Federal Issue Brief

 H.R. 4122/S. 3547, Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act

AVMA Position:



Introduced by Congressman Howard McKeon (CA-25th), H.R. 4122 would amend the Lacey Act to clarify provisions enacted by the Captive Wildlife Safety Act (CWSA), to further the conservation of certain wildlife species. The bill would prohibit private possession of big cats except at certain facilities, such as accredited zoos. It requires any persons who currently possess big cats to register those animals with USDA in order to keep the cats they currently own. The bill would also outlaw the breeding of any big cat except at accredited zoos and research and educational institutions. Violators of the law could have their animals confiscated along with any vehicles or equipment used to aid in their illegal activity, and could face penalties including fines as much as $20,000, and up to five years in jail.


  • Issues related to ownership, transportation, welfare, and exhibition of big cats are regulated under multiple federal laws including the Lacey Act, the CWSA, the Animal Welfare Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service has released a fact sheet summarizing and identifying issues with the CWSA.


  • While the bill’s stated goal is to clarify provisions of the CWSA and Lacey Act regarding big cats, it actually appears to weaken provisions of the Lacey Act regarding ownership and possession of these animals. 
  • The bill removes a requirement in the Lacey Act for sanctuaries to be accredited. Removing this requirement creates a loophole that may facilitate inappropriate private ownership of big cats. 
  • While the bill would still require persons owning or possessing these animals to be registered with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the bill eliminates language within the Lacey Act that currently requires those persons to be inspected by APHIS as well as to be registered and inspected by other Federal agencies with oversight of respective species.
  • The bill only provides exemptions for big cats registered with APHIS that were born prior to enactment of the amendments. It is not clear whether this would affect the ability of exhibitions that use big cats (e.g., circuses) to register and use big cats born after enactment of the amendments.

Current Status:

House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

AVMA Contact: 

Dr. Whitney Miller, Assistant Director, Governmental Relations Division, 202-289-3211.