The New York State Legislature passed a pair of wildlife protection bills last week that cracks down on guys taking selfies while cuddling lethargic looking tigers — a theme for profile pictures that has taken off on dating sites like Tinder.
Passed during the legislative session that ended on June 19, the legislation would make it illegal for anyone who owns or exhibits a big cat — including tigers, lions, and leopards — to knowingly allow the public to have direct contact with the animals.
According to the bill, introduced by Manhattan Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, its purpose is “to protect animal caretakers, those interacting with wild animals, bystanders, and the animals themselves by preventing direct contact between wild animals and members of the public.”
“Though the photos may be cute and the animals may look sweet and fluffy, they are dangerous wild animals capable of serious violence, and the public should not be permitted to come into such close contact with them,” Rosenthal said in a statement after she introduced the bill in March.
While the bill only prohibits making the cats available for photo ops, there has been some excitement that the law would greatly diminish the amount of "tiger selfies" that online-dating site users have grown accustomed to seeing.
The photos have apparently become a common phenomenon on the location based dating app Tinder, even inspiring Tumblr pages like Tinder Guys With Tigers.
In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that “thousands of daters” were relying on big cats to help them lure in potential suitors.
Rosenthal, however, has said she was not previously aware of the online trend, which consists of men draped on, cuddling with, and posing next to tigers, typically in settings resembling zoos or wildlife parks.
"It's only after I passed the bill that I started hearing about [tiger selfies on dating sites] but it certainly wasn't directed at people who use social media to date," Rosenthal told CNET.
Rosenthal told CNET that the purpose of the bill is meant to be preventative and said it would be difficult to track the place of origin.
Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told VICE News that the bill will otherwise have no impact on people posting these photos online.
“It could potentially get the owner of the tiger in trouble, if that owner (and the tiger) lived in New York, but the guy posing with the cat would be in the clear,” Cardozo said. “The law absolutely would not ban the posting of tiger-man-cuddle pictures.”
But the fate of the "tiger selfie" is pretty minor compared to the actual reasons Rosenthal introduced the bill in the first place.
Lauren Schuster, the assemblywoman's chief of staff, told VICE News that the crux of the bill is the danger presented when someone is allowed contact with these animals, especially when they are held in roadside zoos and “treated incredibly poorly.”
Schuster identified instances where people have been injured, like the 2006 case in Saratoga when a four-year-old was mauled by a white tiger half his age at a county fair. The fair operator was charged with a citation and misdemeanor.
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, at least 24 people have been killed and nearly 300 injured by big cats in the past two decades.
“Big cats are dangerous animals,” Andrea Heydlauff, the vice president of big cat conservation organization Panthera, told VICE News. “There’s no way there should ever be any type of interaction like this where people can be so close and posing.”
While Panthera's main focus is preserving the animals in the wild, Heydlauff said it was “pretty archaic” that there are even traveling circuses and roadside stands in the US allowing people to get close to the animals.
“There are way too many questions about the safety of these operations, for cats and for the people,” she said, explaining that an accredited zoo would never allow people to pose with animals.
If signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, this bill would impact carnivals, circuses, and zoos around the country where these cats are held in questionable conditions.
There are an estimated 20,000 big cats held in backyards and roadside zoos.
Andrea said the legislation is an important first step, but she would like to see further legislation banning the animals from these type of venues.
“There are good places to go to see them and bad places to go,” Andrea said. “If you want to see tigers, go to Tiger Mountain in the Bronx Zoo.”
Image via Flickr
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