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Keep Big Cats Wild By . . . Keeping Them Captive?

I’ve received an urgent request from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) asking me to contact my representatives to urge them to support Haley’s Act, which was designed "To promote public safety and improve the welfare of captive big cats, and other purposes." It will directly prohibit direct contact between the public and big cats. Sort of.

Here are some recent events that are beginning to convince humans that getting close to captive tigers might not be such a good idea:

  • In the US, from 1998-2001, seven people were killed by tigers and 27 were injured. All but one fatal attack occurred in private facilities. Researchers who’ve studied tiger attacks have concluded that "[T]he victims underestimated the dangers posed by direct contact with these animals."
  • In October of 2003, there were three tiger attacks in less than one week, including Roy Horn and a trainer at a sanctuary in Arizona.
  • In 2005, 17-year old Haley Hildebrand was killed at a USDA-licensed facility in Kansas during a photo shoot for her senior picture.
  • Yesterday, in south China, a six-year old girl was killed by a tiger at a zoo that has tigers as circus performers. She too was getting her picture taken, and when the cameras flashed, the tiger bit the girl’s head. The trainers beat the tiger with sticks and stools, and the girl died in the hospital. The zoo’s response was to suspend photo shoots. And I’d bet my net worth that they killed the tiger.

Haley’s Act would prohibit direct contact between the public and big cats, BUT its exceptions are numerous (e.g., zoos, aquariums, and exhibitors who operate "with sufficient regard for public safety"). This reminds me of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, passed in 2003, which banned interstate and foreign commerce of dangerous exotic animals including tigers for use as house pets. It does NOT ban interstate and foreign commerce of: exhibitors or research facilities licensed or registered and inspected by a Federal agency; approved sanctuaries, humane societies, or shelters; and federally-licensed and inspected brokers or dealers conducting business with other parties that the Act doesn’t apply to. It does NOT ban all private ownership of exotics.

Haley’s Act is just another way of regulating the institutional use and abuse of animals–in this case exotics, like tigers. Yes, it’s terrible that roadside zoos, petting zoos, and other private enterprises exist and often mistreat animals. And people get hurt, as well.

And yes, direct contact is a bad idea. BUT is the direct contact really the problem for the cats? The root of the problem is that they are bred, and/or taken from their families and sold to humans who purchase them to profit from their ownership. Is Haley’s Act impressive to me? Does it represent progress or some sort of victory? I don’t think so.

Show me a bill introduced that would ban the purchase/ownership of exotic animals by individuals, and then maybe I’ll rush to call my representative to support it.

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