It has been almost a year since captive chimpanzees won equal protections under the Endangered Species Act. Exotic animal laws haven’t changed much since then, although it is important to remain optimistic. Now you may be hopeful than ever, as the past month brought with it new protections offered to big cats. Read more to learn why this is significant.

In March 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released an announcement regarding the handling of young cats. They stressed that newborn and infant nondomestic cats 28 days of age or younger have unique husbandry needs, including an inability to thermoregulate and an undeveloped immune system. As a result, APHIS recommends that neonatal cats not be handled by the public or exposed to other animals. They should, instead, be housed with the mother, or if not, in a controlled and sanitary heated enclosure.

Many a profiteering roadside zoo and wildlife safari show off their infant tigers. The innocent looking cubs draw crowds, and the more unscrupulous establishments encourage people to pose with tiger cubs in photos. The new APHIS regulations are significant because for the first time, neonatal cats, such as the aforementioned infant tigers, will be able to enjoy a healthy infancy instead of being treated as a photography prop or a sideshow.

In April 2016 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule declaring that “generic” tigers (meaning, tigers of indeterminate or hybridized species) are no longer exempt from certain permitting requirements. The sale of any tiger across state lines will now be regulated and subject to scrutiny by authorities.

No longer may the creative breeding of hybrid tigers be used as a cunning method of avoiding permits and authoritative oversight. Like the loophole that used to limit protections for (and increase the exploitation of) captive chimpanzees in the United States, “[r]emoving the loophole that enabled some tigers to be sold for purposes that do not benefit tigers in the wild will strengthen protections for these magnificent creatures and help reduce the trade in tigers that is so detrimental to wild populations,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “This will be a positive driver for tiger conservation.”

Sea change does not come in one big, all-encompassing wave – but rather, in currents and tides that drive water to creep a bit higher, and then a bit more. Progress for cats is a big thing, even for nonhuman primates, because it is proof that the needs of exotic animals are being considered, evaluated, and labeled as a higher priority.

Carlos, a former pet long-tailed macaque, was sold at a pet auction when he was only one week old. He now lives at the PRC.

One hopes that, not too far behind these rulings, there may come similar ones for primates. Neonatal primates are very needy, and primates can exhibit abnormal and even harmful behavior for decades after an unhealthy or traumatic infancy. It is imperative that no matter where primates are used, exploited, housed and raised, that at the very least they are ensured the proper start in life. This means not being removed from their mother, not being handled by humans, and kept in a clean, nurturing and safe environment. Although it is preferred that the sale of nonhuman primates be fully banned, the next best thing would be to regulate the sale of primates across state lines.

All exotic animals deserve to live safe lives that are protected from exploitation.

So be happy for cats. Be hopeful for nonhuman primates.