OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – Advocates for big cats had a big win this week after the Big Cat Public Safety Act, also known as the “Tiger King Bill,” passed by unanimous consent in the Senate.

“We have really solved a major, major problem that has been going on in Oklahoma for decades, many years,” said Marty Irby, of Animal Wellness Action. 

Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue, who also starred in the “Tiger King” Netflix show added that she’s “elated” about the news. 

“The Big Cat Public Safety Act is the very first step to ending the illegal smokescreen that is caused by allowing people to have these animals without any kind of regulation,” said Baskin. 

The legislation will restrict private ownership of big cats like lions, tigers and leopards as pets and for breeding. Current owners of big cats who would otherwise be restricted will be able to keep the animals, as long as they do not breed, acquire or sell any prohibited wildlife species; do not allow direct contact between cats and the public; and register the cat with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Everyone who owns a big cat that fits this description will have to register that cat with the federal government so they can all be tracked for law enforcement,” said Irby. 

According to Baskin, the bill won’t impact public, USDA-licensed operations. 

The bill also takes aim at the “cub-petting” industry assailed by animal welfare activists, in which members of the public pay to play or take photos with tiger cubs or other big cats.

The measure passed through the United States House of Representatives by a 278-134 vote in late July. All votes against were Republican and 63 Republicans joined with Democrats to vote in the legislation’s favor.

However, once the bill got to the Senate, three holds were placed on it, preventing it from passing by unanimous consent. Two of those holds were quickly lifted, leaving Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma as the only Senator stopping the measure from becoming law for about three months.  

Senator Lankford lifted that hold on Tuesday night. 

His office explained the reasoning for this decision to KFOR:

“After Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut confirmed to Senator Lankford that he would help ensure solutions to Senator Lankford’s initial concerns—that the bill would lead to federal preemption over state laws and weak liability requirements for private owners of big cats, which are a dangerous risk to law enforcement and communities—would be included in the next appropriate legislative opportunity on the issue of big cats next year, Senator Lankford removed his hold on the bill, and it advanced to the President’s desk. One area where this could be addressed is in the upcoming Farm Bill expected to be considered next year.

Lankford needed assurances that state laws would prevail, if they were as strong as the new federal law, so that state law is still respected in that area. The agreement he secured requires additional protections for state laws, while still protecting the communities and law enforcement.”

  • Senator Lankford’s Office (R-OK)  

The bill will now head to President Biden’s desk. Biden is expected to sign the bill, having released a statement of support for it in July.

“We really greatly appreciate he and his staff stepping up and releasing that hold and allowing us to have this signed into law,” said Irby. “Oklahomans should be proud to see this get done.”