What is the Captive Wildlife Crisis?
The captive wildlife crisis has plagued our back yards. We hear about it in the news, see it on our favorite television shows and commercial advertisements, they are at our local fairs. You see the ads for a circuses coming to town, festivals that exhibit wild animals, or tiger cubs presented at a local event. In Illinois, a man was mauled to death by two tigers he kept in his backyard. A “pet” leopard attacked a woman in Louisiana. In North Carolina, a 10-year-old boy was killed by his aunt’s tiger, which pulled the boy under a fence and into its cage. Near Little Falls, Minnesota, 10-year-old Russell Lala, fought for his life after being attacked by a lion and tiger. The boy’s spinal cord was severed and the injury left him paralyzed from the neck down. He sustained a brain injury, several facial fractures, and is dependent upon a respirator.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are as many as 10,000 large wildcats in private ownership across the country. Ron Tilson, Conservation Director for the Minnesota Zoo, states unequivocally that there are more tigers in backyards across the U.S. than in all of the zoos put together. One such case is Tony the truck stop tiger.
In a CNN report Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said, “The exotic animal trade is second only to the drug trade in raw dollars. It’s literally billions of dollars exchanged in the exotic animal trade.” On Internet sites, you can point, click and buy lions and tigers. The motive is profit. Unfortunately, in the end it is the cats that pay the highest price. They often live in cramped, filthy conditions. Many are fed improperly and receive no veterinary care. And most pose a very real threat to public safety.
It is an unfortunate reality for wild animals to end up losing their freedom. Breeders of exotic animals, like Bengal Tigers and African Servals, play a significant role in placing these animals as pets for private owners, as ‘exhibits’ in roadside zoos and circuses, as marketing tools for advertisement, as commodities for fur farms, and sell them as potential trophies for game farms.
Big Cats and Public Safety Act
The “Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act,” will ensure that lions, tigers and other dangerous big cats, which are bred to be sold and kept as pets or for financial gain in the U.S. in alarming numbers, do not threaten public safety, diminish global big cat conservation efforts, or end up living in horrible conditions where they can be subject to mistreatment and cruelty. The bill will prohibit breeding and private possession of big cats exempting only qualified, accredited AZA zoos, where they can be properly cared for and restrained. Wild Animal Sanctuaries having given sanctuary and safe haven for big cats who have been confiscated for decades will be asked to take in animals. There is no possibility of determining the numbers of dangerous Exotic Big Cats being kept in private hands and what their condition is in the U. S., through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), state agencies, and local first responders. Only nine states have laws enforcing “no wild animals permitted”, the remaining states have weak or no laws in existence. This bill will require all persons who currently possess big cats to register those animals with USDA. After the bill becomes law, it will be illegal to breed any big cat except at accredited AZA zoos where breeding will be allowed for conservation purposes only. Violators of the law will have their animals confiscated along with any vehicles or equipment used to aid in their illegal activity, and could face stiff penalties including fines as much as $20,000 per animal, and up to five years in jail.
A sanctuary as defined by federal law:
• Must be a non-profit entity that is tax exempt under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code
• Cannot engage in commercial trade in big cat species, including their offspring, parts, and products made from them
• Cannot breed big cats
• Cannot allow direct contact between big cats and the public at their facilities
• Must keep records of transactions involving covered cats
• Must allow the Service to inspect their facilities, records, and animals at reasonable hours
Resources will help you develop a greater understanding of the captive wildlife crisis:
Accredited Sanctuary and Zoos
- The American Sanctuary Association (ASA) and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) set guidelines for sanctuaries that they must follow in order to be considered accredited by either of these two organizations. These associations help separate organizations that are working towards improving the welfare of the animals in their care from organizations that use the animals for their own personal and financial gain. Accreditation is also awarded to zoos and sanctuaries (related facilities) under the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).
Big Cat Laws
- Big Cat Rescue has their own ‘law library’ for State and Federal Big Cat Laws. This site is a directory for laws regarding wild cats in the United States. They have resources that explain the legalities regarding ownership of native and exotic cats. They have resources to animal welfare laws, how to support legislation, searching for your state’s laws, updates on action alerts that can be searched for by zip code, and an interactive map of exotic cat owners in Florida.
- 911 Animal Abuse is a great site to research exhibitors and learn more about the exploitation of big cats.
Captive Wildlife Safety Act
This Congressionally approved amendment to the Lacey Act restricts interstate transport of six species of large wild cat (tiger, lion, leopard, jaguar, cheetah and cougar) to exempted entities only.
The Captive Wildlife Safety Act prohibits existing large cat owners who are not exempted from moving to another state with their cats.
Both commercial (cats being sold) and non-commercial (cats being donated) interstate transport of these cats is restricted by this amendment.
Exempted entities are universities, research facilities, USDA licensed facilities, persons transporting the animals for an exempted entity, and certain 501 c 3 facilities that conform to standards to be written by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These standards include no breeding, buying, selling, public display or public touching of felines.
