NORFOLK, Va. — "Direct contact with dangerous captive animals prohibited. It is unlawful for any keeper to provide or offer to provide to any member of the public, for free or for a cost, direct contact with a dangerous captive animal."
That's how the Virginia General Assembly's new law reads. In conjunction with carefully explained vocabulary and other parameters, the law effectively stops "cub petting" in the Commonwealth.
It doesn't go into effect until July 1, 2021, but here's how it will change animal laws in the state:
- People will not be able to pet lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars or big cat hybrids in the state - whether they pay for it or not
- The law does not apply to clouded leopards
- People will also not be able to be close enough for physical contact with captive bears or nonhuman primates
- People will not be able to get close to these animals for photography opportunities unless there is a permanent physical barrier in place to prevent contact with the animal
- Violations will be considered a class 3 misdemeanor, and offenders will be charged up to $500.
The law was introduced in the state Senate in mid-January. It passed the Senate on February 10 and passed in both chambers on March 6, before the popular Tiger King documentary aired on Netflix.
The new bill barely scraped through in the House. The final vote was 52-48.
Governor Ralph Northam signed it into law on April 2.
Virginia already bans private ownership of wild felines.
According to Big Cat Rescue's website, to own an exotic cat in the state, people need to be registered with the USDA or have scientific or educational purposes and have an import permit to get the animal across state lines.
Hampton Roads and northeastern North Carolina have their own escaped wild cat legend, the African Serval Rocky, who has made several appearances since escaping his Outer Banks home in October 2018.