Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

House Passes Big Cat Public Safety Act to Prevent the Next ‘Tiger King’

House Passes Big Cat Public Safety Act to Prevent the Next ‘Tiger King’
Two tigers rescued from one of the animal parks operated by Joe Exotic, the focus of Netflix's Tiger King. Marc Piscotty / Getty Images

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to ban the keeping of big cats as pets, after the Netflix documentary series Tiger King drew renewed attention to the issue this spring.

H.R. 1380, or the Big Cat Public Safety Act, passed the House 272 to 114, CBS News reported. Specifically, it limits who is permitted to breed, sell, buy, transport or own large felines like lions, tigers and leopards.

"Animals like tigers, lions, leopards, and pumas should not be exposed to miserable conditions so many of them in our country currently face," Democratic Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, who introduced the bill, said in a statement. "By passing the Big Cat Public Safety Act we are one step closer to ensuring these animals are treated humanely and to keeping the public safe from dangerous big cats. It is my hope that the Senate will quickly bring this bill to the floor so we can get it signed into law before the year ends."

If the bill passes the Senate, most individuals will be prohibited from owning large cats, and direct public contact with the animals will be banned, CBS News explained. There will be exceptions for universities, wildlife sanctuaries, licensed veterinarians and people with a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Those who already own big cats may keep them if they register their animals and refrain from breeding them or sharing them with the public. Anyone caught violating the law would face a fine of up to $20,000 and a prison sentence of up to five years.

The House passage comes about nine months after the nation was captivated by the Netflix series Tiger King during the initial days of the coronavirus lockdown. The series followed the career of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, or "Joe Exotic," who kept big cats in Oklahoma, CNN explained. Maldonado-Passage is now serving a prison sentence for killing five tigers and plotting to pay for the assassination of his critic Carole Baskin, who was also featured in the series.

Baskin, who runs Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, is one of several wildlife advocates who has been pushing Congress to pass the bill for years, CBS News explained.

"We are thrilled that the Big Cat Public Safety Act passed the House with bipartisan support to protect the big cats from abuse, the public and first responders from injuries and death, and the tiger in the wild from extinction," she wrote on Facebook. "None of these important goals are partisan in any way and we hope the Senate will follow suit quickly to make it into law."

While 48 Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the bill in the House, it is unsure how it will fare in the Republican-controlled Senate, according to CNN. The Senate bill has not yet made it out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which held its final markup of the current legislative session Wednesday. Further, while the Senate bill has some Republican cosponsors, Senate leadership criticized House Democrats for passing the bill instead of focusing on coronavirus relief.

However, Quigley emphasized in his statement that over-worked first responders are the ones who have to respond if unsafely-kept animals attack their owners or others.

"Big cats are wild animals that simply do not belong in private homes, backyards, or shoddy roadside zoos," he said in a statement. "Too often, law enforcement and first responders are the ones who end up in danger from these animals and, in a time when our first responders are already facing increased risk from the pandemic, we owe it to them to limit the additional dangers they face on the job."

In addition to being endorsed by a wide variety of animal welfare groups, the bill also has the approval of some law enforcement organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police, CNN pointed out. All told, more than 60 law enforcement and animal rights groups supported the bill, according to Quigley's statement.

"Long before 'Tiger King,' Joe Exotic and dozens of others like him were under our scrutiny due to their abuse of tigers – both adults and cubs," Humane Society of the United States CEO and President Kitty Block said in a statement. "While the world of private tiger ownership thrives in the shadows with little mandatory documentation, we estimate that hundreds of tigers across the country are kept as pets and money-making props by roadside zoos, pseudo-sanctuaries and cub-petting operations. They are often torn from their mother moments after birth, hit, dragged, and forced into photo ops, and live in squalid conditions. This is a public safety disaster. Congress must pass The Big Cat Public Safety Act to put an end to this cycle of misery, abuse, and danger once and for all."

Lakota spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse attends a demonstration against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in front of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2015. Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is planning to cancel the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on the first day of his administration, a document reported by CBC on Sunday suggests.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst stand at the Orion spacecraft during a visit at the training unit of the Columbus space laboratory at the European Astronaut training centre of the European Space Agency ESA in Cologne, Germany on May 18, 2016. Ina Fassbender / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

By Monir Ghaedi

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep most of Europe on pause, the EU aims for a breakthrough in its space program. The continent is seeking more than just a self-sufficient space industry competitive with China and the U.S.; the industry must also fit into the European Green Deal.

Read More Show Less


A new species of bat has been identified in West Africa. MYOTIS NIMBAENSIS / BAT CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL

In 2018, a team of researchers went to West Africa's Nimba Mountains in search of one critically endangered species of bat. Along the way, they ended up discovering another.

Read More Show Less
Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to find easy meals. Alexander Petrov / TASS via Getty Images

By Jim Palardy

As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.

Read More Show Less
A damaged home and flooding are seen in Creole, Louisiana, following Hurricane Laura's landfall on August 27, 2020. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Elliott Negin

What a difference an election makes. Thanks to the Biden-Harris victory in November, the next administration is poised to make a 180-degree turn to again address the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less