Persons who have state licenses to possess any of these six feline species, but are not one of the exempted entities listed in this CWSA will not be allowed to receive, or donate, or buy, or sell, or transport these listed felines across state lines.
The Captive Wildlife Safety Act does not prevent the purchase or receiving by donation any of these listed feline species from intrastate locations where the transport does not cross state lines.
The Lacey Act
The Lacey Act provides that it is unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or in violation of any Indian tribal law whether in interstate or foreign commerce. Violation of this federal act can result in civil penalties up to $10,000 per each violation or maximum criminal sanctions of $20,000 in fines and/or up to five years imprisonment. All plants or animals taken in violation of the Act are subject to forfeiture as well as all vessels, vehicles, aircraft, and other equipment used to aid in the importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring, or purchasing of fish or wildlife or plants in a criminal violation of this chapter for which a felony conviction is obtained where the owner should have known of the illegal transgression.
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA)
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a branch called the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that has been granted the authority of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act and inspecting institutions that are covered under the Animal Welfare Act. On the APHIS website, they have tabs down the left side of their page that takes you to different branches of the organization. Most information you want to know concerning possession and exhibiting wild animals is listed under the tab ‘Animal Welfare’. This section will give you information about obtaining investigation/enforcement documents on specific facilities, an annual report of research facilities, inspection reports, and give in-depth factsheets on exhibitors, Animal Welfare Act Q&A’s, the complete Animal Welfare Act bill, big cat information, elephant information, marine mammals, and much more animal related material.
The USDA adopted several American Veterinary Medical Association animal welfare policies in August 2006. Declawing and removing canine teeth from wild/exotic carnivores and nonhuman primates is no longer allowed for USDA license holders and registrants, except when required for medical or scientific reasons.
Here are some key facts to understand before surfing through the documents on APHIS’s website:
- The Animal Welfare Act was passed by Congress in 1966 to protect the welfare of animals on a national level. It sets minimum standards of care and treatment to be provided for certain animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. The regulations are MINIMUM STANDARDS as follows:
- Provide their animals with adequate care and treatment in housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures.
- Animal fighting is prohibited
- Pet protection was put in place to help prevent lost or stolen animals
- All animals covered under the law must be licensed or registered with APHIS
- Research facilities are required to provide dogs with exercise and promote psychological well-being
- APHIS ensures that all regulated commercial animal breeders, dealers, brokers, transportation companies, exhibitors, and research facilities are licensed and registered.
- They are also in charge of searching for those organizations that are NOT licensed and registered with APHIS.
- Inspection reports are posted under APHIS’s website. The reports have detailed information of each inspection issued for each site they visit. The inspection report lists the violations and any noncompliance with the regulations under the Animal Welfare Act. You can search for the businesses and people, who have possession of regulated animals, in the USDA Inspection Reports for:
- You will search under each category for the State then by the Name (person or business)
- Breeders: person(s) who breeds animals
- Dealers: those who receive compensation or profit, transport, buys, sells, or negotiates the purchase of animals for use as research, teaching, exhibition, or use as a pe
- Exhibitors: those who exhibit animals to the public for compensation (includes carnivals, circuses, ands zoo
- Registered Exhibitors: an exhibitor that obtained animals through donation/trapping on own premises, exhibits only native animals, animals are not transported for exhibition purposes, not disposed of into commerce, and no compensation is received from exhibition of the animal
- Intermediate Handlers: those who receive custody in connection with their transportation in commerce
- Carriers: those engaged in transporting animals for hire (airline, railroad, shipping line, motor carrier, etc)
HSUS Legislation and Laws
- Quick Link to HSUS : http://www.humanesociety.org/
- The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is an animal protection organization established in 1954. They fight against cruelty, exploitation, and neglect of pets, wildlife and habitats on a national and a global scale. HSUS is a household name across the nation. Both animal lovers and their adversaries know HSUS well for their interventions on behalf of animals in cruelty cases, on small- and large-scale platforms.
- This organization’s website has great resources to campaigns that pertain to the welfare of animals. They have sectioned off their sight as follows: Pets, Wildlife, Farm Animals, Animals in Research, and Horses. There is a state search for legislative efforts and elected officials with their contact information. HSUS’s site gives a rundown of their focus of legislative efforts for the current year. They also have a nifty search engine that will find bills by entering in keywords (dolphins, elephants, etc.) or bill numbers.
Born Free USA
- Born Free USA(‘about us’ http://www.bornfreeusa.org/d_about.php) is a nonprofit organization driven by their desire to “end the unnecessary suffering of wild animals in captivity, rescue individual animals in need, protect wildlife in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally.”
- Born Free USA’s website has resources for laws and ordinances that currently hold their focus. Their legislative activities involve the welfare of companion animals, exotic animals, animals in entertainment, and wildlife in the United States. This site helps you to understand the laws that are in place so you can help to change them.