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To the delight of some and the dismay of others, purchasing wild animals -- lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! -- has been relatively easy in the United States. Private individuals, not just zoos and sanctuaries, were able to amass collections of exotic animals, sometimes with tragic results.
But the days of stocking your mansion or estate with rare species may be over. Two new federal laws regarding the breeding, purchase, and sale of tigers in the U.S. will increase oversight and curb illicit tiger ownership. So getting a Bengal for your birthday may not be so easy anymore.
As The Washington Post pointed out, there are more tigers living in captivity in the United States than living in the wild worldwide. And nearly all of those tigers are so-called "generic tigers" -- those whose bloodlines can't be confirmed as purely Bengal or Siberian. Until now, the federal government didn't monitor the purchase and sale of generic tigers.
Under the new federal guidelines, however, parties engaged in the interstate trade of all tigers, purebred and generic, will need to either obtain a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or register under the federal Captive-bred Wildlife Registration program. As efforts to curb wild tiger poaching worldwide have increased, Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe believes "This will be a positive driver for tiger conservation."
And new regulations from the Department of Agriculture prohibit zoos, circuses, and other businesses that display big cats from allowing the public to handle tiger cubs less than four weeks old. Such operations were known to use cubs and other young animals as photo props.
"Effectively this addresses the most egregious practices," Anna Frostic, the Humane Society's senior attorney for wildlife and animal research, told The Washington Post. "It makes it clear that they are cracking down on this business practice of breeding tigers, immediately pulling them from their moms and subjecting them to public contact."
Some conservationists, however, don't believe the regulations go far enough. Even the Fish and Wildlife Service admitted on its website that the new regulation "is not major in scope and would create only a modest financial or paperwork burden on the affected members of the general public." So you can probably still buy a tiger. But if you're buying it from out-of-state, you may have a few more forms to fill out.