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Science

Senate unanimously passes ‘Tiger King’ bill that bans private ownership of big cats

Carole Baskin fought for 11 years to get it passed.

tiger king, big cat safety, carole baskin

A tiger at the Endangered Animal Rescue Sanctuary and a mugshot of Joe Exotic from Santa Rosa County Jail.

Netflix’s “Tiger King” will go down in history as the collective distraction that helped America get through the dark, depressing days of early COVID-19 lockdowns. The show followed the true story of the feud between private zoo owner Joe Exotic, the self-described “gay, gun-carrying, redneck with a mullet,” and Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue.

Exotic is currently serving out a 21-year prison sentence for animal rights abuses and hiring someone to kill Baskin.

The show was a raucous look inside the world of big cat owners and brought a lot of attention to the animal abuse that runs rampant in the industry. The light it shed on the industry was so bright it led Congress to take action. The Senate unanimously passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act on December 6. The House had already passed the bill in July.

The White House has signaled that President Biden will sign the bill into law.


The legislation prohibits keeping tigers, lions and other big cat species as pets and bans public contact with these animals, including paid interactive experiences like cub petting. Those who currently own big cats will be able to keep their animals so long as they register them with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and do not allow them to have direct contact with the public.

There are an estimated 7,000 captive tigers in America living either in zoos or with private owners.

The bill was originally crafted by Baskin and her husband Howard in 2011 and was introduced to Congress every year since, but never got any traction until “Tiger King” was released in 2020.

“I am harder to intimidate and kill than some thought!” Carole Baskin joked in a video celebrating her legislative victory. “The passage of the bill is the successful culmination of many years of battling against narcissistic, abusive, dangerous men who dominated the cruel trade and did everything they could to stop its passage, including wanting to intimidate, discredit and even kill me,” Baskin added.

“Within a decade, most of the thousands of big cats living this way will have passed away, and in 20 years, no big cats will be living in this kind of misery,” she continued.

The passage of the legislation was also applauded by The Humane Society.

“An extraordinarily cruel era for big cats in the U.S. finally comes to an end with the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act. We’ve been fighting for this moment for years because so many so-called ‘Tiger Kings’ have been breeding tigers and other big cats to use them for profit,” Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement.

The legislation is a big win for the animals and people as well. The Humane Society reports that since 1990, there have been more than 400 incidents involving captive big cats, and five children and 19 adults have been killed and hundreds of others injured.

Many objected to how Joe Exotic was celebrated for the few weeks that “Tiger King” ruled popular culture because he was, in the end, a man who profited from animals’ misery. Now, we can look back at the show’s popularity and see that it’s played a positive role in protecting these majestic animals from abuse for the foreseeable future.

This story first appeared on the author's Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

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