New York State Assemblymember, Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) has introduced bill A.9004, initiated by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which will prohibit direct contact between members of the public and tigers, lions and other dangerous wild animals owned by licensed dealers and exhibitors throughout New York State.
Although New York law currently bans keeping big cats and other dangerous wild animals as pets, certain individuals throughout the state, including some USDA-licensed facilities, regularly profit from charging the public a fee to hold, take photos with, and otherwise interact with these animals at roadside zoos, fairgrounds, malls, and other public areas.
Nationwide, dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have resulted in the deaths of 24 people in just the past two decades – five of them children. In addition, nearly 300 people have been mauled or injured. Along with New York, twenty-nine states prohibit big cat ownership. Despite progress, however, most of these states, like New York, do not ban public contact with big cats. (see map at www.ifaw.org/bigcatadvocates).
"Though the photos may be cute and the animals may look sweet and fluffy, they are dangerous wild animals capable of serious violence, and the public should not be permitted to come into such close contact with them," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan). "Though some claim that these photo ops contribute to wildlife rescue or conservation, that's empty rhetoric that disregards the real danger here. My bill will protect the public and help keep big cats and other wild animals in safe conditions."
This for-profit industry requires an ongoing supply of big cat cubs and other young animals, prematurely separated from their mothers to be groomed for human handling. The animals often die due to constant human contact, and are even subjected to abusive training in a futile attempt to make them safe for public contact once they mature. After the animals grow too big for handling, they are often held on leashes with no protective barriers or are discarded to other substandard facilities where they often suffer from abuse and neglect.
In addition to the New York legislation, IFAW is spearheading a federal bill, The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (H.R., 1998/S.1381) to end the big cat pet and roadside zoo trade. The bill is gaining support from the public and first responders across the country.
Tracy Coppola, IFAW campaigns officer added: "Allowing public handling of these animals severely harms their welfare, endangers the public, and is a heavy burden on law enforcement. There is no reason why any member of the public should ever come in contact with wild animals and their cubs. IFAW commends Assembly Member Rosenthal for her leadership on animal welfare and public safety and urges the New York legislature to swiftly pass A09004 this session."