Former roadside zoo owner known as Joe Exotic, Joseph Maldonado-Passage remains in jail. Animal rights activist Carole Baskin, convicted of murder, was given control of his old Oklahoma zoo.
But a year after the premiere of the Netflix series “Tiger King”, an unexpected quarantine binge hit that centers on their feud and the world of zoos, tigers and other big cats on the roadside remains unprotected from the exploitative practices that the Series revealed.
Now a bipartisan group of United States Senators has introduced the latest version of a bill to prevent unlicensed individuals from owning big cats and forbid zoo owners from allowing the public to pet animals or keep cubs.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, introduced the Big Cat Safety Act last year, but it didn’t make it to the vote. Mr Blumenthal said he was confident that with the Democrats under control and some Republicans already backing the legislation, this is the year the bill will finally clarify the Senate.
“What I’ve seen is a fundamental wave of support,” said Mr Blumenthal on Tuesday. “I don’t want to overdo it, but it really seems like an idea whose time has come.”
Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins from Maine and Richard Burr from North Carolina, agreed to put the bill on Monday with Mr. Blumenthal and Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware.
“Big cats like lions, tigers and cheetahs belong in their natural habitats and not in the hands of private owners, where they are too often exposed to cruelty or improper care.” Ms. Collins said in a statement.
The bill is similar to the legislation introduced in 2020 by Democrat Mike Quigley, Democrat of Illinois.
This bill, which would have allowed the breeding and transport of big cats only through educational institutions, as well as nature reserves and zoos that restrict direct contact between animals and the public, had 230 sponsors and was passed by the House in December.
Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said the Big Cat Safety Act is supported by law enforcement agencies and dozens of organizations Zoos and sanctuaries, which gives it “significant momentum”.
“Whether Joe Exotic, Doc Antle or Joe Blow, we cannot allow private individuals to keep big cats captive for pleasure or for profit,” she said in a statement. “These operations endanger the public and bring the worst fate to the animals concerned.”
According to Mr Blumenthal’s bill, it would be illegal for a private person to transport, breed or own big cats across national borders. This excludes zoos, sanctuaries, and other exhibitors and organizations licensed by the Department of Agriculture or a federal agency registered with the Department. Under the bill, no zoo or exhibitor could allow direct contact between members of the public and the animals.
According to Mr. Blumenthal’s office, all zoos must already be federally licensed by law.
Ms. Baskin’s organization, Big Cat Rescue, has long advocated the Big Cat Safety Act, which was first introduced in 2012. The organization has been calling for a ban on petting boys for more than 20 years.
“There is almost nothing more adorable than a tiger cub, and it’s very understandable if you don’t know the backstory of wanting to stroke a tiger cub and take a picture with it,” said Howard Baskin, Ms. Baskin’s husband and Big Cat’s treasurer and secretary Rescue. “It’s a miserable life for the boy.”
The documentary has been criticized by conservation groups and animal rights activists for failing to focus enough on roadside zoo abusive practices and instead playing up eye-catching details, including the mystery of the disappearance of Ms. Baskin’s first husband.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are more captive tigers in backyards, roadside zoos, and rest stops than in the wild.
Prior to his arrest and sentencing, Mr. Maldonado-Passage was a major breeder and seller of tigers and other big cats who produced cubs for profitable petting and photo sessions. When they got too big and dangerous to play with, he disposed of them.
Some were sold to private buyers as pets, while others went to other roadside zoos for breeding. Some just disappeared.
The footage of the documentary, in which babies were ripped from their mothers for the public to stroke, shocked many viewers. Since then, state lawmakers have introduced their own version of bills that would prohibit such practices.
Keith Evans, president of the Lion Habitat Ranch in Las Vegas, which has 31 big cats, said he was concerned that lawmakers had become too reactionary and that the new laws that were being passed across the country could create bureaucratic tangles for the responsible Would punish zoo owners.
“The way some of the bills are worded is open to interpretation,” he said. “There are enough rules in the books that would make everyone happy if they just enforced them.”
Mr Blumenthal said the bill he introduced was designed to protect big cats from cruel and dangerous practices and to hamper unresponsive zoos and sanctuaries.
He said the bill had been referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Mr. Carper.
“My focus is on preventing the abuse and exploitation of the big cats and protecting the public,” said Blumenthal. “These two goals are paramount.”