Big Cat Rescue and its coalition partners are working to end the private possession and breeding of big cats before the year’s end.
The nonprofit, one of the largest accredited wildlife sanctuaries in the world, wants to get the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act bill passed by November. It was originally introduced to Congress in 2011.
Howard Baskin, advisory board chairman for Big Cat Rescue, said the bill is designed to solve the problem of thousands of animals forced being forced to live in miserable conditions, being physically punished and exploited for profit.
“It is not their natural tendency to jump through burning hoops or do any of the other things you see in performances,” he said.
The bill would allow large zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or zoos having high standards of care, to keep big cats. It would exempt sanctuaries that meet a strict criteria of care as well.
People already owning Class I wild animals would be allowed to keep them until they die of natural causes if the bill is passed, but would not be able to buy or breed more, Baskin said.
“Frankly, there wouldn’t be a place to put all of those cats if we weren’t going to grandfather them,” Baskin said.
The bill is going to be introduced in the 2015 legislative session within the next few weeks, according to Baskin.
The Beginning Of The Cycle
Traveling zoos, roadside exhibitors and other businesses in the entertainment industry profit from charging the public a fee to pet, play and pose with tiger cubs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture banned contact with cubs under 8-weeks old while their immune systems develop. Cubs older than 12-weeks are off limits because they are dangerous to the public.
The result is a four-week period of the cat’s life during which it is legal for the public to pet them.
Baskin said if you observe domestic kittens, they sleep a lot. When they’re awake, they want to use their claws and teeth. But tiger cubs are physically punished if they give into their natural tendencies.
“They’re punched in the face,” Baskin said.
Big cat cub handling operations have been found violating this policy by exposing cubs to the public outside of the allotted time frame, according to a fact sheet produced by several wildlife organizations.
Activists say intensive breeding operations have emerged. The big cats are bred to exploit the four-week window and are considered disposable after they’ve outgrown their profitable age.
Susan Bass, public relations director for Big Cat Rescue, said people don’t know it is such a lucrative business.
She said some owners of big cats believe the business will suffer if visitors are not allowed to pet the tigers.
Bass said people will still be attracted to big cats even if they can’t touch them. She compared it to children and their interest in dinosaurs, even though no child has ever touched a prehistoric creature.
“Look at Jurassic World,” Bass said. “No little kid has ever touched a dinosaur.”
Life After The Entertainment Industry
Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, located a place in Minnesota that sold bobcat and lynx kittens.
It was a “fur farm,” a place whose business model revolved around raising the cats for a year and then slaughtering them to make coats, Carole said.
Carole said the cats were in cages layered with fur and feces several inches deep. Carcasses from discarded cats were thrown in a corner of the room.
“The pile of dead cats in the corner hit me with the reality of a freight train,” she said. “Their bellies had been cut off as this soft, spotted fur is the only portion used in making fur coats.”
After discovering the cats not sold as pets would be slaughtered the following year for fur, she bought all 56.
Since then, Carole has created a 67-acre property facility that houses abandoned, abused and orphaned exotic cats saved from being turned into fur coats or retired from performing acts.
Big cat sanctuaries can’t take in all the unwanted cubs that intensive breeding creates, according to the fact sheet.
U.S. sanctuaries are nearly full.
Unfortunately, big cats outside of places like the one Carole encountered share a similar fate.
Bass, public relations director, said after cats grow too big, they are sold through wildlife auctions to taxidermists or operations similar to “puppy mills.”
Bass recalled a story about an experience Carole had when she went to an exotic animal auction and ended up with bringing home a bobcat.
“There was a man standing next to Carole who was bidding on it [bobcat],” Bass said. “She was thinking, ‘Why would you bid on a bobcat?’”
Carole found out the man was a taxidermist and had plans to stuff the bobcat, which led to her having the winning bid and bringing the animal home, Bass said.
Big cats that don’t find homes are sold to taxidermists or die from health conditions.
Mickey, a 12-year-old cougar, was rescued by Big Cat Rescue from Animal House, a backyard zoo in Moulton, Ala. The owner had been feeding domestic cats and dogs to her wild animals.
When Mickey was found, his back knees suffered from torn ligaments. He was underweight and had almost no muscle mass.
Bass said big cats can live in neighborhoods without any registration. This creates a scenario where unqualified individuals are keeping large, dangerous animals in residential areas.
“If a storm comes and they get out, what then?” she said.
Neighbors, visitors and emergency first responders could be put in danger, according to Bass.
Currently, the USDA only tracks animals that are licensed as exhibitors. It doesn’t track any of the private owners who have cats as pets.
“Right now, we have no idea how many cats there are or where they are,”Baskin said. “So firemen or police have no idea if they might be walking into a house that has a tiger in it.”
The Future Of Cats In Entertainment
“There are an increasing number of circuses that don’t have animals, like Cirque du Soleil, and they are very successful,” Baskin said.
While the bill has a very limited circus exemption, roadside operations, where the animals are poorly treated, will not continue if the bill is passed.
“I feel like a big part of the message is that big cats don’t belong in the entertainment industry,” he said. “It’s a miserable life for these animals.”