By Koran Addo
December 20, 2011
GROSSE TETE — Tony, the 550-pound tiger on display at Tiger Truck Stop, could be bound for an exotic animal park in Oklahoma that federal officials say is under investigation after 23 tiger cubs died there.
Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin said he intends to send the 10-year-old Siberian-Bengal mix tiger to G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla., if forced by the courts to relocate the animal from its roadside display.
Animal-rights activists have been fighting to move the tiger from the truck stop.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture began an investigation of G.W. Exotic Animal Park on June 15, 2010, after learning of the tiger cub deaths, according to Dave Sacks, USDA spokesman
“We first conducted an inspection and subsequently opened an investigation into the matter,” Sacks said Friday. “That investigation continues.”
Sacks said he didn’t know when the investigation will be completed and declined further comment.
Sandlin said Monday he has toured several animal sanctuaries and is “100 percent comfortable” sending the tiger to the Oklahoma park run by Joe “Joe Exotica” Schreibvogel.
Schreibvogel did not return calls seeking comment Monday.
“The deaths are a concern to me,” Sandlin said. “But I understand there was a problem from the manufacturer with the powder that you mix with water to feed the cubs and some cubs died. I don’t blame Joe for that. It’s just a terrible thing.”
Sandlin said of the 13 tiger cubs born at Tiger Truck Stop in the past 25 years, one was stillborn; another one died for undetermined reasons; and a third, fully grown white tiger, died of pancreatic cancer.
“I have a pretty good record, but you’re going to have problems,” Sandlin said. “I know Joe will love and take care of Tony.”
Sandlin said he chose G.W. Exotic Animal Park because Schreibvogel promised to build an enclosure roughly the same size as Tony’s 3,200-square-foot home at the truck stop.
Schreibvogel previously said he had a 5,000-square-foot cage ready for Tony and is trying to raise $120,000 to build him a 10,000-square-foot habitiat with a swimming pool, waterfall and shade trees.
Last week, Schreibvogel said his business has raised only $100 toward the cause.
Schreibvogel’s promise to keep Tony out of public view was one of the determining factors in choosing the animal park as a final home for the tiger, Sandlin said.
He said he wants Tony to have a quiet retirement.
“It’s not that I want him totally isolated, because he’s used to being around people. There are truck drivers that he recognizes, he’s used to being petted and he’s grown up accustomed to kids stopping by to look at him,” Sandlin said.
He said park staff would be around to care for Tony, so he won’t be isolated.
“It would be cruel to isolate him, “ Sandlin said. “He could grieve himself to death.”
Sandlin also said the park is close enough to his family’s home in Stillwater, Okla., where Sandlin could visit him periodically.
Tony’s future ultimately is up to the courts in Louisiana.
In May, state District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries could not issue any new permits allowing Tiger Truck Stop to keep the tiger on display.
The judge’s ruling came after the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued Wildlife and Fisheries, arguing a permit can only be issued to an individual, not a corporation, and the individual must live on the premises.
Tiger Truck Stop is the permit holder, not Sandlin.
“Mr. Sandlin and Tiger Truck Stop should be required to abide by the rules,’’ the judge said at the time.
A three-judge panel of the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal threw out that ruling in August after deciding Sandlin and Tiger Truck Stop Inc. deserved to be heard as a party in the dispute
Caldwell took up the matter again last month and ruled for a second time the truck stop could not get another permit under Louisiana law.
The truck stop’s permit will expire at the end of the month.
Sandlin’s attorney, Steve LeBlanc, said Monday he asked Caldwell to suspend the ruling barring the state from issuing another permit until the judge can consider Sandlin’s request for a new trial.
If the judge doesn’t grant a new trial, LeBlanc said he will file another appeal with the 1st Circuit. Caldwell’s judgment isn’t final until the appeal process runs its course, according to Bo Boehringer, a spokesman for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
If Sandlin’s appeal is denied, Boehringer said, his agency would give Sandlin 30 days to move Tony to a sanctuary of Sandlin’s choosing.