An animal rights group fighting to have a tiger removed from its truck stop home in Grosse Tete sued the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on Monday in state District Court in Baton Rouge.
The lawsuit, filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, references Act 715, a state law enacted in 2006 that prohibits the private ownership of large and exotic cats.
The law makes a “grandfather” exception allowing people to keep exotic cats as pets as long as the animals were legally owned before Aug. 15, 2006, when the law went into effect, the lawsuit says.
Matthew Liebman, an attorney for the animal-rights group, said the key words are “legally owned.”
The group recognizes that Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin owned Tony, a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal mix, prior to the law taking effect.
Liebman, however, said the 10-year-old tiger wasn’t owned legally because of an Iberville Parish ordinance enacted in 1993 prohibiting anyone from owning “wild, exotic or vicious animals for display or for exhibition.”
Therefore, Sandlin was ineligible to receive the “grandfather” permits Wildlife and Fisheries issued to him in December 2009 and December 2010 because Tiger Truck Stop was in violation of the parish ordinance, Liebman said.
The animal-rights group filed the lawsuit to compel the state to revoke Tiger Truck Stop’s permits, Liebman said.
That action would prompt the tiger to be placed in a wildlife sanctuary, “in much better conditions and away from the truck stop’s diesel fumes,” Liebman said.
Sandlin did not return messages seeking comment Monday evening.
Wildlife and Fisheries spokesman Bo Boehringer said the agency’s legal department had not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit Monday and the agency could not comment on it.
Warren Triche Jr., a former Democratic Party state representative between 1988 and 2008, is named as one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Triche said he authored the bill making it illegal to own exotic animals in the state for the health and safety of the public and the animals.
Tony is the last privately owned big and exotic cat in the state, Boehringer has said.
There were four privately owned tigers living in the state when the Legislature acted in 2006, Boehringer said.
The owners of three of those tigers opted to have the cats moved to Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, Boehringer said.