Investigation Shows What Happens When Roadside Zoos Go Very, Very Bad
An investigation published Wednesday has revealed the dark side of owning wild predators. The whole report, conducted by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and WFPL News, is worth reading, but a few highlights (rather, lowlights) are below.
- In July 2013, Tim Stark, the owner of Charlestown, Ind., nonprofit organization Wildlife In Need, had licenses for 15 tigers. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials found only nine on his property.
- Stark, who pries open tiger mouths to show off their fangs, believes zoos are "sissy-ass" for not allowing people to enter the enclosures of large predators.
- Wildlife In Need hosts Tiger Baby Playtime events, which look like this:
This isn't the first instance in which Stark has come under fire - PETA urged the government to examine Wildlife In Need in July. Nor is this the first time problems with roadside zoos like Stark's have surfaced. In Louisiana, for instance, a tiger named Tony is kept as a novelty at a truck stop. Tigers are a rare sight in the wild, to the point that no one knows exactly how many there are, but the Humane Society estimates more tigers live in Texas zoos than their native Asian forests.
There's no federal policy concerning big cats in captivity, but the International Fund for Animal Welfare is calling for nationwide legislation. It can be tough to tell which sanctuaries are reputable, though accreditation through organizations like the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries is a positive sign. That means the sanctuaries offer proper veterinary care, meet minimum space requirements for big cats and have outdoor environments with natural dirt or grass (also of note: "Humans do not enter enclosures with felids [wild cats]"). That includes places like Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in California or Florida's Big Cat Rescue.
But because such accreditation isn't a requirement, places like Wildlife In Need can exist. And that enables a disconnect between what these organizations say about captive wildlife and how these animals are treated. On the one hand, Wildlife In Need describes itself as providing "rehabilitation & release for indigenous wildlife & permanent safe harbor to an array of exotic & endangered species." And on the other hand, there's Stark, who by his own admission ended a leopard's life with a baseball bat.