BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — A federal bill aiming to end private ownership of big cats like lions and tigers could be considered this week in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act was reintroduced in 2019 but gained national attention after the hit docu-series “Tiger King” debuted in March of this year.
However, directors of a local big cat sanctuary said Monday that they’re not sure the bill is a good idea as it is currently written.
“I think there are some good points there,” said Jim Broaddus, Director of Bear Creek Feline Center. “We just got to homogenize in saying, and maybe call our representatives and state our piece. If you want to come up here and see how it really works with boots on the ground, we’ll be glad to show you.”
Broaddus manages the nonprofit, 501(c)(3) big cat sanctuary with his wife, Bertie. They’ve operated it since 2000, providing a home for rescued big cats like lynxes, servals, Florida panthers, bobcats, mountain lions and other animals who were raised in captivity or as show animals. The sanctuary is registered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission under the United States Department of Agriculture, the agency which regulates big cat sanctuaries and the like.
Broaddus said it’s not possible without the help of volunteers.
“I can probably name 60 people that have come and gone,” he said, adding that many of those volunteers have gone on to work with FWC or as veterinary technicians or animal husbandry specialists. He said the volunteers are often college students or interns who are a big part of keeping the sanctuary up and running daily, helping with feedings and habitat cleaning along with an experienced caretaker.
However, he said the Big Cat Public Safety Act could change that.
“It will limit the direct contact with big cats,” he explained.
He said the bill would prohibit public interaction within 15 feet of big cats like lions, tigers and other large wild cat species. He said that as the bill is currently written, only professionals employed by the sanctuary would be allowed contact, which wouldn’t allow for volunteers.
“We don’t have people on payrolls here,” Bertie said, adding that their cats need and thrive off of close human interaction.
“When you have cats that are so used to people it’s sad for the cats,” she said. “It’s bad enough that they have to be in the cage. It’s bad enough that they were taken from the wild. It’s bad enough they were taken from their mothers but then to not be able to give them any enjoyment at all? It’s kind of sad to me.”
However, the Broaddus’s also believe that the bill could help well-intentioned sanctuaries who have the animals’ best interest in mind to succeed while driving out facilities turning a profit through cub-encounters, photo-ops and other attractions involving public interaction with big cats.
They believe that may increase the demand for habitat space in sanctuaries like their own as well as others throughout the state and country.
Both said that while the bill has good intentions of stopping abuse and neglect of big cats, they believe it needs more clarification and hope residents and/or anyone passionate about the issue call or write their representative before the possible vote on December 2nd.