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US Senate passes Big Cat Public Safety Act 2 years after 'Tiger King' premier

Joe Exotic from Netflix's "Tiger King" poses with a tiger. (CNN Newsource)
Joe Exotic from Netflix's "Tiger King" poses with a tiger. (CNN Newsource)
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Two years after the premier of the Netflix series "Tiger King" featuring Oklahoma's own Joe Exotic, lawmakers have passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

The bill builds on the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, passed unanimously in 2003, which sought to ban the trade in big cats as pets. The original measure had a drafting flaw, and the Big Cat Public Safety Act seeks to correct that problem and ban breeding big cats for the pet trade and for commercial cub petting.

The bill had been introduced long before the “Tiger King” series, but the show put the issue of private ownership of tigers and lions on the American radar.

“For me, this fight for the big cats was never personal,” said Carole Baskin, president and founder of Big Cat Rescue, who was also featured in the "Tiger King" series. “This was always about developing a national policy to shut down the trade in these animals as props in commercial cub handling operations and as pets in people’s backyards and basements.”

Down from nearly 60 cub-petting operations just 10 or 15 years ago, there are now maybe two or three commercial operations in the U.S.

Nearly all cub petters featured in “Tiger King” are incarcerated, have had their animals seized, or are facing prosecution:

  • Joe Exotic is serving 21 years in federal prison for 17 wildlife-related charges as well as murder-for-hire charges
  • Jeff Lowe, who took charge of Joe Exotic’s GW Zoo and intended to open a cub-petting operation in far eastern Oklahoma, had his operation raided by federal authorities, who brought civil charges against him; Lowe’s animals have been confiscated and placed at sanctuaries
  • Tim Stark, another prominent Tiger King “star,” had his animals confiscated by the State of Indiana for multiple animal-related and nonprofit-operation violations; he fled the state after a criminal charge was filed and was arrested in New York
  • Bhagavan “Doc” Antle was arrested on charges of money laundering; he’s also facing charges by the State of Virginia with 15 counts of wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty

Exotic owned an animal park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, which is now closed. Sixty-nine cats were rescued from the animal park and sent to sanctuaries around the country.

Backyard breeders who owned cats born before the legislation passed must now register them, and they're not allowed to offer direct public contact with their animals or breed and sell any big cats.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act now heads to President Joe Biden's desk to be inked into law.


Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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