Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has introduced a bill aimed at keeping big cats out of the hands of private owners.
The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act is the upper chamber version of legislation introduced in the House by Reps. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) last March.
Kerry introduced his version on the one-year anniversary of the Zanesville, Ohio, case where a collector of big cats and exotic species opened their cages and committed suicide. Local police ended up killing nearly 50 of the animals.
“It’s a little hard to believe that there’s a crazy patchwork of regulations governing people who try to keep wild cats as pets. I know it sounds like something you just read about when there’s a tragic news story, but it’s all too real for first responders who respond to a 911 call and are surprised to come face to face with a Bengal tiger,” said Kerry. “This bill will ensure that these endangered creatures are kept in secure, professional facilities like wildlife sanctuaries rather than in small cages in someone’s backyard or apartment building.”
Twenty-nine states have laws governing ownership of big cats. Only nine states outlaw wild animal ownership altogether.
The bill would make it illegal to possess any big cat, with exceptions for facilities such as accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries. Violators would face stiff penalties including fines up to $20,000 and up to five years in jail, as well as confiscation of their animals and related equipment.
Under the House version, anyone who currently owns tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, jaguars, or cheetahs would have to register them with the USDA. They’d be permitted to keep the cats, but not to breed them.