Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded today’s vote in the House of Representatives to approve the Big Cat Public Safety Act. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Warner, would ban the private ownership of big cats, such as lions, tigers, and cougars that are often kept in unsafe and inhumane conditions. The bill now awaits a vote in the Senate.

“Earlier this year, Americans were captivated by ‘Tiger King,’ a documentary that partly brought to light the cruel conditions that lion and tiger cubs are kept in at facilities across the country that offer photo ops and other entertainment opportunities. These exotic animals are not entertainment props. They need the care of individuals with the proper expertise and training,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation is an important first step to not only protect the public, but protect these exotic animals from being exposed to dangerous conditions. As Congress continues the critical work of tackling the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and numerous fiscal deadlines, I commend the House for simultaneously passing legislation that has an impact on public safety.”

The Big Cat Public Safety Act would:

  • Make changes to the requirements governing the trade of big cats, i.e. species of lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, cougar, or any hybrid of such species.
  • Prohibit the possession of these big cats by individuals who are not licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Revise restrictions on the possession and exhibition of big cats, including restricting direct contact between the public and big cats.
  • Include an exemption for sanctuaries, universities, and zoos.
  • Allow current owners to be grandfathered in with conditions, such as being required to register their animals with the Fish and Wildlife Service; they are prohibited from breeding, acquiring or selling prohibited animals after the date of enactment; and they are prohibited from allowing direct contact between the public and any prohibited species.

While twenty-one states in the U.S. currently have legislation criminalizing exotic animal ownership, there is no federal law making big cat ownership illegal. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law legislation that is similar to the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which will take effect on July 1, 2021.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act is endorsed by many animal rights organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animals, and accredited big cat sanctuaries across the country. Additionally, it is also supported by law enforcement groups, including the National Sheriffs’ Association, the National Animal Care and Control Association, and the Florida Animal Care and Control Association.