By Janna Clark, FOX23 NewsNovember 16, 2022 at 4:53 pm CST
A federal bill aimed at preventing private ownership of big cats has stalled in Washington.
Oklahoma Senator James Lankford has additional questions about the Big Cat Public Safety Act, and the lawmaker is holding up passage of the bill.
The release of “Tiger King” spurred conversations about the morality of the private ownership of big cats.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known as Joe Exotic, still sits behind bars.
A jury convicted Maldonado-Passage in 2019 on multiple charges, including wildlife offenses and hiring someone to kill his enemy, animal rights activist Carole Baskin.
Baskin has been trying to pass a federal bill similar to the Big Cat Public Safety Act for years. Maldonado-Passage has been fighting to prevent it.
FOX23 spoke to Baskin about the bill.
“It’s so important because it will end the abuse of big cats,” said Baskin. “And we’ve been working on it since back in the 90s.”
Baskin says the first step was passing the Captive Wildlife Safety Act in 2003, which made it illegal to travel across state lines to sell a big cat.
But Baskin said the law had a loophole, which the Big Cat Public Safety Act would correct.
“It would stop the breeding for cubs heading to where people pay to have their pictures made with a cub,” said Baskin. “Because they can only uses those cubs between 8 to 12 weeks, and then they can take a finger off of a small child. So it creates a lot of breeding and discarding of the cats.”
The Big Cat Public Safety Act easily passed the House in July, with a vote of 278 to 134.
The same day of the vote, a volunteer at Baskin’s rescue was mauled. The animal nearly tore her arm off.
“It was absolutely horrible,” said Baskin. “And it underscores the necessity for this kind of a bill. There shouldn’t be people like our amazing volunteers who take care of these cats. being at risk of life and limb every day because of the fact that our government has been failing to rein in this horrific trade in these animals.”
The Big Cat Public Safety Act moved to the Senate after it passed in the House. One lawmaker is holding out, keeping the bill from becoming law.
Maldonado-Passage sent an email to FOX23, calling Lankford his hero.
“He knows that the Big Cat Safety Act is a scam, and that it’ll do nothing for big cats.”
Maldonado-Passage says he’s been fighting against the Big Cat Public Safety Act for years. Six years ago, he personally reached out to Senator Lankford to talk about it.
“In 2016, I gave Senator Lankford a book I made showing him the scams of how Carole and her friends where running with the big cat industry and how she paid spies to work in my zoo, follow me around the county,” said Maldonado-Passage. “Senator Lankford was the only person who cared to send his top aid down to my zoo to sit and listen to all of this.”
FOX23 asked Senator Lankford’s office for an interview, which was declined. However, he did send a statement.
“Senator Lankford has unanswered questions about the Big Cat Public Safety Act’s federal preemption over state laws and the weak liability requirements for private owners of big cats. These dangerous animals are a risk to law enforcement and communities. Our office has recommended changes in the text to resolve his concerns, and he is waiting for the bill sponsors to respond.”
Maldonado-Passage’s former right-hand man is also against the bill.
John Reinke was the manager at the Wynnewood zoo.
“When you go through this Big Cat Safety Act, she [Baskin] is exempt from all of it so she can keep the cats. She wants control of all the cats in the U.S. People really need to read that Big Cat Safety Act to know what it is,” said Reinke.
Maldonado-Passage said the bill was so important to Carole, that last year she was willing to help him get out of prison if he’d support it.
“Carole Baskin goes public and says that she would help me get a pardon or a reduced sentence if I sponsored or supported the Big Cat Safety Act, and then rattled out everybody that I knew,” said Maldonado-Passage.
He’s convinced Baskin wants the bill passed to her benefit. She says it’s for the animals.
“We would benefit by virtue of the fact that we don’t have to be around anymore,” said Baskin. “So for me, that’s a huge win. It won’t help us in anyway, financially, by any stretch of the imagination.”
Baskin said if the bill passes, the cats in private ownership would eventually die out. “This whole problem will be gone, and Big Cat Rescue won’t have to exist for that purpose,” she said. “We’ll probably always be involved in rehab and release of native wild cats. But we don’t ever want to see cats in cages.”