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Law bars public from interacting with big cats

By Ethan Sandweiss, IPB News | Published on in Business, Entertainment, Government, Politics

A new Indiana law prohibits direct public contact with big cats and bears. The regulation is meant to outlaw roadside zoos and big cat breeding operations where tiger cubs are routinely discarded once they’re too large to interact with visitors.

Indiana laws currently allow private citizens to own any type of exotic animal with the proper permit. The state has seen its share of exotic animal owners and breeders, such as a private zoo that was shut down in 2020.

However, in the past few years lawmakers have taken exotic animal breeding programs more seriously.

According to Joe Taft, founder and director of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana, nearly all of these organizations have already been shut down.

“I don’t know that there are really a lot of big cats left in Indiana,” Taft said. “What the bill does is prohibit the kind of situation where you have baby tigers being exploited for the first few months of their life and then abandoned or euthanized.”

Taft believes the law is well-intentioned, but in the aftermath of recent crackdowns it won’t have much of an effect. Most of the cats coming to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center are from operations outside of the state.

READ MORE: Some new Indiana laws’ effects come after July 1, including income tax cut

One component of the law that will affect the center is a new requirement for double barrier fencing around enclosures. Taft agrees this measure could increase safety at some locations, but he feels that it’s an unnecessary burden for his organization. The Exotic Feline Rescue Center has other safety measures in place which Taft said have been sufficient for the past 30 years.

“Barrier fence operations have cost us a lot of money,” Taft said. “We have worked on that pretty much nonstop for the past two and a half month, and that’s work I would’ve much rather put directly into improving the lives and conditions of the cats.”

Roadside zoos have been condemned by major environmental and animal welfare organizations for animal abuse and safety violations.