PETA Petitions USDA to Ban Big-Cat Cub Petting Amid COVID-19

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

For Immediate Release:
April 29, 2020

David Perle 202-483-7382


This morning—following reports that big cats at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for COVID-19—PETA 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 consider reopening measures and as notorious Tiger King exhibitor Bhagavan “Doc” Antle resumes operations at his roadside zoo, Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina.

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 Antle’s roadside zoo and former drug kingpin Mario Tabraue’s Zoological Wildlife Foundation. Joseph Maldonado-Passage (aka “Joe Exotic”), the subject of Tiger King, told PETA that Antle puts some tiger cubs who’ve grown too old for cub-petting events into a gas chamber to kill them. PETA has evidence that Antle sent “aged-out” cubs to a circus trainer. Both Antle and Tabraue have histories of federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations—but they still operate.

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 AWA during the pandemic, if the agency refuses to promulgate a regulation.

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