Legal Aid

The WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society is establishing a national network of pro bono attorneys to provide indirect legal services and assistance to other attorneys and organizations that are preparing or engaged in lawsuits that involve the protection of native and non-native wildcats and their habitats. WCCLAS in-house counsel will pursue lawsuits that protect and defend all native and non-native wildcats and their habitats, prepare amicus curiae briefs, work with state and federal enforcement agencies to ensure existing laws are enforced, and engage indirect and grass roots lobbying initiatives at the federal and state levels to strengthen existing laws and propose new legislation where needed.

Legal Professionals: For attorneys who are interested in providing pro bono services and to join our national network of pro bono attorneys, please complete our Attorney Application (Pro Bono Services) and return to WCCLAS. We will contact you upon receipt of your application. Questions regarding our Legal Aid program may be sent to:


Legislative Research and Resources

The legal staff of WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society has researched and summarized existing federal and state laws affecting native and non-native wildcats which are provided below for your reference. The legal staff will continually update the summary reports when new legislation is introduced, with the status on pending legislation, and with new and final opinions of federal and state cases.


Law Library of Congress, Report for Congress:
Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats (An International Law Survey)

The report surveys the different legal approaches taken by twenty-one counties and the European Union in regulating the private possession of big cats. The individual country surveys describe the legal provisions regarding keeping big cats in captivity, the requirements for licenses, and permission for breeding. Some surveys include a discussion on the procedures for zoo accrediation, trade in wild animals and pentalties for violations.

Proposed & New Federal & State Rules

September 2013: In conjunction with President Obama's Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking, the members of the Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking were announced. The Council will advise the Secretary of the Department of Interior, Sally Jewell, and members of the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, a federal interagency group, on ways to improve coordination and implementation of domestic and international efforts to fight wildlife trafficking and poaching. For more information see Secretary Jewell's Press Release

We recommend visiting ~ Annamiticus ~ an educational nonprofit organization that provides news and information about endangered species, illegal wildlife trade, and wildlife crime.

August 5, 2013: The USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) received a petition requesting amendments to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations and standards which, in part, would prohibit licensees from allowing individuals (with certain exceptions) to have direct or physical contact with big cats, bears, or nonhuman primates of any age; define the term sufficient distance; prohibit the public handling of young or immature big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates; and prohibit separation of such animals from their mothers before the species-typical age of weaning unless it is medically necessary. The petition is available to the public and APHIS is soliciting comments regarding the petition along with any additional issues that should also be considered. Comments may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Or mail to: Regulatory Analysis and Development, Docket No. APHIS-2012-0107, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8,4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. The comment period is open until November 18, 2013.
Petition to Amend AWA ~ Prohibiting Public Contact with Big Cats ....

USDA's Animal Care program recently issued new guidance to its inspectors for evaluating the height of enclosures for lions and tigers at stationary facilities. This guidance is aimed at assuring that USDA inspections will be consistent when determining a facility's compliance with the Animal Welfare Act regulations.
USDA Height Enclosure Guidelines for Lions and Tigers

On July 31, 2013 USDA/APHIS issued a stay of regulations for the establishment of contingency plans and training of personnel for research facilities and dealers, exhibitors, intermediate handlers, and carriers. In the Federal Register notice, APHIS states they intend to conduct an additional review to further consider the impact of contingency plan requirements on regulated entities, unique circumstances and costs that may vary by the type and size of business. The stay is indefinite.
Federal Register Handling of Animals: Contingency Plans; Stay of Regulations.

July 30, 2013 - Washington, D.C. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) introduced a new bill, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, S. 1381. A similar measure was introduced in the House (H.R. 1998) in May and is pending review in the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs. The Senate bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.

May 16, 2013 - Washington, D.C. "Today, Congressman Howard Buck McKeon (R-CA 25) and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-CA 46) introduced H.R. 1998, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act. The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act would prohibit private possession of big cats, such as lions, tigers, panthers and cheetahs, except at highly-qualified facilities, like accredited zoos, where they can be properly cared for and restrained. Additionally, since no agency, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), state agencies, or local first responders, currently knows exactly how many dangerous big cats are being kept in private hands, under what conditions, and in what locations, the bill would require 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 stiff penalties including fines as much as $20,000, and up to five years in jail."

WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society fully supports this important initiative and urges the U.S. Congress to implement this urgent measure into law.

August 2013:

Commercial Filming and Similar Projects and Still Photograph Activities

A Rule by the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. This rule implements legislation that directs the Department of the Interior to establish permits and reasonable fees for commercial filming activities or similar projects and certain still photography activities.

UPDATE ~ September 2013: Texas bill failed!

April 2013: Texas introduces new bills banning the private ownership of big cats and certain primates . . .

Legal and Legislative Archive


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