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If there’s one positive that came out of the hit Netflix show “Tiger King,” it’s this: awareness of the tragic treatment of big cats and the illicit exotic animal trade ushering new action being taken to protect these animals. The show has captivated viewers and more importantly sparked conversations and controvesy worldwide about animal cruelty as people question the true meaning of animal “conservation.”

Tiger King

In the series, Joe Exotic and the cast of “private zoo” owners insist that their roadside zoos are educational and work to conserve exotic animals, namely big cats like tigers and lions. But that’s a far cry from the truth. These types of facilities have a track record of exploitation, abuse, and behavior that endangers animals. While towards the end of the series, the show does expose some of the alleged animal abuses, it only scratches the surface of the true victims: the animals. Perhaps the most alarming statistic comes in an easy-to-miss line of text at the end of the series that reveals there are currently more big cats in captivity than in the wild. 

Celebrities are starting to throw their power behind initiatives to ensure that animal exploiters masquerading as “zoo owners” and “conservation activists” can’t hide behind a facade.

Celebrities are starting to throw their power behind initiatives to ensure that animal exploiters masquerading as “zoo owners” and “conservation activists” can’t hide behind a facade. Actor Diane Keaton, and actor and activist Maggie Q, both board members of the animal protection legislative advocacy group, Social Compassion in Legislation (SCIL) have taken action and endorsedThe Big Cat Public Safety Act, HR1380. The Act specifically aims to do two things:

  • prohibit the private ownership or commerce of big cats and
  • make it illegal for regulated exhibitors to allow public contact with cubs (i.e. stopping roadside zoos from offering cub petting and photo ops). 

Keaton, Maggie Q and other SCIL Board of Directors held a strategic conference last week with the author of the legislation, Congressman Mike Quigley, regarding his bill which is touched on in the Netflix series. The call laid the foundation for SCIL to build impactful grassroots support for the legislation and engage in targeted direct advocacy in Washington in order to effectively push Congress to take action on the bill (once immediate action needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic subsides).

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“Somehow in this country we have defended the right to own a wild animal - and have not defended that animal's right to live by design, in nature. If it’s not a conservation effort, there should be no tolerance for this,” says Maggie Q. “We design laws knowing that certain people do not have the character required to not abuse, exploit or kill. Why would it be any different in this area?”

Congressman Quigley's website about the bill sums it up this way:

Across the country, thousands of big cats like tigers, lions, leopards, and pumas are kept in miserable, insecure, and unsafe conditions by irresponsible owners. The Big Cat Public Safety Act works to address this issue by barring the private ownership of these animals and prohibiting exhibitors from allowing public contact with cubs, which aims to help correct the mistreatment of wild animals and limit the danger posed to members of the public, including law enforcement officers who respond to escapes and attacks.

“We are so fortunate to have our board members standing up and shining a light on the problem of personal ownership of these magnificent animals,” says Judie Mancuso, founder and president of Social Compassion in Legislation. “It is important for the public to understand that exploiters like Joe Exotic put profit over the welfare of the animals. They will breed and breed to keep the baby tiger photo ops rolling, but do not care what happens to those animals once they are sold to whoever is willing to pay for them or dispose of them before they get too big. Sanctuaries like the one run by Carole Baskin do not breed and do not allow the animals to interact with humans, which the show did not highlight enough.”

Another SCIL board member, Margaret Perenchio, explains that one of the most devastating impacts that “Tiger King” could have is teaching our children that it’s okay to exploit animals and that animal cruelty and exploitation is permissible. “The Big Cat Public Safety Act is needed to protect these animals and to educate everyone on what conservation really means,” Perenchio says. “Once the legislature is back in regular session we look forward to supporting this important bill.”

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Anna Keeve

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