HR 1818 – The Big Cat and Public Safety Protection Act (2017)
This most recent version of the bill would restrict the breeding, transportation and possession of several species of big cats by removing the current federal Lacey Act exemptions for exhibitors that are licensed, regulated and inspected by the USDA under the Animal Welfare Act and replacing it with several restrictions, including a requirement that breeding take place
“Pursuant to a species-specific, publicly available, peer-reviewed population management plan developed according to established conservation science principles”
The bill furthermore usurps the USDA’s primary authority under the Animal Welfare Act to determine the requirements for exhibitor licensing and imposes conditions that could unnecessarily prevent many zoos, animal attractions, wildlife parks and traveling circuses from exhibiting, breeding or allowing any form of public contact with big cats.
The bill’s sponsors allege concerns over the possibility that captive-bred big cats could fuel the illegal trade in wildlife parts; however, there is no evidence to support these allegations, as confirmed by both the USFWS and TRAFFIC – a joint program of the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
As for public safety, the bill does little to address that issue either. Operators who engage in any type of public exhibition of animals must currently obtain a federal license from the USDA. These exhibitors – which include all zoos, animal parks and circuses, but not all sanctuaries – are subject to the requirements of the federal Animal Welfare Act and are regularly inspected by USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Under the Animal Welfare Act, all licensees must ensure that there are adequate barriers between the public and the animals and that the animals are well cared for, including housing, transport, veterinary care and handling. Failure to do so can result in enforcement actions by the Agency and loss of license.
In essence, the bill only applies to activities that are already regulated, and its prohibitions do not necessarily extend to activities that remain outside of federal reach and within the borders of individual states. As a result, all the bill accomplishes is to further restrict the activities of professional exhibitors that are already subject to oversight and enforcement – not activities that are currently unregulated and, perhaps in some instances, unaccountable.
We oppose the bill because it:
- Limits the captive breeding of all big cats to those who participate in AZA style cooperative programs, unfairly denying legitimate non-AZA animal attractions access to animals for exhibition and breeding purposes.
- Adversely impacts captive breeding programs that promote conservation and provide a gene bank for future possible reintroduction or maintenance of sustainable captive populations.
- Fails to address issues of irresponsible breeding by non-licensed, non-regulated intrastate breeders, and, ironically, provides exemptions for unregulated sanctuaries established to house surplus animals.
- Unfairly discriminates against legitimate, federally licensed exhibitors who are already subject to regulation under the Animal Welfare Act, Endangered Species Act and Captive Wildlife Safety Act.