An animal-rights activist made an impassioned plea to Louisiana wildlife commissioners Thursday, calling on them to withhold renewal of a permit allowing an Interstate 10 truck stop to keep a live tiger on display as a roadside attraction.
Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission members, however, declined to intervene in the matter. One of them said the issue is properly under the control of the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department, and not the commission.
Mary Haik, of Zachary, argued before the commission that the tiger exhibit at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete is an example of “one of those times when the whole world looks at Louisiana and thinks that we reek of corruption and idiocy.”
Haik asserted the state has stood by doing nothing while Iberville Parish government has made exceptions to its parish ordinances in order to allow the truck stop to continue to exhibit Tony, a 10-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger, on the property.
An Iberville Parish ordinance enacted in 1993 prohibits parish residents from owning wild, exotic and vicious animals for exhibition.
The tiger exhibit was grandfathered in last year when the Iberville Parish Council approved a new ordinance allowing the truck stop to keep the tiger.
The new ordinance carries several conditions, however, such as requiring liability insurance, training staff how to deal with a possible tiger escape and specifying that the tiger’s diet must be approved by a licensed veterinarian.
The ordinance further stipulates that the truck stop be subject to unannounced inspections to make sure the tiger is in good health and that Tony is the last tiger the business would be able to exhibit.
Haik argued that the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission should not renew a state permit allowing the tiger to remain on display in what she described as unhealthy conditions.
The tiger has been “illegally owned” since 2000, she said, citing the parish ordinance enacted in 1993 that prohibits exhibition of big cats such as Tony in Iberville Parish.
“If laws are written to protect these endangered species, and then the laws are not enforced as written, then why write them in the first place?” Haik asked the commissioners.
Commissioner Patrick Morrow suggested after the meeting adjourned that Haik should have taken her case against Tony’s continued captivity at the truck stop to Wildlife and Fisheries Department staff members and not to the commission itself.
“The commission enacts rules and regulations,” Morrow said. “As long as the truck stop is in compliance with existing laws, the department, from the commission’s standpoint, has no reason to deny the permit.”
Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham also said after the meeting he had not seen any evidence showing that the truck stop is breaking the law.
“Until that occurs, the truck stop is fulfilling its obligations and the permit will be renewed,” Barham said.
Wildlife and Fisheries officials said earlier this week the truck stop has until Dec. 31 to provide proof of insurance and a health certificate from a veterinarian in order to obtain a state permit to continue exhibiting Tony.
Edward “Lucky” Songy, Iberville Parish’s chief administrative officer, did not attend Thursday’s meeting, but said in an interview the truck stop tiger exhibit had been grandfathered in because the business had tigers on public view before the parish enacted the 1993 law prohibiting such ownership of big cats.
Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin did not return calls for comment Wednesday or Thursday.
FTTT Friends: Please add your comments and support for Tony at this link:
Big Cat Rescue stands ready to accommodate Tony for the rest of his life in a grassy Cat-a-Tat that overlooks a serene 18 ac lake, where he will get the best of food, enrichment, vet care and purrr-sonal attention of more than 100 top notch volunteers. A year ago when LDW&F was planning to confiscate him because of the violation of the Parish’s 1993 ordinance they called us in to help. We fought the Parish’s plan to “grand father” the dismal display and are both saddened and outraged that the good ole boy network there carries more weight than law or ethics.
Posted on Dec 03, 2010 at 9:36 AM
The LDWF’s priorities must be Tony’s health, welfare and quality of life. One needn’t be a “tiger expert’ to realize a truck stop is a totally unhealthy and unsuitable environment for a tiger or any animal, as well as it being a threat to public safety. Accredited big cat sanctuaries are willing to provide Tony a permanent home with professional care, a natural habitat, medical care, a proper diet, enrichment and the respect he deserves. Tigers are not gimmicks, props or attractions. Tony is one of thousands of tigers in the United States exploited and abused in this way. People around the world have come to learn of Tony and support his relocation to a sanctuary. Over 13,000 have signed his petition on change.org, and a petition just started on Dec 1, 2010 by the WSPA has over 5,000 signatures already. Tony’s story has been featured on Issues With Jane Velez Mitchell, and major organizations such as Big Cat Rescue of Tampa FL and The Animal Legal Defense Fund support Tony’s relocation as well. Sec. Barham & LDWF: Please make a stand for Tony and all of these magnificent cats who need our help, respect, and protection by denying the renewal of this permit to Tiger Truck Stop and letting Tony live the rest of his years in peace.
