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Great news for the Big Cat Safety Act!

A storm is coming. A real storm.  Not the kind of storm that you sit on your back porch and watch come in eagerly anticipating the rain and an afternoon nap with the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof as the soundtrack.  This is the kind of storm you flee not embrace.  A storm of the century.  This storm is massive and slow moving, and you are in the direct path of its wrath and destruction.  This storm has a name.  This storm is the kind of storm that every storm after it for the next 20 years will be compared to.  This storm literally has the power to change the landscape. Your landscape. You realize that whatever high ground, whatever safety, whatever sanctuary you can find is better than your own home.  You pack up what you can, your belongings, your memories, your toothbrush, and you head inland looking for somewhere, anywhere safe.  The irony of seeking sanctuary is not lost on you when you find a small hill with a church on it.  There are a few cars outside. This is probably your only option. And so far, it’s the safest option. 

You walk up the few steps of the church, open the front door.  It’s heavy.  Its sturdiness gives you a moment of comfort as you think about the winds and rain that will soon be here.  As you walk inside there are about 10 others setting up their cots with blow-up mattresses, lanterns, food and whatever else they have brought. These are your new roommates.  You will form a strange bond with them over the next couple of nights as you try to survive this force of nature.  You take a few steps in and hear a noise that you’ve only heard at the openings of movies but louder, deeper, more resonant. You can feel this noise in your chest. The noise is thunderous, shattering all thoughts of the peace and safety you had when you felt the door. You see the shadows on the wall cast by the lights and lanterns. You look left and right to find the source of the noise.  And then near the pulpit, you see the creator of this noise.  The owner of this voice. A lion.

This sounds like a ridiculous premise of a novel or a book, but it really happened! There’s a link to the news story:  Riding out Ike on an island, with a lion (nbcnews.com).

For some time now in several states across the United States, it has been legal to privately own big cats.  For most people, big cat ownership and the big cat trade came into the national spotlight in the spring of 2020 when the Netflix docuseries Tiger King gained massive popularity. The compelling story of Joe Exotic and his nemesis Carol Baskin became entertainment for many quarantined due to COVID 19.  Suddenly a small community of large and dangerous big cat owners that most people would’ve never heard of were thrust into the national spotlight.  

In 2021, I co-wrote a blog with one of our Animal Care Team members about the big cat trade and about the dangers of attempting to own such an animal as a pet! In that article we urged our readers to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You can reread that blog or read it for the first time here (https://zooatlanta.org/big-cats-and-wildlife-trade-2/). And the millions who read about the Big Cat Safety Act must’ve responded with a bold voice of support. 

Exciting news recently came out of Washington, where the Senate unanimously voted into law (pending president Biden’s signature) the Big Cat Public Safety Act!  The bill which President Biden vocalized support for back in July is expected to be signed by the President without veto! This bill will make it illegal for any individual to own a big cat or cougar.  AZA zoos, universities, and accredited wildlife sanctuaries will still be allowed to have populations of these animals, but they must be kept 15 feet from the public or behind a permanent barrier, like the windows at our tiger viewing area in Complex Carnivores or the lion viewing area in the lower part of the lion habitat – which is a great place to see the lions here at Zoo Atlanta during colder months!  For those people who currently own a big cat, they will be allowed to keep the animal(s) provided they register the animal with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and they do not breed the animals. Individuals caught in violation of this law could face up to five years in prison or fines up to $20,000. This law takes great steps in ensuring that animals that require highly specialized care are given that care and are safe from being mistreated and abused, as well as will keep the public safe from animals that are dangerous. 

The next time a hurricane is coming it may be scary, but at least you won’t have to ride it out with a lion.  

Zach Stich
Public Programs Coordinator



Breaking: Big cat public safety act passes the US Senate and heads to President Biden’s desk. The Humane Society of the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.humanesociety.org/news/breaking-big-cat-public-safety-act-passes-us-senate-and-heads-president-bidens-desk

Brooks, E. (2022, December 7). Bill restricting big cat ownership made famous by ‘tiger king’ heads to Biden’s desk. The Hill. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/3764378-bill-restricting-big-cat-ownership-made-famous-by-tiger-king-heads-to-bidens-desk/

H.R.263 – Big Cat Public Safety Act 117th Congress (2021-2022). (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/263

NBCUniversal News Group. (2008, September 17). Riding out Ike on an island, with a Lion. NBCNews.com. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna26746849

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