The loss of the animals is tragic. But many animal groups see the fire as the latest in a long string of animal and humane welfare incidents at the facility - and say the only reason it happened is because the the USDA allowed WIN to remain open despite repeated violations.
"Sadly, this shows how little the term 'USDA licensed' can mean for a facility," Wildcat Sanctuary, a Minnesota rescue, wrote in a Facebook post about the fire. "When you pay to play with a baby tiger or lion cub, this is the sort of collateral damage that thrill of a lifetime moment can result in."
WIN has been most strongly criticized for its lucrative Tiger Baby Playtime events. During the attraction, guests pay to enter the cubs' enclosure, where they are allowed to pet, hold and handle them. For an extra fee, visitors can even take photos.
So-called "tiger selfie" opportunities are roundly condemned by legitimate sanctuaries and zoo facilities, as the animals are often ripped away from their mothers as infants and disposed in unknown ways as soon as they outgrow their "cute" phase. And WIN's tiger cub events are particularly fraught with injuries, mishandling and miscommunication, according to USDA reports and several animal welfare groups.
One USDA inspection revealed that WIN workers regularly used riding crops to discipline tiger cubs when they "started to bite" visitors. It also noted that at least two visitors to Tiger Baby Playtime events, including one child, had been bitten by mishandled tiger cubs.
An investigation conducted by PETA also recorded Tim Stark, WIN's owner, telling guests to hit the young cubs in the face to control them. Stark could not be reached for comment.