Tiger Credit: apiguide via Shutterstock

They may not be able to get a government funding bill across the finish line, but the U.S. Senate gave unanimous passage to the Big Cat Public Safety Act last week. 

A decade after it was first introduced the bill is now headed to U.S. President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

The legislation prohibits keeping tigers, lions, and other big cat species as pets and bans public contact with these species. 

The prohibition applies to individuals, and not sanctuaries or zoos. It would also grandfather in current big cat owners, but those owners will now be required to register their animals. 

Animal rescue advocates are celebrating the passage of the act today at the Connecticut Humane Society in Newington. 

Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society Legislative Fund, said: “An extraordinarily cruel era for big cats in the U.S. finally comes to an end with the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act. We’ve been fighting for this moment for years because so many so-called ‘Tiger Kings’ have been breeding tigers and other big cats to use them for profit.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who sponsored the bill said, “The Big Cat Public Safety Act will end the horrific exploitation of big cats and bolster public safety. These beautiful but powerful predators deserve to live in the wild, not be kept in captivity for people’s entertainment—even as cubs. I’m thrilled that, after a groundswell of public and bipartisan support, this bill I’ve long advocated for will become law.”

There are untold numbers of captive tigers, lions, leopards and other big cats in the U.S., most living in shoddy roadside zoos, private menageries or in homes as pets, Blumenthal said in a press release. Bred specifically to turn a profit, cubs are torn from their mothers at birth and subjected to neglect and mistreatment as props for these public encounters. This exploitation occurs for a few months until the animals have grown too large to be handled. They are then warehoused in roadside zoos, sold into the pet trade, and some are killed.

Since 1990, more than 400 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have occurred in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Five children and 19 adults have been killed and hundreds of other people injured, with some losing limbs or suffering other traumatic injuries. 

The bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on July 29 by  a vote of 278 to 134.