For Tony, the Siberian-Bengal tiger who spends his days as a roadside attraction at a Louisiana truck stop, this week feels as dismal as any other. But Tony’s advocates hope this week will mark the beginning of the end of his captivity.
On May 5, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will appear in East Baton Rouge District Court when the legal battle for Tony’s freedom begin. At that time, they will deliver your petition signatures to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Last week, Leonardo DiCaprio, a longtime advocate for tigers, urged his fans on Twitter and Facebook to help Tony. “Have you heard about Tony, a Siberian-Bengal tiger living at a truck stop in Louisiana?” DiCaprio wrote on Facebook. “This tiger has been living in a small inadequate and inhumane enclosure since 2003. We need to help the Animal Legal Defense Fund in urging the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to revoke the permit that allows this.”
Not only does LDWF have the power to revoke the permit that allows Tiger Truck Stop to keep Tony behind bars but, Animal Legal Defense Fund contends, it was illegal for them to issue the permit in the first place.
In court tomorrow, ALDF will begin to argue the case that the wildlife department violated state regulations on private ownership of big cats. As of 2006, tigers were no longer allowed as pets or exhibits in Louisiana, unless they were already legally owned and grandfathered in at the time the new regulations came into effect.
But ever since 1993, tigers haven’t been allowed in Tiger Truck Stop’s hometown of Iberville. So, as far as state law is concerned, Tony is contraband.
Officials have spent years ignoring the inhumane, illegal situation at Tiger Truck Stop. But then people began to learn about Tony. And they began to speak out for him.
As the call for his release to a sanctuary has grown into a roar, officials have been trying to backtrack. Iberville parish granted Tiger Truck Stop an exemption to keep Tony in 2009 … years too late to qualify for the state permit. Yet once again, in 2010, the state renewed the permit anyway.
What’s different now is that Tony has a legal team that’s forcing the wildlife department to answer for its inhumane inconsistencies in court. And Tony has you to keep his story in the spotlight and pressure the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to do the right thing and get Tony out of the truck stop and into a sanctuary.
Photo credit: Big Cat Rescue
Stephanie Feldstein is a Change.org Editor who has been part of the animal welfare and rescue community for over a decade, and most recently worked for an environmental organization.