By Dennis Pillion
Hundreds of visitors have flocked to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo to experience the zoo's baby tiger cub encounters this fall, but some animal advocacy and environmental groups say the public handling of big cats and other exotic animals is nothing to be celebrated.
The Humane Society of the United States, the World Wildlife Fund, the Detroit Zoological Society and five other groups have petitioned the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to ban direct encounters with tigers, bears, or non-human primates. The 71-page petition (PDF) cites "an epidemic of unqualified individuals and facilities possessing dangerous wild animals, which threatens both public safety and animal welfare."
The House of Representatives is also considering a bill, H.R. 1998, that would prohibit such interactions. H.R. 1998 was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources on May 15 and has not been put up for a vote.
Lisa Wathne, a captive wildlife specialist with the HSUS, said that because tigers can only be handled for the first few months of their life, exotic animals are bred specifically for such encounters and contribute to a surplus of the animals in smaller, "roadside" zoos and the pet trade in the United States.
"We are unequivocally opposed to using not only tiger cubs, but also lion cubs, bear cubs and primates in these public handling events," Wathne said. "We feel that it is a serious enough issue that we took the time to put together the petition, which was hundreds of hours of work, to make our case to the USDA that this practice needs to stop." More....