The U.S. is set to enact a new law that prohibits private citizens from obtaining lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, and other big cats as pets.
Congress has approved the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk. The law limits new ownership of big cats to accredited zoos and universities while prohibiting Americans from acquiring these creatures as pets or attractions in petting zoos.
“Big cats like lions, tigers, and cheetahs belong in their natural habitats, not in the hands of private owners where they are too often subject to cruelty or improper care,” Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.
Under the new law, current owners may hold onto their big cats, but they will have to register their animals with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There are around 5,000 captive tigers in the U.S., according to the World Wildlife Fund. “By requiring a federal permit for big cat ownership, we’ll have better understanding of the state of captive tigers and what happens to their valuable parts when they die,” Leigh Henry, director of wildlife policy at the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.
The law also requires that big cats now on display must be kept 15 feet away from viewers or behind a barrier. Since 1990, there have been more than 400 dangerous incidents involving big cats in the U.S., according to the Humane Society. Across 46 states and the District of Columbia, big cats have killed five children and 19 adults and injured hundreds of others.
The dark side of private cat ownership was brought to light in the 2020 Netflix documentary series Tiger King. Big cat sanctuary owner Carole Baskin, who was featured in the series, is one of the backers of the new bill.