Federal Law Seeks to Protect Big Cats, as Tiger and Cougar are Rescued in Ohio

Emergency grant helps cougar, tiger, while bipartisan legislation aims to end big cat private ownership.

Posted: March 27, 2012, 8 a.m. EST

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A new law would prohibit breeding and private possession of captive big cats. .
This week, a 7-year-old white tiger named Nikita and a 10-year-old cougar named Tasha are riding a rescue trailer from Ohio 800 miles away to their new home at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is providing an emergency grant to help cover the costs of the move and the enclosures.

The rescue comes on the heels of new federal legislation which seeks to prohibit private ownership of big cats. Last month, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) that seeks to prohibit breeding and private possession of captive big cats. The "Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act" would ensure that lions, tigers and other big cats not threaten public safety or end up living in poor conditions while mistreated. The measure would also strengthen global big cat conservation efforts.

"Since 2003, IFAW has helped rescue more than 30 tigers and lions from unsanctioned shelters, closing sanctuaries and other poor and unsafe living conditions in the United States," said Gail A'Brunzo, IFAW animal rescue officer in a release. "Big cats should never be kept as pets. When these wild animals are privately owned, the animals and their owners always suffer."

Nikita's first owner, Sam Mazzola, was a breeder, exhibitor and ex-convict that used the tigress for public photo opportunities. After Mazzola's death last year, Nikita was moved to her second home in Ohio where she is today. Nikita suffers from severe temperament issues. The sight of unfamiliar people and cameras sends her into explosive reactions which sometimes result in self-inflicted injuries.

As with last year's tragedy in Zanesville, Ohio, Tasha the cougar escaped from the garage she was confined to for nine years. Afraid that the cougar would be shot dead, her previous owner didn't report the escape. Fortunately, Tasha eventually returned before she could pose a danger to people in the community.

Recognizing that stricter regulations were being put into place at the state level, with federal legislation to follow, and continued possession of these animals would prove difficult, the current owner is responsibly relinquishing them to The Wildcat Sanctuary.

More tigers live in captivity in the United States than exist in the wild today. Some 5,000 tigers live in captivity in this country, but as few as 3,000 tigers remain in the wild.  In the past 21 years, U.S. incidents involving captive big cats have resulted in 21 human deaths, 246 maulings, 254 big cat escapes, 143 big cat deaths and 131 confiscations.

This is the second big cat rescue IFAW has worked on in Ohio. In October 2007, six abandoned big cats (two lions and four tigers) were rescued from an unlicensed facility in Gambier, Ohio, and moved to sanctuaries in Florida and Texas.
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Federal Law Seeks to Protect Big Cats, as Tiger and Cougar are Rescued in Ohio

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Reader Comments

Michalle    Portland, OR

4/5/2012 9:22:57 AM

Big cats SHOULD NOT be pets! They are wild animals. People get them as kittens and can't take care of them properly when they grow up.

Aly    Hollister, CA

4/5/2012 1:17:58 AM


Kittys    Home, WI

4/4/2012 12:05:04 PM

I am glad people are trying to help. I love cats!

Jenny    Monticello, MN

4/3/2012 11:47:55 AM

These Big Cats need to live where God put them and we need to protect them so they can live in the wild.

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