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Quigley Leads Letter to USDA on Animal Welfare Enforcement

Apr 27, 2020
Press Release
In wake of “Tiger King,” Members call for increased enforcement

U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), the lead House sponsor of the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1380), led a bipartisan group of members in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to express their concern with current enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The recent release of the Netflix series “Tiger King” has brought new public attention to unaccredited animal parks operating in violation of the standards outlined in the AWA.

In their letter, the members wrote, “At multiple points during the series, individuals employed by these unaccredited zoos openly mock the USDA inspection process and flagrantly violate AWA regulations on camera. These instances are significant examples of the need for aggressive enforcement of USDA regulations and the importance of putting animal welfare and public safety first.”

“Tiger King” included multiple examples of AWA violations and featured animal park owners who flaunted USDA regulations. The animal abuse in the series has led to a public outcry and increased attention to USDA’s enforcement procedures.

“While it’s disappointing that ‘Tiger King’ didn’t focus more on the animals kept in squalid roadside zoos, it did reinforce the need for the federal government to enforce existing animal welfare laws,” said Quigley. “The Animal Welfare Act is the bedrock protection for animals in the United States and while it may not always go far enough, and bills like the Big Cat Public Safety Act should be enacted immediately, strengthening AWA enforcement will go a long way towards ending the worst animal welfare violations and ensuring that as many animals as possible are safe and well treated.”

Quigley is the lead sponsor of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which has also experienced a surge in support following “Tiger King’s” popularity. The bill was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee last year and currently awaits a vote on by the full House.

A copy of the letter is available HERE. The text of the letter is available below.

April 27, 2020

Kevin Shea
Administrator
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
4700 River Rd.
Riverdale, MD 20737

Dear Administrator Shea,

We write to convey our serious concerns with the current enforcement of standards under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which have come to the attention of the general public with the airing of the recent Netflix series “Tiger King”. Joined by the co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus and the House co-leads the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1380), we wish to ensure that the well-being of animals regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) remains a top priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

This documentary series, which focuses on a number of animal parks who are unaccredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, has shone an unusually bright and unflattering spotlight on facilities that are in clear violation of the Animal Welfare Act. At multiple points during the series, individuals employed by these unaccredited zoos openly mock the USDA inspection process and flagrantly violate AWA regulations on camera. These instances are significant examples of the need for aggressive enforcement of USDA regulations and the importance of putting animal welfare and public safety first.

“Tiger King” has drawn serious attention because of the outrageous and unethical behavior displayed by the owners of these facilities. Many of the exhibitors featured on this series continue to have their licenses renewed, despite numerous documented violations of federal law. People with a history of AWA violations must not have their licenses renewed, especially without increased scrutiny. We urge your agency to issue the final rule eliminating automatic license renewals and requiring licensees to demonstrate compliance before receiving a new license.

The massive public attention to “Tiger King” has demonstrated that there is substantial interest among Americans in holding animal abusers accountable, and we believe the federal government must use this moment to do just that. As we continue our work in Congress to strengthen protections for animals, we urge your agency to uphold those that are already federal law. We stand ready to assist and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,