In the USA, a Bill is being discussed currently, as I understand it. It is a federal bill so we're looking at a nationwide law which, as I see it, is designed to put an end to the unedifying spectacle of what many people consider to be the abuse of tigers and other big cats in private zoos of all kinds including reducing the proud tiger to a pet in a house or a basement of a house.
The bill, if enacted, would become the "Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act". It could be argued that the situation regarding the keeping of big cats by individuals in America has reached a semi-anarchic state of affairs which causes 3 sorts of problem:
- Welfare issues regarding the cats themselves;
- safety issues regarding the public and the people who own the big cats and;
- conservation issues with respect to big cats in the US and worldwide.
Some people think that if a big cat cub is born in a cage then he or she knows no better and will eternally feel comfortable within the caged environment. Others believe that a wild cat's character and nature is in the animal's DNA. I am in the latter group and if I'm correct any big cat in a cage is unhappy the entirety of the time that he or she is in that cage resulting in depression and stress which is bad for a cat's welfare. This welfare issue is at a very basic level.
There are many other welfare issues namely inbreeding, poor caretaking because the individual does not know how to care for a large wild cat, poor veterinary care because the owner does not have the funding to provide proper veterinary care... I could go on and create an endless list, almost.
One of the classic cases of abuse of a tiger for commercial gain is Tony who lives in a cage in a car park in order to attract customers to a cafe/restaurant. That is just one example. This sort of thing needs to be stopped. Tiger cubs are sold online and their price has been devalued massively as has the value of the tiger itself in the eyes of the world which dents conservation efforts.
Safety concerns are legendary especially after the extremely well-publicised case of the private zoo owner who committed suicide but before he did so he released all his cats which quite naturally presented a massive public safety concern and so they were shot by the police.
Big cat owners and their offspring and their relatives are also killed sometimes by their pet tiger. I need not go on. We know the safety concerns.
Some private zoo owners justify their existence by saying they are furthering the conservation of the big cats that they keep in their cages but I'm afraid that that is self-deception and an illusion. Inbreeding big cats to the point where they have physical deformities has nothing to do with conservation. I'm referring to white tigers as you may well know. The tigers they keep are generic (not purebred).
The hybridisation of big cats - the mating of lions with tigers - is just for the amusement of the owner and does nothing for science or conservation or anything else.
As I understand it, the hotch-potch of US state laws that currently govern the keeping of exotic cats makes it very hard to enforce the law when there is trade in big cats interstate.
The experts don't know how many big cats are in private ownership in America but the number is high and there may well be an impact on international trade and there may well be an impact on the trade of tiger parts and parts of other big cats, which are always in demand in Asia.
The proposed statute Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act is designed to make private ownership of big cat and their breeding illegal. There will, of course, be exemptions such as for proper public zoos and circuses which comply with the Animal Welfare Act. The act will also be phased in so that people who currently have a small private zoo will be able to apply to keep the cats until I presume the cats die whereupon they will be forbidden to renew stock.
You could probably add a fourth heading to the three above, which is that the mishmash of state regulations need to be cleaned up with a simple all-encompassing federal law which is relatively easy to enforce thanks to increased clarity and simplicity.