Recently there was great excitement within the conservation community in regard to the Big Cat Public Safety Act, as it was officially introduced into the Senate. There was also a less than enthusiastic reaction from the owners of pseudo sanctuaries who currently possess, and/or display big cats for profit, and/or allow the public to interact with big cats, or big cat cubs.
Then a news report aired wherein Lori Ensign-Scroggins of Safari Sanctuary was interviewed, and wherein she detailed some of the “problems” with the BCPSA. Lori alluded to the possibility that if the BCPSA was passed, big cats who were currently in the possession of private owners would be released into the wild where they would starve, and die, or that they would be confiscated from their current owners, and relegated to a life inside “cement horse stalls” and that “sanctuaries” like hers will go out of business, leaving other big cats in need of rescue to suffer and die.
Such speculations and assertions are designed to elicit responses from both animal welfare groups, who want to protect big cats from such fates, and at the same time, from the public, who will be equalled abhorred at the idea of animals being left to suffer, and terrified of finding a loose big cat in their backyard. And let me be clear that it was Lori Ensign-Scroggins, owner of Safari Sanctuary, not reporter Sharon Phillips, who made these assertions. Lori did so intentionally to try and raise opposition to the BCPSA, and make herself, and the big cats in her care, look like victims.
As the facts of the BCPSA are much, much different from the portrayal offered by Lori, I, along with others, promptly emailed Sharon Phillips, conveying our concerns about it and the inaccuracies with its portrayal of the BCPSA. In my own email, I pointed out the fact that Lori, herself, lost her USDA license back in 2012 due to repeated infractions and failures to comply with the USDA standards for a wildlife sanctuary. There has been at least one fatal mauling at Safari Sanctuary which can be attributed to failure to adhere to protocol.
I received a reply from Phillips in which she asked if I would be willing to speak with her on the matter. I told her I would be pleased to do so, but that she might prefer speaking with Jessica James, the founder of ICARUS, who was part of a team that worked on behalf of the BCPSA bill, and thus was more familiar with it. She said she hoped to make contact with Jessica, but we have not yet heard anything more from Ms. Phillips. Hopefully, we will hear from her, or she will make further contact with others who have participated in the making of the BCPSA, and who can subsequently provide her with correct information regarding it. As of right now, links to the article and video have been disabled with no explanation. We can only surmise that this was done in an attempt to gather more information and then alter the report accordingly.
There is, very unfortunately, a huge pressure on today’s reporters to produce not necessarily the ‘boring’ facts of a matter, but instead, the emotionally galvanizing, and tantalizing stories relating to it. The reporters have no control over the contrived falsehoods offered by their interviewees which are often designed to further the interests of specific parties beyond the control of the reporter doing the interview or spotlight. A little more digging before stories run, however, will usually shed light on the truth of those so eager to go on record condemning bills such as the BCPSA.
So, here are the big cat facts about the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
Under the Big Cat Public Safety Act:
No member of the prohibited wildlife species currently held in private captivity will ever be released into the wild. Nowhere within the BCPSA is there any stipulation or suggestion that any member of the prohibited wildlife species currently held by private owners should be released into the wild. To suggest such would be both unethical, and in direct conflict with the entire purpose of the BCPSA, which is to maintain the safety of both big cats, and the public.
Nowhere in the BCPSA does it state that big cats who are currently in the possession of private owners will be taken from those owners. Big cats born before the bill, and currently being privately held (with certain exceptions, based on situation) will be ‘grandfathered in’ and allowed to remain where they are. Their owners simply will not be allowed to obtain, through breeding or rescue, any new members of the prohibited wildlife species.
Under the general terms of the bill: It is unlawful for any person—
(A) to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase a live animal of any prohibited wildlife species–
(i) in interstate or foreign commerce; or
(ii) in a manner substantially affecting interstate or foreign commerce; or
(B) to breed or possess a live animal of any prohibited wildlife species.
This hardly needs translation, as it means exactly what it says. The general public will be prohibited from owning, or engaging in any of the aforementioned activities with any member of a prohibited wildlife species.
4) There are exceptions to these limitations.
Paragraph (1) does not apply to any person that–
(A) is an institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums;
(B) is a facility that–
(i) has an active written contract with an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan or Taxon Advisory Group for the breeding of prohibited wildlife species; and (ii) does not breed, acquire, or sell prohibited wildlife species other than the prohibited wildlife species covered by a contract described in clause (i);
(C) is a State college, university or agency, or State-licensed veterinarian;
(D) (i) is a wildlife sanctuary that cares for prohibited wildlife species;
(ii) is a corporation that–is exempt from taxation under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and described in sections 501(c)(3) and 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) of such Code;does not commercially trade in prohibited wildlife species, including offspring, parts, and byproducts of prohibited wildlife species; does not breed the prohibited species; does not allow direct contact between the public and prohibited wildlife species; and does not allow the transportation and display of prohibited wildlife species offsite.
