Tales of Bengal tigers on the loose, like the one found roaming a Houston front yard last week, may soon be history if a bipartisan bill becomes law.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act would largely ban people from owning lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, cougars and jaguars as house pets.
Zoos and sanctuaries would be exempt, as would people who already own big cats — as long as they register their animals promptly.
“Additionally, the bill would prohibit public petting, playing with, feeding, and photo ops with cubs,” the Animal Welfare Institute said in an April statement.
“Breeders often separate mother cats from their cubs immediately after birth, leading to physical and psychological harm as it interrupts the mother-cub bonding process and taxes cubs’ underdeveloped immune systems. It is stressful and frightening for the cubs to be passed around in crowds of people, and the handlers often physically abuse them to force them to ‘behave.’ The profit derived from encouraging the public to handle and pose with cubs is the primary driver of surplus tigers flooding the exotic animal trade in the United States and results in untold numbers of animals being subjected to trauma and abuse.”
Now the bill has been reintroduced in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority. Animal welfare and public safety activists are calling on Congress to pass it this year, to prevent tigers from winding up as dangerous house pets in the future.
“This has become kind of commonplace in Texas,” said Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue and star of the Netflix series “Tiger King.”
“Tigers are hardwired to roam hundreds of square miles, so there’s no cage that’s going to be sufficient for them. And the only reason that people have tigers as pets is to try to show off to others.”
She called on senators, particularly those from Texas, to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act after a 9-month-old Bengal tiger named India was spotted walking in a Houston residential neighborhood on May 9.
After a man put the tiger in an SUV and drove away, authorities and the public had no idea where the tiger was for days.
While Texas law does allows private ownership of a tiger with certain restrictions, the city of Houston bans it.
Six days after India went missing, the tiger was turned in to authorities on Saturday, Houston Police said.
In this case, both the tiger and the public were extremely lucky.
“We are happy to report that the missing tiger seen in a Houston neighborhood last week has been found and appears to be unharmed,” Houston Police wrote in a tweet on Saturday.
Even though India wasn’t fully grown, the tiger already weighed 175 pounds and was “extremely powerful,” Houston Police Commander Ron Borza said.
“If he wanted to overcome you, he could do it instantly,” Borza said.
“In no way shape or form should you have an animal like that in your household. That animal can get to 600 pounds. It still had his claws, and it could do a lot of damage if he decided to.”
On Sunday, India was taken to Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas. The animal sanctuary is owned and operated by the Humane Society of the United States.
“We are staunch supporters of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would limit private ownership and public contact with these dangerous animals,” said Noelle Almrud, senior director of the sanctuary.
She said it costs about $10,000 to $20,000 a year to feed and care for a tiger.
“We have over 800 animals, over 40 different species. Most have come from cruelty, neglect or law enforcement seizures,” Almrud said.
While juvenile tigers like India might seem cuddly and playful now, “as an adult, he can be deadly,” Almrud said.
“It’s our goal to not have these animals as pets. They do not belong in people’s homes. They belong in the wild.”