From the WildCat Chat Archives: Step right up folks…

Step right up Folks! Gotcha lion! Gotcha Tiger! Gotcha AK47! Gotcha politician here! Step right up!

Open any newspaper, open any tablet newsfeed, on any given day, in any given city, the reports are there−another fatal shooting−another big cat escape or attack. Some make the headlines. Some appear below the fold. Some are buried in a side bar. They are there nonetheless every day.

Collectively we remain on the downside of a reactive responsive to two unimaginable tragic and violent episodes in our society both of which preventable, both of which tore our hearts and made us demand change from our state and federal officials. But our voices were unheard.

These two seemingly isolated separate tragedies in Zanesville, Ohio and Newtown, Connecticut occurring a year apart from each other have so much in common and so much to say about our American culture and society: our fevered reactions, our call to duty, our resolve, our forgetfulness, our lapse into business as usual, our denial that anything like this will ever happen again. And both raised the standard by which future tragedies will be measured and the level of our collective response.

In Zanesville we learned that an unstable individual was legally acquiring an insane number of big cats and other exotic animals on his private farm along with an arsenal of weapons that he later began to illegally trade.

In Newtown we learned that a suburban mother with questionable social stability was legally collecting an arsenal of military weapons she kept alongside her socially and emotionally challenged teenage son.

The public debate that ensued following each tragic event called for relatively the same changes in regulating the private ownership of big cats and purchasing of weapons: stricter licensing, special liability insurance, psychological tests, limiting the number and type, national databases, and criminal background checks to name a few.

Ironically left out of the debate are a demonstration of education and training, financial stability, and a bona fide declaration of intended use.

Why does an individual need to own 50 big cats? Why does a suburban mother need to collect military weapons? What good could possible derive from either? Surely neither of these collections is within the spirit of the Endangered Species Act, the Animal Welfare Act or our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. Against whom? Great Britain? Each other? Our pet tiger?

Not surprisingly, private owners of big cats and exhibitors, in times of public demand for change, align themselves with the Safari Club International (SCI), National Rifle Association (NRA) and K Street lobbyists. Why? Because it is their best monetary platform to argue their individual rights are being violated much in the same way as gun owners.

Despite the fact that annually less than 7% of the total American adult population applied for and received hunting licenses, hunters claim their tradition and God given right to hunt is as American as apple pie and baseball. Since when is a military assault weapon required to hunt deer? Perhaps it is needed to kill the lion that was born in captivity under the need for conservation education and scientific research that has outgrown its usefulness, is too expensive to maintain, and sold to a caged hunt.

In response to Zanesville, the State of Ohio recently passed a new law on exotic animal ownership; a much watered-down version of the original bill, but a step in the right direction. Yet, they returned five of the big cats that escaped the carnage to the same hellish farm existence. In a newly proposed gun regulation, the state will no longer require a competency certification for permit renewal.

Meanwhile the Big Cats & Public Safety Act (H.R.1998 and S.1381) new federal legislation was introduced in March 2012 that would end indiscriminate breeding of big cats is now classified as dead wood—it never made it out of committee and failed to pass. Subsequently in the 2013-2014 congressional term, essentially the same bills were introduced in the House and Senate and met the same fate as their predecessors. No new legislation was introduced.

In response to Newtown, public pressure on federal officials including President Obama, called for swift and immediate action for stricter federal gun control regulations. President Obama, in a series of press conferences, announced his plans for “changing the face of gun control in this country.” Predictably, President Obama’s gun control initiatives and the public demand for swift action to introduce new federal gun control legislation, was given a cursory response by Congress. No new federal gun control legislation was introduced in the House or
the Senate.

We are living in a society we collectively created that evolves solely on economics. We seem to value life only when it comes to a tragic end. The high cost to implement and enforce changes in the federal and state laws compared to the social change is simply not worth it.

The legal and illegal trade in weapons and wildlife (living animals, their parts and derivatives) is astronomical. Illegal trade in wildlife is well over $10 billion annually. It lines up in third place behind illegal drugs and weapons trading. And finally the elephant in the room−campaign financing.

Our state and federal officials only need our votes at election time. They answer solely to the individuals, organizations and entities that paid their way into or back into office. Which are, and this is shocking, the same voices SCI, NRA, K Street lobbyists, calling for less regulations and less government interference.

It is one big vicious circle or rather ferocious circus. Until our elected officials are accountable solely to those they represent and are able to make the difficult decisions without fear of repercussion or injury from those with capital muscle, all of us—big cats included—no matter how loudly we roar will continue to dodge the preventable proverbial bullet.

Lisa A. Salamat, Esq., Chief Executive Officer, WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society
(Originally published in March 2013; rev. May 2015.) See WildCat Chat Compilation 2008 to 2013.

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