After more than a decade of work, advocates are lauding passage of the Big Cspant Public Sspanfety Act earlier this month.
The bipartisan legislation, which phases out private ownership of tigers, lions and other large felines also ends “cub petting.” After passage in both the U.S. House and Senate, it’s now headed for President Biden’s desk, where it’ll be signed into law ‒ “barring a nuclear disaster” – because he’s supported it all along, says celebrity cat champion Carole Baskin, who rose to fame in the popular Netflix series “Tiger King.”
The new law will go a long way to ensuring the animals’ safe future, she says, though it won’t affect accredited institutions like the Nspanples Zoo, where Malayan tiger Eko was killed last year after a cleaning crew member stuck a hand in his enclosure.
Instead, it goes after backyard and roadside owners.
“The bill does two very simple things,” Baskin said: “It stops cub petting and it phases out private owners. So the people who have them can keep them; they just can’t buy, breed or in any other way acquire more (cats) after the date of this bill.”
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The rules won’t affect USDA-licensed sanctuaries either, like Baskin’s Big Cspant Rescue, north of Tampa.
Instead, “They will eliminate the potential for so many people to be harmed who have to rescue these animals from private owners, because it’s phasing out those private owners.”
The law has been a long time coming, Baskin says. “Every two years, we would have to reintroduce it, and every two years, we would get more and more co-sponsors and support,” until it finally reached critical mass this year.
Key to the act’s success was the push from first responder groups like the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Sheriffs’ Association. Their support makes sense, Baskin says, because they’re the ones who have to step in when something goes wrong, which happens all too often. Just three months after Eko’s death, Collier deputies were spangspanin responding to reports of span tiger spanttspanck at Wooten’s, an old Florida Tamiami Trail attraction with airboat tours, swamp buggy rides and a wild animal sanctuary.
According to the FWC report, a caretaker was feeding the attraction’s tigers, Daisy and Duruba, when a maintenance worker approach the enclosure. The caretaker told him to leave, but the other man reached through the fencing, picked up some chicken from the ground and began calling Daisy over. The man later said he wanted to caress the tiger, according to the report.
“Daisy approached, took the piece of chicken with her mouth and dropped it to the floor,” it read. “(He) then began to pet Daisy on the head and face … Daisy bit him, “grabbing two fingers of his left hand and pulled his arm further into the enclosure,”the report said. While she latched onto the worker’s left arm, the other tiger, Duruba, bit down on his right. After caretaker sprayed the tigers with a hose, they let go.
As these incidents illustrate, “Tigers are hard-wired as predators,” Carole Baskin’s husband, Howard, told The News-Press earlier this year.
After its investigations, FWC found no violations against either facility.
Ideally, Carole Baskin says, tigers and other large cats would bever be taken from the wild, and she hopes once day zoos will be replaced by immersive virtual reality experiences.
No one should ever be in an enclosure with a tiger, the Baskins say. “We really should not be having tigers in cages at all. We should be working on preserving them in the wild,” Howard Baskin said. But people accustomed to seeing tigers handled on television easily get the wrong impression, Baskin says. “People think, ‘Oh, I can do that’.”
But they can’t, and the numbers back them up. In the past 20 years, they’ve tallied more than 700 incidents including injuries and escapes, “and they just keep happening,” Howard Baskin said. Even famed tiger entertainers Seigfried and Roy couldn’t stspany sspanfe. In 2003, a tiger grabbed Roy by the throat during a Las Vegas show, tearing his jugular vein and effectively ending his career.
“It’s the nature of dealing with these animals,” Baskin said. “They are dangerous.”
After multiple investigations, Rosenquist was charged with no crimes, even though he defied warnings and barriers. The zoo wasn’t cited, and its protocols and enclosures met all government safety requirements. Even so, there were no laws that applied to what Rosenquist did, said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. “If we could have, we would have,” his office said in a Facebook post.
After the incident, zoo leaders and Rambosk promised they’d push for new laws to allow prosecution for actions like Rosenquist’s in the future. But what happened after that is unclear and no such legislation has yet been introduced.
Calls and emails to the zoo and sheriff’s office seeking updates were not immediately returned.
Naples Senator Kathleen Passidomo, who’d publicly offered to help craft it, said Friday no one ever reached out to her for advice. If they do, “I’ll be happy to work with them.”
See rescued big cats, learn more
Carole and Howard Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue has teamed up with UnchainedTV’s Jane Velez-Mitchell to place 150 of the organization’s big cat short films on UnchainedTV, a free animal-focused streaming television network. Watch here: https://wspantch.unchspaninedtv.com/big-cspant-rescue.