There's a wild story of attempted murder-for-hire in Netflix's hit true crime series Tiger King, but the sensationalism of the story shouldn't distract from the horrible treatment of big cats being kept as pets and roadside attractions. If you're wondering how to help illegal big cats after watching Tiger King, then just know you're not alone. Tigers, lions, and all manner of big cat breeds need your help, but sorting out how to properly support them is tricky — because there aren't many laws surrounding big cats in captivity, not all mistreatment cases are technically illegal.
A July 2019 article from The Washington Post revealed that there could be more tigers in captivity or being kept as pets in the United States than there are in the wild. Making matters worse, there's no federal regulation that keeps tabs on the number of tigers in the U.S., or monitors their treatment. In order to exhibit a big cat, all a person has to do is obtain a a license from the United States Department of Agriculture, per People. These licenses only require facilities to meet the bare standards of minimum care outlined by the Animal Welfare Act of 1966. As for private ownership, 35 states ban keeping big cats as pets, but there are exceptions made and varying degrees of enforcement even in those places.
That means Joseph Passage, AKA Joe Exotic, is far from the only person exploiting endangered species for profit. Read on to discover ways you can help protect big cats from roadside zoos and private owners.
Support Panthera, A Global Wild Cat Organization
In a statement provided to Bustle via email, Dr. John Goodrich, Chief Scientist and Tiger Program Director for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, shared the best way for people to help big cats. He advocates for supporting organizations like Panthera that are dedicated to stopping poaching. By ending poaching practices, tigers and other big cats are more likely to remain in their natural habitats rather than be brought to the states in the first place.
"The sad truth is that the population of tigers in the wild has plummeted in the last century from 100,000 to about 3,900. One of the biggest threats is the poaching of tigers for their body parts," Dr. Goodrich said. "To fight this $20+ billion a year illegal wildlife trade, Panthera is focusing efforts on stopping poaching before it happens, including training and outfitting local law enforcement and scientists to monitor tigers and their prey and secure tiger habitats."
Visit Panthera.org for more information on how you can contribute to preserving big cat habitats, and keep the animals out of the hands of people who want to exploit them.
Donate To Organizations Committed To The Ethical Treatment Of Animals
Reputable organizations like the Animal Welfare Institute are working to pass federal legislation to protect tigers and other big cats from being owned privately. They're also working to put an end to roadside zoos that breed cats to produce a constant stream of cubs for visitors to pet and feed for a fee. By donating, you can help these organizations raise the funds necessary to fight for these incredible animals.
Other organizations that you can donate to include The Wildcat Sanctuary, which provides a forever home for big cats that were purchased as pets (they're not open to the public like some sanctuaries), and World Wildlife Fund, which advocates for a number of species, including big cats.
Help Fight The Proliferation Of Roadside Zoos
Roadside zoos, like the one shown in Tiger King, are privately owned menageries that are marketed as roadside attractions. Because they're privately owned, they're not held to the same standards as public zoos. Most notably, they often allow visitors to handle wild animals, take selfies with them, and play with cubs.
For now, roadside zoos are unfortunately legal, but there are organizations out there fighting to have them shutdown and the animals moved to sanctuaries. One such organization is the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The ALDF is working toward securing legal protection for animals in roadside zoos, mandating better treatment, and making it harder for private citizens to gain licenses from the USDA.
Urge Your Representatives To Pass The Big Cat Public Safety Act
The Big Cat Public Safety Act is pending in Congress right now, and if it's passed, privately owning big cats would become illegal in the United States. The bill would also stop people who exhibit tigers and other large cat species from allowing the public to have direct contact with big cats or cubs. "Reaching out to legislative offices and expressing concern, both for the health and welfare of big cats and for the safety of communities, is critical in ensuring laws to protect big cats get passed," Alicia Prygoski, the legislative affairs manager at Animal Legal Defense Fund, recently told People.
Visit the Animal Welfare Institute for information on how to urge your representatives to pass the Big Cat Safety Act.