Earlier this year I released my first documentary, and a major focus of the film is exposing the ugly truth behind lion cub petting. The Instagram Explore page frequently features media of people cuddling lion and tiger cubs all over the world, but in countries like South Africa, China and Thailand, many of these animals are slaughtered when they’re too big to pose for tourist selfies. It is still legal in the U.S. to pet big cat cubs, and while the majority of these big cats are not killed to supply the illegal wildlife trade, normalizing contact with big cats (and promoting it on social media…) can encourage folks to seek these experiences in other countries. However, if individual nations — including the U.S. — ban cub petting, it will be far easier to help consumers and tourists make informed decisions. If education and legislation can change the way we see these animals, and therefore change our behavior towards them, it could prompt a global movement. It’s entirely up to us.
My film was shot in South Africa and Namibia, and shortly after its release, I realized it wasn’t reaching people on a local (read: actionable) level. Around that time I started looking into sanctuaries and nonprofits in the U.S., and I learned about the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which has since passed the House Natural Resources Committee, though it is still awaiting a Senate committee assignment. The proposed legislation will prohibit individuals who are not licensed by the USDA from owning big cats, and it will also restrict direct contact between big cats and the public. Not only will this reduce risks to people and improve the welfare of big cats in the U.S., but it can help prevent captive and wild populations of tigers, lions and other threatened species from being illegally slaughtered and poached to supply the global wildlife trade.
I wrote a piece for @action4ifaw outlining the ways this bill can benefit global populations, and it would mean the world to me if you read it — and shared it. It’s linked in my IG stories, and in my “BIG CAT PSA” story highlights. The link for my documentary is still in my bio, if you’d like to check that out.