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The Big Cat Public Safety Act Awaits Its Fate in the Senate

Andrea loves to write and do research. She wants animal conservation to be a bigger priority around the world. She believes in education.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act would make it harder for individuals to own tigers, lions, and other exotic animals.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act would make it harder for individuals to own tigers, lions, and other exotic animals.

A Better Future for Big Cats

In a rare bipartisan agreement, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act by a vote of 278 to 134. The bill is now in the Senate.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Michael Quigley, D-Ill., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-PA.

The act would protect big cats in captivity, ensuring they have a higher quality of life. It would also add protections for those in contact with wildlife. This includes first responders, law enforcement officials, and the general public.

The act adds stricter requirements when it comes 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. If passed in the Senate, it would restrict contact between the public and animals.

The act would amend the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981. It would clarify provisions enacted by the Captive Wildlife Safety Act.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act covers the following:

  • New regulations and restrictions to breeding.
  • Private ownership of big cats would be prohibited.
  • It would end cub petting attractions.
  • The act would be federal. Some states have little to any laws on big cat conservation, which allows 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 will come with more restrictions and penalties.
  • Violations for possession of prohibited wildlife would incur 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 for the approval of 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 used for magic acts, traveling sideshows, and 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, of course, 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. Better laws help prevent cruel treatment.

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 conservation and legislation efforts.

As members, you get the tools you need to start up conversations about wildlife.

Tigers Are Endangered

Here are some things you should know about tigers. I’ve produced educational resources at the bottom of this article.

  • 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.
Billions of dollars are spent annually on trading illegal animals. This is an international problem.

Billions of dollars are spent annually on trading illegal animals. This is an international problem.

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 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. 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 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 with 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.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act would add protections for animals and prevent trading. It would end private ownership of big cats, and it would end cub petting.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act would add protections for animals and prevent trading. It would end private ownership of big cats, and it would end cub petting.

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 animals from exploitation. Their care is the first priority. 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 for the casual observer to tell what is legitimate.

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 be 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
  • Set up barriers between them and humans
  • Educate the public
  • Give them appropriate interactions
  • Give them a renewed license on life


  1. Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries
  2. International Fund for Animal Welfare
  3. Turpentine Creek in Eureka Springs, AR

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