The Big Cat Public Safety Act was enacted December 20, 2022, to end the private ownership of big cats as pets and prohibit exhibitors from allowing public contact with big cats, including cubs. It places new restrictions on the commerce, breeding, possession, and use of certain big cat species. In order to continue to legally possess privately owned big cats, the Act requires individuals or entities to register any big cat(s) that were in their possession before the date of enactment with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), unless another exception of the Act applies. This registration must occur no later than June 18, 2023, which is 180 days after the date of enactment.
Species included under the Big Cat Public Safety Act
The Big Cat Public Safety Act refers to big cats as “prohibited wildlife species.” The prohibited wildlife species listed in the Act include the following species and hybrids of any of these species: lion (Panthera leo), tiger (Panthera tigris), leopard (Panthera pardus), snow leopard (Uncia uncia), clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), jaguar (Panthera onca), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), and cougar (Puma concolor).
Note: Cougars are sometimes referred to as pumas or mountain lions. Prohibited big cats include panthers, which are not a distinct species, but refer to any black-colored big cat including leopards, cougars, and jaguars.
Specific Prohibitions under the Act (if an Exception does Not Apply)
The Act makes it unlawful for any person to:
- Import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce, or in a manner substantially affecting interstate or foreign commerce; or
- Breed or possess;
any live prohibited wildlife species. The Act also makes it unlawful for any person to attempt to commit any of these acts with prohibited wildlife species.
If you are an entity that falls under one of the four exceptions below, you do not need to register your big cat(s) under the Big Cat Public Safety Act. To clarify what is a USDA-licensed Class C exhibitor and a wildlife sanctuary, please see these definitions.
Other Big Cat Public Safety Act Exceptions
Exception for Private Big Cat Owners
The Act includes an exception for private individuals or entities who owned big cat(s) before this law was enacted on December 20, 2022. If you are a private big cat owner, you may keep your prohibited big cat(s) under this law, provided you register each big cat in your possession with the USFWS no later than June 18, 2023. For more information and eligibility requirements, please see the FAQ document.
Registering your Big Cat
To register your big cat, please download and complete this form (see the FAQ document) and return it to the USFWS, postmarked no later than 11:59 p.m. on June 18, 2023, at this address:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Management Authority, MS: IA
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, Virginia, 22041-3803
Please note, we will accept registration forms from the U.S. mail service, express carriers, or other delivery services. Registration is by paper copy only. The USFWS is unable to provide electronic registration within the 180-day timeframe required under the Act – we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
Information Needed to Register your Big Cat
Each big cat in your possession will need to be individually registered. You will need to provide the following information:
- Common and scientific names of the big cat
- Personal name given to the big cat, if any
- Birth date
- Physical location of the big cat
- Protocols taken to prevent breeding
- Protocols taken to prevent direct contact between the public and big cat
- Ownership, with documentation of acquisition and date of acquisition (e.g., receipt or invoice, records of transfer, breeding records, notarized statement, etc.)
- Unique identifier (i.e., a tattoo or a microchip)
- Description (e.g., eye color, scars, ear tags, etc.)
- Photographs of front and profile of each big cat. If unique identifiers include visible marks or color differences, ensure those identifiers are captured in the photograph
- Include a copy of all local, state, or federal licenses held in relation to the big cat, where applicable
The registration form and FAQ document provide additional information should read in their entirety.
Parties Submitting the Registration Form
The registration form must be completed by the principal owner or responsible party. If the prohibited wildlife species is owned by a corporation, business, trust, or other entity, the names, titles, and mailing address of each officer of the entity must be provided, as well as the address where the animal is located, if different from the registrant’s physical or mailing addresses. These names and addresses may be provided as a separate attachment to the registration form.
Deadline for Submitting the Registration Form
The USFWS will accept your registration form if it is postmarked by 11:59 p.m. on June 18, 2023. Mailed registrations postmarked after 11:59 p.m. on June 18, 2023, will not be accepted because the USFWS is unable to extend the amount of time available to register. This date is expressed in the law.
State Laws and the Act
Even if your state law allows private big cat ownership, you must register your big cat with the USFWS by June 18, 2023, unless another exception of the Act applies. (See Other Big Cat Public Safety Act Exceptions.)
Updating your Registration if your Big Cat Dies or is Moved to a New Location
It is your responsibility to notify the USFWS, via this form, of changes concerning your big cat. Death, new physical location, changes to methods to prevent breeding, and changes to methods to prevent direct contact between the public and your registered big cat must be reported within 10 calendar days of the change. See registration form and FAQ document for additional information.
In addition to registering, the Act also requires that you:
- Do not breed, acquire, or sell any big cat after the date of the enactment of the Act (December 20, 2022), regardless of whether the activity is intrastate, interstate, or international; and
- Do not allow direct contact between the public and any big cat after the Act’s enactment date (December 20, 2022).
The Act does not allow for pre-Act owners to acquire additional big cats after December 20, 2022. Only registered pre-Act big cats may be allowed to stay privately owned.
Failure to Register
If your big cat is not registered with the USFWS before 11:59 p.m. on June 18, 2023, you will be in violation of the law, unless another exception applies (see Other Big Cat Public Safety Act Exceptions).
Violators are subject to civil and criminal penalties, and big cats bred, possessed, imported, exported, transported, sold, received, acquired, or purchased contrary to the provisions of the Act are subject to forfeiture to the U.S. In short, you could be charged, fined, and lose ownership of your big cat.
What you can do to Comply with the Act if you do not Qualify for an Exception, do not Want to Register, or No Longer Wish to Possess your Big Cat
You could donate your big cat to another entity that qualifies to possess big cats under one of the Act exceptions. (See Other Big Cat Public Safety Act Exceptions)
Other Laws Related to Big Cats
It is your responsibility to follow all local, state, Tribal, and federal laws and regulations regarding prohibited wildlife species. Registration under the Big Cat Public Safety Act does not constitute authorization to engage in any activity prohibited by such laws and regulations. For example, most big cats are listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act and take (harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct) of such species and their offspring is prohibited, with limited exceptions for take authorized by statute, regulation, or permit.
Additional information may be found in the news release, registration form and FAQ document. If you have further questions, please email ManagementAuthority@fws.gov for questions about the registry or LawEnforcement@fws.gov for enforcement-related matters.