New York State deserves a huge round of applause for enacting a new law banning direct contact between people and captive big cats! The ban will go into effect February 7th and will officially make tiger selfies illegal in the state.

While this may seem like a strange law to put into effect, taking selfies with captive big cats has sadly become a huge epidemic not only in New York, but also across the U.S. The fact that there are more tigers living in captivity in U.S. backyards than there are currently in the wild shows that we have a major problem here.

Attractions featuring captive big cats often advertise that they were founded to help “conserve” highly endangered species, however, many breed their animals in captivity and trade or sell them at will. Although the owners of these animals claim that the cats have been hand raised to be docile creatures, in reality, the animals are drugged or have been severely abused throughout their lives to learn to fear their human captors. Cubs often have their canine teeth and claws removed, which is an incredibly painful experience.

Across the U.S., the only qualification necessary to own and display a big cat in many states is a driver’s license, place of residence and a USDA-permit. There is no requirement for keepers to have a background in zoology, or even an understanding of the proper diet or conditions that these animals require. More often than not, this leads to sick animals and dangerous interactions between people and the captive cats.

We also have to remember that these are still wild animals and after years of frustration and abuse, they are apt to attack their trainers, or guests. Not to mention, a recent undercover investigation into two major facilities that allow selfies with big cats found that many of the cubs were infected with giardia and ringworm, which can easily be passed to the people handling them. Another major concern is the risk that a full-grown tiger or lion could escape and run loose through the local community.

New York’s new law does not ban these attractions outright, but it requires all big cat exhibitors to keep a permanent, physical barrier between the cats and guests. Sorry folks, no more posing with your head in a live lion’s mouth!

“If the public knew of the suffering wild animals in entertainment experience, people would never choose to see them this way,” said Priscilla Ma of World Animal Protection. “Tigers used as photo props live their whole lives in unnatural conditions that can never meet their needs. To New Yorkers that love animals, our message is simple: see them in the wild.”

This is an incredible step for New York and we hope that it is the first of many that ultimately leads to a full ban on big cat ownership in New York – and one day the entire U.S.

These animals belong in the wild and should never have to suffer in captivity for the sake of a selfie.

Image source: Diego Cambaiso/Flickr