The House of Representatives passed H.R. 1380, a bill that would amend the existing amendments to the Lacey Act, titled “Captive Wildlife Safety Act”, to purportedly “further the conservation of certain wildlife species . . .”

There are a number of admitted unknown consequences if this Act were to be adopted as law, as reported in the report from the Committee on Natural Resources:

  1. It is not known how many big cats, including tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cougars, and hybrids are currently kept in private ownership in the U.S.;
  2. There is no data about the physical characteristics of exhibition settings or the ability of the approximately 360 USDA licensed exhibitors who wish to continue public exposure to the big cats to meet the new set-back and barrier requirements.
  3. There is no data on the number of sanctuaries that transport and display big cats or the revenue associated with that activity, and thus, cannot estimate the cost of this prohibition.

There are a number of expected outcomes if this Act were to be adopted:

  1. Estimated costs of the breeding prohibition, of the approximately 200 cubs traded or sold each year at a value of $8,000 per cub, would be less than $1.6 million per year;
  2. Estimated costs to owners and trainers would incur costs in the form of foregone revenue of about $20 million per year related to prohibited use of big cats in the motion picture industry;
  3. Estimated costs to 40 exhibitors, including public zoos, , and about 200 mostly privately owned facilities that allow some form of physical contact with big cats through seasonal encounters with the animals or host or participate in special fundraising events that allow some form of encounter with the animals would be about $80 million each year.

There are a number of deficiencies or ambiguities in the bill:

  1. There is no definition of “public” yet the bill exempts USDA exhibitors from certain prohibitions, if they “prohibit public contact, with limited exceptions, with the big cats; and maintain a 15-foot gap between the public and the animals or erect a permanent barrier.”
  2. “Permanent barrier” is not defined. Would the now commonly used plexiglass barriers placed in addition to a facilities enclosure suffice?
  3. Certain prohibitions do not apply to “an entity exhibiting animals to the public under a Class C license from the Department of Agriculture . . . if such entity or facility holds such license or registration in good standing . . .” In good standing” is not defined.
  4. Why would a State college or university be exempt from the bill’s prohibitions?
  5. The bill exempts wildlife sanctuaries if they do not commercially trade in any prohibited wildlife species, but does not define what commercial trade entails.

Some real concerns about this bill include:

  1. The estimated 200 dangerous incidents involving big cats since 1990 were not described, analyzed nor determined how this bill would prevent such incidents;
  2. The number of safely implemented programs, even if fund raisers, by USDA licensed facilities not only rely on such events to support their conservation programs, but they also introduce their visitors to these amazing species and augment the public’s support of and interest in the conservation of these species. Proposed prohibitions do so much harm to these programs, dedicated to the care and preservation of these species;

Many of us were appalled by the alleged misuse of big cats by some solely for their own fiscal or other gain.  But, so much harm results when laws are enacted that do not actually help the animals they purport to protect.  To prevent such intended or unintended consequences here, narrower and science-based amendments must be considered.