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Lion mauling death: How dangerous are private zoos? (+video)

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She notes that some 5,000 tigers are kept in captivity in the state of Texas alone, while roughly 3,000 remain in the wild globally.

Cat Haven, the central California wildlife park where Wednesday’s death occurred, is regulated by both the USDA and the State Fish and Wildlife Service. The facility had passed a USDA inspection as recently as last month. However Cat Haven falls short of qualifying under international standards as a true sanctuary, which neither breed nor exhibit animals, says Monica Engebretson of Born Free USA.

According to Ms. Engebretson, trade in exotic animals continues to expand in the many unregulated and under-reported roadside menageries, private zoos, and what she calls “pseudo” sanctuaries.

California has some of the strictest state laws governing care for wild animals, she notes, but it is one of only 21 states with meaningful regulations. Six states have none at all, she points out.

“It’s always difficult to give admonishments at a time like this,” she says, but adds that at minimum, stricter protocols governing behavior around animals might have prevented a tragedy.

“Cats are predators,” adds Zara McDonald, executive director of the Bay Area Felidae Conservation Fund, “and I don’t care how tame anyone thinks one might be, they are always a wild animal with the ability to hurt humans.”

IFAW is calling on Congress to pass the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, proposed legislation introduced this past fall that IFAW says will be reintroduced next month with bipartisan support.

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