social media

New York instates tiger selfie ban for big cats

It has been dubbed the “tiger selfie ban,” but new legislation in New York is actually targeting the trade which allows humans to get up close and personal with these big cats.

It has been dubbed the “tiger selfie ban,” but new legislation in New York is actually targeting the trade which allows humans to get up close and personal with these big cats.

What is it?

The New York State Assembly passed legislation on 24th June that would prevent people from getting close enough to big cats to snap photos with them. The bill is currently under review by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who needs to sign it before it can become law. 

Hugging, patting, or otherwise touching tigers, as well as lions, cougars, jaguars and leopards, while at state fairs and travelling circuses is now prohibited in New York and violating the law could result in fines of $500 for the first offence, and up to $1000 for subsequent offences.

Other US states, including Kansas, Mississippi, and Arizona, are following suit and have strengthened existing laws to address public contact issues.

Why has it been instated?

Despite claims, this legislation was not drafted for the purpose of preventing the public posting pictures of themselves posing with these jungle cats – something which has become very popular on dating sites such as Tinder.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal piece: “Thousands of daters have turned to big cats to help them catch the eye of potential mates.” Even if the bill did focus on these images, it would be hard to establish whether the photo was taken somewhere other than New York, such as south-east Asia, a popular source of the “tiger selfies.”

Although, Rosenthal does hope the bill will help prevent such photos in the first place. “It’s pre-emptive,” she said. “It’s trying to prevent this kind of behaviour. Maybe they want to look like they’re daredevils, but as anyone who works with wild animals knows, you can train them but they’re wild animals and by nature they’re unpredictable.”

Protection for endangered creatures

Instead, the bill’s author, New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal intends it as a larger protective measure related to public safety and big cats. “The purpose of this bill is to protect animal caretakers, those interacting with wild animals, bystanders, and the animals themselves by preventing direct contact between wild animals and members of the public,” the legislation reads. “There is no safe or humane result when direct contact with wild animals is allowed.”

But public safety is not the only concern addressed by this bill. It seems it will go some way in protecting the cubs which are used for tourist pictures. A loophole in US legislation allows tiger cubs to be displayed between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks, thus facilitating a trade in breeding cubs for petting purposes.

Animal cruelty?

Constant handling and photographs can stress the animals, which are often prematurely separated from their mother and are defanged and declawed. Exhibitors are also allegedly encourage customers to blow in the cubs’ faces, yank their tails or dangle them by holding under their forelegs.

They are often then dumped or kept in tiny steel and concrete cells without the space and stimulation they need when they become too big to handle, according to a report by Howard Baskin, who chairs the advisory board of the non-profit sanctuary Big Cat Rescue.

Animal welfare is an issue that appears important to Rosenthal; she has already seen some success protecting big cats this year by introducing a bill banning the cosmetic tattooing and piercing of animals. At the moment, people are still able to pose with bears and monkeys.

The comments

The legislation has sparked much debate with some supporting the bill, while others predicting it will be ineffective and pointless. Comments on the American news site illustrate both sides:

Drake3000 Jun 25, 2014

There are too damned many rules and regulations in this country. Focus on the economy and reduce spending please. You don’t need to tell me to stay away from Lions and stuff.

321Cue Jun 25, 2014

This law is all but totally useless and pointless. I am not saying taking a picture with a tiger is a smart idea, but for those dead set on a tiger selfie, this law is very easily circumvented. All you need is a plane ticket to somewhere more legally flexible, and you can take all the tiger selfies you want and New York state can’t do a thing about it.

Endmathabusenow7 Jun 25, 2014

Some entertainment venues have people stand with big cats to have their pictures taken. I would not let my children do that at a theme park in Florida that did this as part of one of its shows. People don’t realise that these animals are still wild; even some expert performers have been maimed or killed by wild animals in shows.

Kelly Donithan, a Wildlife Rescue Program Officer at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) hopes the legislation will raise awareness of the dark side of this industry. If people knew understood more of what these animals go through, they wouldn’t patronize tiger-petting venues at all,” she says. The IFAW says it is “spearheading” federal legislation to protect big cats nationwide.

What do you think of the tiger selfie ban? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo: Koshy Koshy / Flickr