Andrea loves to write and do research. She wants animal conservation to be a bigger priority around the world. She believes in education.
A Better Future for Big Cats
Better circumstances are needed for tigers, lions, and other big cats in the United States. One of the best ways for this to happen: enforce new laws.
The good news? Legislation is circulating in Washington D.C., and with Tiger King freshly on people's minds, there is a big push to make big cat conservation a priority.
- The Big Cat Public Safety Act was reintroduced to Congress in January 2021.
- On April 20th, the bill was reintroduced to the Senate as Senate Bill 1210 with bipartisan support.
The current bill sets out rules so that big cats in captivity have a higher quality of life. The bill also adds protections for those in contact with wildlife. This includes first responders, law enforcement officials, and the general public.
The bill adds requirements to the trade of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars, and hybrids of these species. It revises the restrictions of possession and exhibition for big cats. It also restricts contact between the public and the animals.
It would amend the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981. It would clarify provisions enacted by the Captive Wildlife Safety Act.
Some of what the Big Cat Public Safety Act would do includes:
- New regulations and restrictions to breeding.
- Private ownership of big cats would be prohibited.
- It would end cub petting attractions.
- The Big Cat Public Safety Act would be federal. Some states have little to any laws on big cat conservation, which is allowing people who shouldn't be in contact with big cats too much leeway.
- Transportation and display of prohibited wildlife species off-site would be a violation.
- Selling prohibited wildlife would come with more restrictions and penalties.
- Violations for possession of prohibited wildlife inccur up to a $20,000 fine and imprisonment of five years.
Sanctuary Bringing Spotlight to the Issues
One of the best big cat conservation sites in the United States is seeking support for the Big Cat Public Safety Act. Turpentine Creek in Eureka Springs, Arkansas rescues tigers and other animals.
Cats who have been taken out of the wild can’t be reintegrated back into the wild. Big cats that have been raised by humans do not have the skills they need to survive on their own.
Systematically, tiger cubs have been taken for magic acts, traveling sideshows, and even by people who thought they could domesticate the animals. They were wrong. Those who take in cubs because they think they're cute will get hurt or the animals will get hurt. (Cubs eventually grow up.)
Big cats in captivity need to be rescued, and they need lifetime intentional care. In the United States, tigers have been abused systematically for human entertainment. Lines must be drawn to stop cruel treatment.
Visit the Turpentine Creek website to make your voice heard and to help get momentum on the Senate Bill. It only takes a couple of minutes to get informed.
Turpentine Creek Task Force
The Turpentine Creek Task Force (TCTF) is a group of like-minded individuals who love wildlife and want big cats to have better lives. A collective effort is needed to prevent extinction.
It doesn’t cost anything to be part of TCTF. Task members bring awareness to the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
As members, you will get the tools you need to start up conversations about wildlife. You’ll get monthly email updates about Senate Bill 1210's progress.
Tigers Are Endangered
- Privately owned exotic animals often live in inadequate enclosures. This is unsafe for animals and humans.
- Roadside zoos don’t have the necessary resources to provide for animals putting them at risk of injury, starvation, and health issues.
- There are more tigers in captivity in the United States than there are in the wild around the world.
- Tigers are classified as Endangered in the Red List of Threatened Species published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
- According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 3,900 tigers live in the wild worldwide.
- Illegal international trade of wildlife is worth an estimated $10 billion each year.
- Habitats for tigers have shrunk due to urbanization and deforestation.
- Human development has led to the loss of both flora and fauna.
What Is a Sanctuary?
Believe it or not, the word "sanctuary" isn't regulated by any governing body. Without any regulation of the word animals are at risk.
It takes research to make sure you're visiting an animal sanctuary that it is credible. It is important to make sure a sanctuary is legit and not some sort of Joe Exotic dystopian nightmare.
Here are some items you should consider if you plan to visit a sanctuary:
1. Are They a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization?
- A true sanctuary will be a nonprofit organization.
- A sanctuary working for profit is a red flag.
2. Do They Breed the Animals?
- Animal sanctuaries shouldn't be getting into breeding. Sanctuaries should be rescue locations where animals who were in captivity can now live out their lives with proper care.
- Breeding animals to create cubs continues the problems of captivity. Cubs shouldn't be bred in captivity.
Breeding animals with unknown genetic backgrounds could create more issues. For instance, the white tiger isn't a separate species. The white fur is a genetic mutation. White tigers have serious problems because they were bred multiple times by relatives to enhance the odds of having white fur.
