Domesticating Big Cats; US to Curb Private Possession

Domesticating Big Cats; US to Curb Private Possession

In a major initiative, the US Senate passed a legislation that will help prevent captive tigers from ending up in the illegal trade of their parts and products—a primary threat to big cats in the wild.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act now goes to President Biden to sign.


The Big Cat Public Safety Act, introduced by Representatives Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Brian Fitzpatrick, helps to ensure the welfare of captive big cats and public safety by requiring facilities to obtain a federal permit for big cat ownership. Through these actions, the authorities now know who owns them, when they are sold or traded, and what happens to their parts when they die.

First introduced in 2012, the Big Cat Public Safety Act prohibits private individuals from possessing lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars, or any hybrid of these species. This prohibition would only apply to big cats kept as pets—sanctuaries, universities, and zoos would be exempt. Current big cat owners would be grandfathered in but would be required to register their animals in order to alert first responders and animal control officers that these dangerous cats are being held in their communities. It also prohibits public petting, playing with, feeding, and photo ops with cubs.


Thousands of big cats are estimated to be kept in captivity around the United States. Exact numbers are a mystery—nobody knows exactly how many dangerous big cats are being kept in private hands, or where they are.


Director of wildlife policy at WWF Leigh Henrysaid, “with the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, Congress has sent a global message that the US stands firmly against wildlife crime and on the side of tiger conservation.”

“Once signed into law, this legislation will provide stringent protections and oversight for captive tigers and other big cats, as well as the communities in which they are being held,” she said.

“As this Year of the Tiger comes to a close, there is no better time for the US government to act on this longstanding conservation issue,” Henry said. “We hope that other governments, particularly those with tiger farms within their borders, will soon follow America’s lead.”


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