Some of New York's Internet Romeos will have to find new ways to attract mates now that it's illegal to pose for photos with a tiger, lion or other big cat — a practice popular on online dating sites but denounced by wildlife advocates as potentially dangerous to both man and beast.
A law signed this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo prohibits direct contact between members of the public and big cats at traveling animal shows and fairs. Animal exhibitors would face fines for each violation.
So-called "tiger selfies" have emerged as popular profile photos on online dating sites, with users — generally young men — looking to stand out by posting a photo of themselves with the dangerous predators.
Wildlife advocates say the trend is not only potentially hazardous to humans but encourages mistreatment of endangered animals that are often taken from their mothers as cubs, poorly cared for and then neglected or discarded when they grow up.
"They breed the cubs, use them for photo-ops, and then when they can't use them they breed more," said Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, a Tampa, Florida, sanctuary that has more than 100 big cats. "Taking the cub away is a misery to the cub and the mother, and the cubs aren't fed properly. They don't sell tiger milk at the pet store."
The legislators behind the new law said they hadn't even heard of tiger selfies when they crafted the measure and simply wanted to impose some safeguards on the often unregulated industry of traveling animal shows.
"I had no idea what a tiger selfie was," said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat. "This is a serious issue. People who take selfies with wild animals are fooling with their lives. And it harms the animal because they're generally not well-treated. They're seen as profit-making props."
Baskin said she hopes other states follow suit. She said men hoping to use tiger selfies to score a date should consider posing with a domestic feline instead.
"I think women would love that," she said.