As crazy as The Tiger King is, our main takeaway should ultimately be this: Wild cats are being exploited and we need to find a way to protect them. While the Netflix docuseries mainly focused on notorious big cat collector Joe Exotic, it does emphasize that at the end of the day, millions of dollars were spent in a legal battle between Exotic and Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, and none of that seemed to really help the true victims: the big cats. Luckily, there are steps being taken in an attempt to save them.
First, you might need a little bit of background on wild animal ownership outside of what you learned from Tiger King.
Is It Legal To Own Exotic Animals & Big Cats?
Ownership of wild animals across the U.S. isn’t cut and dry — every state has its own exotic animal laws. There are currently four states that allow people to own exotic pets as long as owners provide health certificates or import permits: Nevada, Wisconsin, Alabama, and North Carolina. This is considered the most lenient type of policy.
There are 14 states that allow the ownership of exotic animals under an official license or permit scheme, and that includes Oklahoma. Basically, this just means the owners have to register with the state and prove that they’re able to provide their animals with the necessary conditions required, pay a fee, and sign up for a special insurance policy.
The remaining 13 states impose a partial ban on exotic pets, which means each state has a list of wild animals people are not allowed to own.
What Is The Big Cat Public Safety Act?
The Big Cat Public Safety Act is an important federal measure that will solve two major problems we have today: People are allowed to have big cats as pets, and people can make money off of their big cats by exposing them to the public. The bill, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, would amend the Captive Wildlife Safety Act (a bill that makes interstate and foreign trade of wild cats illegal) to fully ban the private possession of wild cats. Those who already own big cats would be grandfathered in, but they would still need to register their animals with the state government.
The Big Cat Act would also make cub-petting, or any kind of close interaction the public has with the animals, illegal. Sanctuaries, institutionalized zoos, and universities would be exempt from the Big Cat Act.
If someone violates the Big Cat Public Safety Act if it's passed, they could be fined up to $20,000 or sentenced to up to five years in prison.
Why Hasn’t The Big Cat Act Passed?
According to GovTrack, the Big Cat Public Safety Act was “introduced on March 30, 2017, in a previous session of Congress, but was not enacted.” Big Cat Rescue’s website claims lobbyist influence stopped it in its tracks, though that's not been proven.
As of September 27, 2019, the Big Cat Public Safety Act has 138 cosponsors in the House, which means that there’s a chance that it could eventually get passed. Big Cat Rescue is now urging everyone to contact their officials in support of the bill.
What Can You Do To Help Tigers & Exotic Wild Cats?
You can certainly click on the link provided by Big Cat Rescue, fill out the form, and let federal legislators know that you are supporting the Big Cat Public Safety Act. If you feel uncertain about going through Big Cat Rescue, the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s website also provides a similar form that will make it simple for you to contact Congress and let them know you are for the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You can also just contact your state's representatives directly.
If you want to help stop the use of wild animals as entertainment, you can donate to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), a group that has been tirelessly going after roadside zoos to stop the animal abuse that occurs. While their methods are considered by some to be controversial, PETA has made headways in their mission to stop the exploitation of exotic animals. Their lawsuit against zookeeper Tim Stark led to the "first-ever" preliminary injunction that prevents cubs being prematurely separated from their moms, using cubs as "show and tell" with the public, and declawing cubs. PETA recently won a default judgment in another lawsuit against a private zoo called Dade City's Wild Things, and thanks to PETA, the park has been banned from owning tigers. Other big wins include PETA's countless animal rescues from abusive homes.
You can also donate to foundations like the Wildlife Conservation Society, whose goal is to eradicate the poaching of wild animals. While this is outside the scope of exotic pet ownership, it’s still important to also prioritize the wellbeing big cats out in the wild that are constantly being hunted and killed. There are approximately 4,000 tigers and 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, according to WWF and World Wildlife Day.