Bill to end Tiger King-style exploitation roars through Senate, heads to Biden

Joe Maldonado, Joe Schreibvoge Maldonado
In this Aug. 28, 2013, photo, Joseph Maldonado answers a question during an interview at the zoo he runs in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. Maldonado, known also as “Tiger King” Joe Exotic, is headed to a federal courtroom Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, for a resentencing hearing. He’s now in federal prison after a jury convicted him in a murder-for-hire plot involving his chief rival, Carole Baskin. Sue Ogrocki/AP

Bill to end Tiger King-style exploitation roars through Senate, heads to Biden

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Tiger King star Carole Baskin secured a victory for her beloved big cats Tuesday evening.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act, a bill she championed to nix the possession and trading of big cats among unaccredited hobbyists, roared through the Senate with unanimous support and now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk, and he is expected to sign it into law.

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“For me, this fight for the big cats was never personal,” Baskin, president and founder of Big Cat Rescue, said in a statement. “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.”

In July, the House passed the bill 278-134, with all the opposition stemming from Republicans. Some 63 Republicans and a full slate of Democrats backed the legislation. Around that time, the Biden administration issued a statement in support of it.

Two years ago, during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tiger King Netflix documentary took the nation by storm, highlighting eccentric figures in the domestic big cat trading realm. The star of the hit miniseries was Joe Exotic, an offbeat and pugnacious tiger enthusiast whom Baskin accused of exploiting tigers and other wild animals.

He was later arrested on suspicion of hiring two hit men to murder Baskin, an archnemesis of his. Baskin has an affection for tigers and tends to them in her sanctuary. Exotic promulgated an accusation that she murdered her first husband over money — something she vehemently denies.

Buoyed by her Tiger King-fueled fame, Baskin began making the rounds on Capitol Hill, hoping to wrangle through legislation to bolster protections for the big cats. She was spotted with numerous members of Congress taking selfies as she prodded them to back the legislation.

Under the Big Cat Public Safety Act, ownership of big cats will be restricted to certified zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, and state universities. Breeding of big cats will also be banned except when done by an animal exhibitor or certified zoo.

Current owners who would be restricted under the bill will be grandfathered in and required to register with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They must comply with rules barring the acquisition, sale, and breeding of the big cats as private ownership slowly gets phased out.

The measure also strengthens barrier restrictions for tigers on display. One of the workers featured in Tiger King had part of their arm bitten by an angry tiger. Exotic himself was shown being dragged around by a tiger at one point before shooting it.

Additionally, the bill targets so-called “cub-petting,” in which members of the public pay for photos with cubs and other wild animals.

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The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL). Blumenthal cheered the bill’s passage in the upper chamber.

“The Big Cat Public Safety Act will end the horrific exploitation of big cats and bolster public safety. These beautiful but powerful predators deserve to live in the wild, not be kept in captivity for people’s entertainment — even as cubs,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “I’m thrilled that, after a groundswell of public and bipartisan support, this bill I’ve long advocated for will become law.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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