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Big cat bill unanimously approved by Senate, heads to Biden’s desk


The Big Cat Public Safety Act, previously supported by “Tiger King” star and animal rights activist Carole Baskin, is headed to President Biden’s desk after the Senate unanimously approved the bill on Tuesday.

The piece of legislation seeks to build upon previous legislation to prohibit the ownership of big cats as pets and keep them from being exposed to photo opportunities and public petting. 

“This bill has been one of the most important projects during my time in Congress. Since 2019, we have been working on this legislation and last night, I was so proud to see the Senate push it across the finish line. I believe in this bill, as do countless animal rights groups and law enforcement agencies who will benefit from its passage,” Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., said in a statement. “I look forward to President Biden signing this bill into law.”

The bill was passed by the House in July, in a 278-134 vote. The Senate received the legislation in early August, conducting two readings before it was passed.

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The legislation prohibits any “import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce” and the breeding or possessing of such wildlife. Possession of big cats and cross-breeds would be limited to wildlife sanctuaries and state universities, as well as certified zoos.

From left: Tim Harrison, Michael Webber, Carole Baskin and Congressman Mike Quigley, D-Ill., attend a screening of "The Conservation Game" at Eaton Hotel in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 2021.

From left: Tim Harrison, Michael Webber, Carole Baskin and Congressman Mike Quigley, D-Ill., attend a screening of “The Conservation Game” at Eaton Hotel in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 2021.
(Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The bill’s text states animals on display must be kept at least 15 feet away from the public unless a “permanent barrier” is present that would prove sufficient to prevent public contact. 

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Current owners of big cats will be able to keep their animals but are prohibited from breeding, selling or acquiring any of the prohibited wildlife species. They are also banned from allowing their animals to engage in contact with the public and must register the cat with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.

President Biden speaks before signing the agreement for Finland and Sweden to be included in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 9, 2022.

President Biden speaks before signing the agreement for Finland and Sweden to be included in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 9, 2022.
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“The Administration supports H.R. 263, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would build on existing laws that protect big cats like tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, and other wild animals living in captivity in the United States,” President Biden said in a statement released in late July. “The Administration looks forward to working with Congress to take additional steps to protect the public and imperiled large cats through H.R. 263, as it proceeds through the legislative process.”

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Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, gestures while arriving for a meeting with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2022.

Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, gestures while arriving for a meeting with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2022.
(Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Baskin also visited Capitol Hill several times as the bill made its way through the legislative process, meeting with several lawmakers and key staff. 

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“For me, this fight for the big cats was never personal,” said Baskin in a statement released. “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.”