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Congress passes bill addressing the exploitation of big cats

The US Senate unanimously passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act, sending it to the president's desk.

EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. — The US Senate unanimously passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act, sending it to the president's desk.

The Netflix hit Tiger King kept many entertained during the pandemic but also turned a lot of attention toward the care of big cats. 

The Big Cat Public Safety Act is co-sponsored by US Congressmen Steve Womack, who represents Arkansas's 3rd Congressional District. 

In a statement, Congressman Womack said in part, “The Big Cat Public Safety Act addresses the exploitation of big cats and associated safety risks to the public and law enforcement. It’s a Third District priority."

Scott Smith of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs explained that the sanctuary has been supporting this bill for 10 years. Accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, the sanctuary "has rescued over 500 animals from private owners, roadside zoos, and situations of abuse and neglect."

"The safety part is not only about the people in the neighborhoods and their neighbors, it's about our first responders, our firemen, and police policemen that who are there first on the scene to find, you know, the, 'here's a big cat,' and they're not trained what to do," said Smith.

The bill would restrict public contact and private ownership of big cats.

"They will have to register the animal. And then as the animals grow old, and die of natural causes, they won't be able to get any more, and they're not allowed to breed anymore," Smith said. "In the next 20 years, then it'll sunset people having big cats in their backyards."

Emily McCormack is the Animal Curator for Turpentine Creek. She explained that last year, the zoo had rescued a total of 13 cats from Jeffrey Lowe at their Tiger King Park, previously owned by Joe Exotic. Smith added that they rescued 2 big cats in Houston and one in New York this year.

"This means the world," McCormack explained. "For instance, bringing in three tiger cubs in 2016. At four months old, they couldn't even walk and having to rehab them back. It takes an emotional toll on all of us caregivers and the whole team at the sanctuary. So just like a little light of like, that's never gonna happen again," said McCormack.

She said her job shouldn't exist, and that big cats shouldn't need to be saved or be in the situation they are when they're mistreated.

While the sanctuary expects private ownership to end in about 20 years, they say they're prepared to take in more big cats once the act passes.

"The fight is not over. What will be the next species? Because in my opinion, people just have totally mistreated and abused these animals. Whether it's a big cat, a sloth, a chimpanzee, it's all about money. Sadly, sanctuaries are still going to be necessary," McCormack said.

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