(E) has custody of the prohibited wildlife species solely for the purpose of expeditiously transporting the prohibited wildlife species to a person described in this paragraph with respect to the prohibited wildlife species.
This is a long one, but the meat of it is very simple. If your sanctuary is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the BCPSA won’t affect you. Similarly, if you have a contract with the AZA, so long as you do not exceed the boundaries of said contract you are in compliance. If you’re a university, agency or state-licensed vet, you are exempt. Most importantly, you cannot breed, sell, trade, transport or allow the public to interact with your animals. To recap our recap, don’t exploit the prohibited wildlife species, and you’re in the clear. Easy peasy.
5) Five is really a continuation of four, but I wanted to break it up because four was already pretty long. So 5 or, in the bill as it’s properly listed, (F) is
(i) is in possession of a prohibited wildlife species that was born before the date of enactment of the Big Cat Public Safety Act of 2016
(ii) no later than 180 days after the date of enactment of the Big Cat Public Safety Act of 2016 is registered with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service;
(iii) does not breed, acquire, or sell prohibited wildlife species after the date of that Act; and
(iv) does not allow direct contact between the public and prohibited wildlife species;
Remember back up at 2) where I said that big cats who are currently in the possession of private owners would not be confiscated or–inconceivably–released into the wild? Well, above is the verbatim wording from the BCPSA itself. Anyone who is in possession of a member of the prohibited wildlife species that was born before the date of enactment of the BCPSA, and who registers with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and agrees not to breed, acquire, or sell those prohibited wildlife species after the enactment of the BCPSA will be allowed to keep their animals.
The stipulation of not breeding prohibited wildlife species after the enactment of the bill is vital to stopping the use of cubs for cub petting, which is one of the most prominent exploitations of big cats. Breeding cubs and allowing the public to handle them is never about conservation of a species, no matter what anyone says. It’s about making money by charging the public to handle the cats.
So, if the Big Cat Public Safety Act is passed, no captive animals will be released into the wild. No captive animals will be stolen away from their current owners and condemned to cement prisons. No big cats are going to be left to suffer or languish because there are no longer sanctuaries to rescue them. For as long as there are big cats who need to be rescued, there will be accredited and licensed sanctuaries to rescue them and subsequently house and care for them.
When viewed objectively, the Big Cat Public Safety Act seeks to end the continued breeding, selling, and exploitation of captive big cats, while curbing the illegal trade and trafficking of wild big cats, and eradicating the highly publicized and then instantly forgotten incidents of mauling and fatal interactions between captive big cats and those around them. All of these goals are rational, and reasonable goals.
The only people and industries that will be damaged by the enactment of the Big Cat Public Safety Act are those who subsist on monies derived from breeding, selling, trafficking, and exploiting the animals being protected by the Act.
I challenge anyone reading this article to research any person who has publicly spoken out against the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You will not do so and find a person who is not actively breeding, selling, or allowing the public to handle their big cats. You will not find anyone who has not either lost an USDA license or failed to ever obtain one, or who is already registered with the associations mentioned in this article. The only people who are fighting the BCPSA are the ones who are hurting the big cats now. Yes, there are private owners out there who love their big cats, but those owners are not going to lose their animals. They’re only going to lose the ability to breed or purchase more big cats. This is not a Federal “gun raid” wherein “big government” is treading on fundamental human rights.
This is about conservation, and protecting what wild animals we have left, while keeping them wild. It’s about protecting what captive big cats currently exist, and keeping them from being any more exploited than they already are. And it’s about protecting the public, who may not even know that their neighbor owns a big cat, until one day their child wonders next door and never comes home.
So please, do your research, decide for yourself whether or not the Big Cat Public Safety Act (HR 3546 / S 2541) is a good thing. And when you agree that it is, call your local Senator, and Representatives and ask them to support the bill. Every voice will matter, and every voice will make a difference. And remember, if someone is in opposition of the BCPSA, check and see if they’re a GFAS accredited sanctuary, or if they’re someone who actually uses their animals for making money through exploitation. If you need more information on how to contact your local Senator and Representative, check here.
Author: Artemis Grey