The Wildcat Sanctuary urges USDA ban on public contact with wild cats
Copy of our letter to legislators and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack:
“Since our sanctuary has been seriously impacted by the lack of a ban on public handling of big cats, we encourage the USDA to finalize this long overdue rule. Public handling of big cats, bears, and primates, regardless of age, should be discontinued immediately – not only because of the abusive impact on the animals involved but as a matter of public safety.
In the case of big cat cubs, the window of opportunity for exhibitors to use them for pay-to-play operations is short indeed. Having a cub able to be handled means they must be taken from their mothers at birth, often painfully 4-paw declawed, spending days they’d normally be sleeping or nursing, instead being transported, passed from person to person, photographed, poked, prodded, denied everything natural and necessary for a cub’s long-term survival.
The current USDA rule encourages non-stop breeding in order to supply these pay-to-play operations. It’s time to put an end to this since there’s simply no place for all these animals to go when their “shelf life” expires. Every sanctuary in the country is overflowing. We, as the non-profits, are forced to bear the financial burden of rescuing and caring for these cats that no longer earn their keep for exhibitors. For those we can’t take in, what is their fate? The USDA doesn’t currently have the resources to assure all these cast off exotics are being properly cared for. It makes no sense to allow the rampant breeding to continue, considering the budgetary constraints the agency faces.
Our sanctuary has taken in so many tigers that have suffered horrifically, having been used early in their lives for exhibition and public contact. Ekaterina and Sierra came from an Ohio operation that took years and years for authorities to finally shut down, after numerous guests were injured while petting and playing with these full grown tigers. Nikita spent the first years of her life in a mall, seven days a week chained to a table so patrons could pay to touch her. When she couldn’t take any more and lashed out, she was relegated to a concrete floored small cage, beaten and forced to fight other tigers for her food because she was no longer profitable. Tonka suffers from lifelong pain from his 4-paw declaw and atrophied muscles having lived in a small exhibit cage at an event center his entire life. Lilly was used as an interaction cat, until she outlived her usefulness to her owner. She went from owner to owner and was finally left to starve and freeze to death. She only survived by consuming the bodies of others who died before her. Titan was paraded around on a leash at festivals for people to pet, until he became too much to handle. He ended up with an owner who was killed by one of her other tigers.
These are only a few examples of the countless wild cats I’ve personally had to rescue. I also act as placement coordinator for the American Sanctuary Association, which means fielding endless calls for generic tigers, now grown, now of no use, now starving, now abandoned, now in dire need. All of this can stop – simply by the USDA passing this ban. It would put an end to all the suffering and risk to public safety, not to mention the huge financial resources required to properly care for all these unwanted exotic animals. Isn’t it past time?
We’ve seen a huge shift in the way the general public sees this issue. Our Facebook page has grown to over 2 million fans. The general public is becoming more educated, realizing petting a cub means sentencing that cat to life in a cage – or worse. For that one selfish “memorable” moment, they’re realizing that the cats pay with their lives. Each person who shares that they’ve had that experience regrets it, now that they know the truth.
We’re also seeing a rise in the number of restaurants offering exotic animal entrees, the unregulated exotic animal meat market is growing, as is the number of cubs that end up at canned hunting ranches all over our country. As the public learns the truth behind where these pay-to-play cubs might end up when they’re sold off to dealers and at auction, they’re becoming outraged – as they should. Bred to pet really means bred to die.
Animal welfare is becoming more important in our society, as we’ve seen recently when Ringling announced they’ll no longer transport elephants around the country, merely for entertainment. When celebrities like Beyonce post photos petting a tiger cub with her family, a worldwide social media backlash erupted against her. There are countless petitions now and Facebook pages devoted to “Exposing Cub Petting.”
There is just no excuse for the USDA not to step up and take action to implement a full public contact ban. States like New York, Kansas, Mississippi, and Arizona have already set an example that the federal government needs to follow.
We look forward to the USDA relieving us of this enormous financial responsibility we should not bear, ending such an obvious abuse of wildlife in our country, and ensuring public safety. The time is now to pass this ban.”
Tammy Thies, Executive Director/Founder
The Wildcat Sanctuary