Individuals who own big cats such as lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars or hybrids of these species must register them with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by end of the day June 18, 2023, to comply with requirements of the Big Cat Public Safety Act. Current private owners may keep their animals if they register them with the Service and abide by other applicable state and federal regulations.
An estimated 20,000 big cats are kept in private ownership in the U.S., often purchased as cubs or bred for photo opportunities. As they outgrow those uses, they are sold into the exotic pet trade or the illegal market or abandoned to already financially strained sanctuaries. Often these big cats are kept in inadequate conditions that threaten animal health and public safety. Incidents involving big cats have caused human injuries and death. To address these issues, the law prohibits facilities that exhibit big cats from allowing direct contact between the public and the big cats.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act makes it illegal to privately possess or breed big cats. The act was signed into law December 20, 2022, to end private ownership of big cats as pets and prohibit public contact with big cats, including cubs. It places new restrictions on the commerce, breeding, possession and use of certain big cat species within the U.S.
The law refers to big cats as “prohibited wildlife species” and includes the following species and hybrids of any of these species: lion, tiger, leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard, jaguar, cheetah and cougar. Also included are big cats that are not a distinct species including pumas and panthers, as well as alternate names for the species listed above, including mountain lion, which is sometimes used for cougar.
The law provides for exceptions for some federal, state and privately owned facilities such as zoos, universities and sanctuaries that have big cats, but these exceptions do not apply to private individuals. The law does not provide for any extension of this time frame.
Detailed information and the registration form may be found at: https://www.fws.gov/what-you-need-know-about-big-cat-public-safety-act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov and connect with us on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube.