but it will also reduce the profits to be made at roadside zoos.
The law only bans public interactions with big cats, so hands-on encounters with other species of animals at roadside zoos will likely increase.
Direct interactions with wild animals carry the risk of disease for both people and animals. The wild animal petting opportunities are dangerous and cause the animals to be stressed. When an animal lashes out, they're frequently punished. Depending on the severity of the injury the animal inflicts, and based on state animal bite requirements, the animal may also be euthanized.
Roadside zoos use endearing terms such as "ambassador animal" to greenwash their use of animals as a commodity. They frequently coin terms such as "rescue," "refuge," and "sanctuary," to confuse patrons into thinking the facility is ethical.
According to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, true sanctuaries do not buy, sell or trade animals, and do not allow public interactions with wild animals.
Another federal bill in the works, the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act, would prohibit the use of exotic or wild animals in traveling animal act performances.
The Captive Primate Safety Act, which is also in the early stages of legislation, would restrict the private ownership and trade of primates.
The passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act is a monumental first step to ending the mistreatment of millions of exotic animals that are currently imprisoned in roadside zoos and backyard menageries across the U.S.