The sad tale of Tony the 'Truck Stop Tiger'
Here’s a report from Gina Miller, IFAW’s legal policy analyst, about a captive tiger in Louisiana:
Laws that govern the private ownership of big cats vary widely from one state to another but they do have one thing in common—they’re not enough to protect big cats in private hands. Some 10,000 to 20,000 big cats are kept captive by private owners in the U.S., and they aren’t in zoos but in backyards, basements, garages, sheds and even truck stops.
Yes, you read that correctly: It is legal to keep a tiger at a truck stop.
Tony, a 10 year old Siberian-Bengal tiger, has been kept every single day of his life at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, Louisiana. Living at a truck stop is no life for a tiger; Tony is subjected to noise and diesel fumes from trucks and kept in a concrete cage with no adequate enrichment or escape from the elements, resulting in constant stress. Ten years of living at Tiger Truck Stop have taken a toll on Tony’s health, according to experts.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Secretary Robert Barham granted a permit allowing for Tony the tiger to be exhibited at the truck stop in Louisiana. After the state permit was issued, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit arguing that LDWF violated state legislation prohibiting persons from keeping a tiger as a pet or exhibiting a tiger within the state, but those that owned big cats legally before this law was passed were able to keep their animals.
Here’s the issue: Tony’s owner, Michael Sandlin, didn’t legally own him because his town’s ordinance made it illegal to keep a tiger on his premises.
The good news is that Tony’s permit expired in December of 2011 and hasn’t been renewed. The bad news is Tony is still being kept at the truck stop in violation of Louisiana law because the judge ruled that the Department has discretion whether or not to enforce Louisiana’s law on big cats. This “discretion” is allowing Tony the tiger to languish at a truck stop.
But Tony will have another day in court. Tony’s owner sued the State of Louisiana claiming that the law against private ownership of big cats was unconstitutional. Advocates for Tony’s health and safety will have the chance to support Louisiana’s authority to protect the public and the welfare of animals like Tony.
There is no reason that Tony or big cats like him should be left to suffer at truck stops due to squabbles over state laws and poor enforcement. As evidenced by Tony’s plight and the tragic Zanesville massacre, a nationwide solution like the Federal Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, H.R. 4122, is needed. Please urge your U.S. Representative to support the passage H.R. 4122 and protect tigers like Tony!