- When animals are forced together with similar genetics it will cause a long list of health problems.
- It will also shorten their lifespan.
- Facilities that breed rescued animals are not contributing to conservation efforts.
- Facilities that breed could be connected to trading.
3. Are They Members of an Accredited Organization?
- If a sanctuary is a member of GFA, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, then you can rest easy knowing the sanctuary is working hard to do good.
- You have to follow strict rules to become a member of GFA. This includes rules on housing, veterinary care, nutrition, safety policies, training, financial records, education, acquisition, and more.
- The USDA isn't as strict as GFA.
- Every facility open to the public must have a USDA license. It isn't enough to determine whether the sanctuary has credibility.
4. Do They Spay and Neuter the Animals? Are Animals Separated by Gender?
- Sanctuaries will spay and neuter rescue animals as necessary. The facility won't be used for breeding.
- Animals may be separated into different zones based on their gender to prevent breeding.
- If mixed-gendered animals are living together and haven't been spayed or neutered, then the sanctuary isn't doing its part to prevent breeding and raising cubs in captivity.
5. Do the Animals Have Places Where They Can Get away from Bad Weather or Annoying Tourists?
- Animals need shade. They need access to water. They need a den that's away from the public view. Animals are not getting proper care if they can't take shelter.
- If a place is designed so that people can always see the animals, then that is a bad sign.
- The only exception: the animal is temporarily moved and secured to a separate area so that a worker can safely clean the living space.
- A worker and a big cat should never be in the same space. There should always be fencing or some type of barricade between them.
6. Do the Animals Get Put in Shows?
- The animals will never be taken off the property except for veterinary visits.
- Transporting animals to show them off puts stress on them. It can be dangerous for the both the animal and the public.
Do not visit travel shows; they're meant for entertainment. These are not sanctuaries. Rescuers frequently have to intervene in these situations.
7. Do They Let People Touch the Big Cats?
- That's a big nope right there. A true sanctuary would never allow the public to have hands-on interaction with a carnivore at any age. This is how you lose fingers.
- Wild animals are not meant to be touched by humans. This causes irreversible problems.
- Only team members should be allowed to handle the animals. They have been trained to do so correctly.
- Behavioral training programs held behind a fence are not classified as hands-on interaction. These programs are meant to build a bridge-and-reward system to enrich the animals lives and help keepers to assess their health.
8. Do They Offer Pictures with Cubs?
- True sanctuaries don't allow public interactions with cubs. This includes petting them, holding them, taking pictures with them, and feeding them.
- Cubs who have interacted and been touched by humans will be rejected by the mother. This is a major lifelong detriment to the cub.
Currently, cubs can be legally handled from the ages of 8-12 weeks. There is a big problem with this. It means the cubs have been removed from their mothers shortly after birth. This is bad for the health of both the cub and the mother.
9. Do They Buy or Sell Animals or Animal Parts?
- A sanctuary is about rescuing animals not selling products. The sanctuary is meant to be a permanent home that's safe.
- Selling animals or parts contributes to the exotic pet trade. It is illegal to buy or sell big cats. No facility that's a true sanctuary would ever do these things.
What Do Sanctuaries Do?
Exotic animals are often abused, hurt, abandoned, and in need of lifetime care. True sanctuaries act as forever homes. They're meant to be a place of healing.
Sanctuaries protect the animals from exploitation. Their care is the first priority. There are no laws right now protecting big cats from exploitation. The Big Cat Public Safety Act seeks to change that.
In the United States, there are an unknown number of big cats in captivity. Estimates go as high as 10,000.
There are several venues pretending to be rescue sanctuaries. It is hard to tell what is legitimate for the casual observer.
International Fund of Animal Welfare
When big cats are surrendered but it's uncertain where to place them, the International Fund of Animal Welfare steps in to help. IFAW helps good sanctuaries network together.
In 2017, legitimate sanctuaries formed the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance. When cats are surrendered to sanctuaries that can't place them, a call will placed to IFAW's hotline. Over the next few hours, a plan will be made to get the animal to the right place.
IFAW is also working to put a dent in the U.S. trade of exotic felines.
Good sanctuaries will:
- Rehabilitate animals.
- Put them in stress-free zones.
- Give them proper food.
- Give them shade.
- Access to veterinarians.
- Give them enough space.
- Setup barriers between them and humans.
- Educate the public.
- Give them appropriate interactions.
- Give them a renewed license on life.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Andrea Lawrence