Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, announced on Monday that he is co-sponsoring the Big Cat Public Safety Act. The legislation would tighten restrictions regarding the private ownership, exhibition, and breeding of big cats like lions, tigers, and jaguars.
The move comes as the Netflix docu-series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” grips millions of Americans stuck in quarantine. The seven-part series, which tells the bizarre story of an Oklahoma Tiger breeder named Joe Exotic as well as other big cat owners, broke records as the most-watched title on Netflix for the longest period of time.
The private ownership of tigers and other dangerous wild animals is a particularly acute problem in Texas, where regulations are incredibly lax and the rules that do exist are loosely enforced. The exact number of tigers in Texas is impossible to know given that a large number of them are unregistered, but many estimates place it in the thousands. According to some, the Lone Star State has more tigers in captivity than the total number of tigers in the wild.
Just recently, on March 25, authorities in South Texas seized several exotic animals during a drug bust, including a Bengal tiger. One law enforcement described the location as a “pseudo-narco zoo.”
Big cats owned by private individuals and unaccredited organizations are often abused and exploited, and also pose an obvious threat to public safety. Owners often buy them as cubs and then have no idea what to do with them when they grow up.
Several big cat-related incidents have already occurred in Texas. In 2016, a tiger was found roaming the streets of Conroe, having escaped while her owner was trying to relocate it due to flooding. In 2000, a Houston man’s pet tiger ripped off the arm of his 3-year-old nephew.
Without stricter regulations and enforcement, the private ownership of big cats will continue to bring harm to both the animals themselves and the people around them. The Lone Star State can no longer be the Tiger King of America.
Photo: S. Taheri/Wikimedia Commons