I Talked to the New York State Legislator Who Wants to Ban Tiger Selfies

By Matt Taylor

These guys are the worst. Photo via tigersoftinder.com

Animal-rights advocates don't traditionally have any beef with dating apps like Tinder and OKCupid, but so many bros have been recklessly taking selfies with tigers lately that New York State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal felt compelled to act. She's managed to get a bill prohibiting close contact with big cats through both houses of the historically dysfunctional state legislature in Albany, which is no small feat. But is this a serious animal-rights or safety issue? How many selfies are we talking about here, and are we sure the tigers don't like being props in dudes' online quests to get laid? I called Rosenthal up to get the nitty-gritty on one of the more bizarre government prohibitions in recent memory.

VICE: For those of us who were unaware of this problem, what exactly is going on with tigers in New York State?
Linda Rosenthal: This takes place in lots of states where there are roadside zoos or traveling exhibits of animals—people pay to pose with big cats, bears, monkeys, reptiles... that goes on in the summer months particularly. And it's not safe for the human beings who choose to pose with these animals because live animals are unpredictable. They can be trained, but that doesn't mean they aren't one day going to take a swipe at you.

It can also lead to bad situations for the animals. Obviously baby animals are cuter, right? Not obviously, but, I guess, babies are cuter than adults usually. But once they get bigger and harder to maintain, they get released and it's dangerous for them. They're held in cages to go from venue to venue. It's not good for either side. It's dangerous for the humans. So this bill would not allow these big cats to be part of the traveling menageries.

What does all of this have to do with selfies?
This selfies thing is something that the [New York] Post brought up. I don't use those websites, so I'm not familiar with them, but they said men pose with big cats to post an alluring photo on Tinder and other websites. So they injected that meaning into the bill.

But that's not what you were after?
No! This has nothing to do with that. For all I know they're Photoshopped; who knows? But they were trying to be snarky about the bill when in fact the bill is a serious bill about animals and human beings and protection of both classes.

How many tigers are we talking here?
It's hard to keep track. The FDA is in charge of licensing, and they're barely able to make meat that we buy safe. They are understaffed and overworked, and I bet they don't have much enforcement when it comes to these traveling zoos. So I thought it best to just propose a state law that would address the issue.

How many attacks or incidents have there been—or is this largely to avoid future disaster? 
There have been a number, but this is a situation that could suddenly lead to trouble. Rather than risk trouble happening, this is a preventive measure.

How did this first get on your radar?
Because I do so much animal legislation, I work with different [advocacy] groups. This is one I worked on with the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Any guesses as to why big cat pics are so popular on dating websites?
I don't know that men posing with wild tigers or lions is that alluring. It could actually make them look kind of foolish. But maybe it appeals to people? Who knows. This bill had nothing to do with intefering with their activities.

The act the law actually prohibits is essentially the act of posing or getting up close, though, right?
Direct contact, yes. So that means physical contact or proximity where physical contact is possible. It's really for their own safety as well as the safety of the animals. When young animals become part of these traveling zoos, they're usually separated from their mothers so they can get used to being around humans, and they often die bcecause they're traveling all the time... They should be with their mother. They often get declawed and undergo training in a futile attempt to make them "safe." But they're never safe, becuase they're wild. And they often grow too big for handling, and then they're dumped. I mean, Siegfried and Roy were around those tigers for years; then that tiger lost it! So I'm sorry if this bill interferes with people's ability to pose with big cats in order to find dates. But that's really not my concern.

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