‘Tiger King’ Bill to Protect Big Cats Advanced by House Panel

  • Measure would ban private ownership of large felines
  • Senate companion legislation also has bipartisan support

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A House panel Wednesday advanced bipartisan legislation that would ban the private ownership of large feline species such as lions, jaguars, and tigers, as depicted in Netflix Inc.‘s Tiger King series.

The Natural Resources Committee approved the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 263) by 25-17. It would add big cats to the 1981 Lacey Act, a law that combats illegal trafficking of wildlife, fish, and plants.

The measure is backed by a majority of House members, including more than 50 Republicans. The House passed it in the last Congress, but the Senate never considered it, and hasn’t acted on a companion (S. 1210) reintroduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) last year.

Tiger King, released by Netflix in 2020, exposed a wider audience to issues around big cat ownership.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2022. Baskin starred in Netflix’s Tiger King, which followed the starkly different approaches to big-cat ownership between the Baskins and former private zoo owner Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic.

The series star, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Tiger King, managed the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. He is now in federal prison for violating the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, as well as for a murder-for-hire scheme targeting his nemesis Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue in Florida.

Baskin has lobbied for the bill on Capitol Hill.

The bill also would restrict the public from participating in certain practices related to big cats, including cub petting.

Republicans on the committee have criticized the legislation in the past for pitting large zoos against smaller zoos. There have also been concerns that the bill isn’t clear on various definitions, or which federal agency has primary jurisdiction over enforcing it.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) on Wednesday complained that the panel was focusing on a “big cat” bill at a time when lawmakers should be discussing ways to tackle surging energy prices.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kellie Lunney in Washington at klunney@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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