Posted on Dec 03, 2010 at 11:46 AM
Mary Haik’s Statement To The LDWF Commission Board – 12.2.2010
Hello my name is Mary Haik. I’m a Louisiana resident and come before you today to speak for people across the world who are fighting for the welfare of Tony, the tiger on exhibit at a truck stop in Grosse Tete, LA.
Many of you are already aware that this tiger is the most talked about tiger in the world. There have been many allegations of noncompliance. I am sure that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (LDWF) has some sort of explanation or rebuttal to the allegations of noncompliance for example, algae in Tony’s water bowl, or the tiger never having had a complete medical exam which includes blood and other lab work. But, the record demonstrates unarguably that The Truck Stop has been in a non compliant situation with the Iberville Parish Ordinance 3-91, from 2000 until November 4, 2010, and with LAC Title 76, Part V, Section 115 from 2006 – November 4, 2010.
I will discuss briefly the facts of this case which cannot be argued away or grandfathered away and are indisputably supported in black and white:
The Iberville Parish Ordinance of 1993 stipulated that “no person shall keep or permit to be kept on his premises any wild, exotic, vicious animal or reptile for display or for exhibition purposes whether gratuitously or for a fee.” The Department has already acknowledged this noncompliance in letters to Mr. Sandlin, Tony’s owner. In a letter from the LDWF dated October 17, 2008, Mr. Sandlin was advised that his permit was put on hold pending confirmation that the Truck Stop was in compliance with the ordinance within 30 days of the date of the letter. THEN– In a letter from the LDWF dated November 17, 2008, Mr. Barham denied Mr. Sandlin’s permit and ordered the tiger be removed within 30 days. Yet the tiger was not removed in 30 days or ever, for that matter.
It seemed that Louisiana was ready to create a new image in April 2006, with the amendment to Title 76, Part V, Chapter 1, Wild Quadrupeds, which made ownership of tigers illegal in Louisiana unless exempted. The revised statute allowed an exemption to own wild animals like tigers if they were legally owned on August 15, 2006.
In March 2009, the Iberville Parish Ordinance was amended with a grandfather clause exempting Mr. Sandlin retroactively to August 15, 2006, the date specified in the Title 76 exempting those who LEGALLY OWNED a tiger on that date.
How could a tiger be grandfathered in the Iberville Parish Ordinance 3-91, written in 1993 when he was born July 2000 and was already illegally owned since the year 2000—after the law was established prohibiting the exhibition and legal ownership of this tiger?
To the entire rest of the world this is an obvious attempt to circumvent the law. Period. I am saddened to say, and with no disrespect to this Commission or to the people of our great state, that this is one of those times when the whole world looks at Louisiana and thinks that we reek of corruption and idiocy.
Finally without dispute :
The record demonstrates unarguably that since March 2009, when the Iberville Parish ordinance was amended to legitimize this tiger, Mr. Sandlin was carrying only $100K in liability coverage and not the required $500K. In my conversation with Maria Davidson, October 21, 2010, she stated that she was unaware of this last December when the permit was issued, and had since found out. Yet the Department took no action. Even though the Iberville Parish Ordinance states that if any of the conditions are not met “the tiger shall be immediately removed”, when Mr. Ourso, the Iberville Parish President was approached on October 29, 2010, the tiger was NOT immediately removed; instead Mr. Sandlin was given 2 weeks to comply. The record shows that the insurance condition had not been met since the inception of both the Iberville Parish permit and the LDWF permit, until November 5, 2010.
So, I come to you today to ask:
- If these indisputable incidents of non compliance year after year are not enough to deny a permit, then what is? and
- If laws are written to protect these endangered species, and then the laws are not enforced as written, then why write them, in the first place?
Thank you all for the time to present on behalf of Tony and the Free Tony The Tiger Campaign.