COVID-19 Danger Prompts Call to Feds to Halt Cub Petting, Including at G.W. Zoo

After Big Cats Contract Virus at the Bronx Zoo, PETA Takes Action to Protect Vulnerable Cubs From Infected Humans

For Immediate Release:
May 1, 2020

David Perle 202-483-7382

Wynnewood, Okla.

Following reports that big cats at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for COVID-19, PETA has submitted a petition for rulemaking to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) calling on the agency to issue an emergency rule banning public encounters with big-cat cubs during the pandemic. The action comes as several states begin reopening and as notorious Tiger King exhibitor Jeff Lowe resumes operations at his roadside zoo, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, a.k.a. “G.W. Zoo.”

In the petition, PETA points out that stressful public handling puts vulnerable cubs—who’ve been prematurely separated from their mothers for use in the encounters and whose immune systems are not fully developed—at an increased risk of not only contracting the virus but also not recovering if infected.

“Tearing babies away from their mothers and passing them around as photo props is cruel in the best of times, but it may be deadly during a pandemic,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. “PETA is calling on officials to get ahead of the curve here and protect cubs from being put in harm’s way.”

PETA has longstanding campaigns against exploitative facilities that offer big-cat cub petting, including Lowe’s roadside zoo. Following a 2017 PETA complaint relating to his big-cat cub operation in Las Vegas, authorities raided his home, seized two big-cat cubs and a lemur, and cited him for failing to have the required licenses to operate a business and possess exotic animals in the city. Lowe was ordered to pay $10,000 and issued a “stay out of trouble” order. He apparently violated the terms of his plea agreement, and the case is still ongoing.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” and which opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview—requested that the USDA issue an interpretive rule making it clear that big-cat cub petting will be considered a violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act during the pandemic, if the agency refuses to promulgate a regulation.

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