For over a decade, Siberian-Bengal tiger “Tony” has lived in a cage at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete outside Baton Rouge. Best of New Orleans reported on Tuesday that a new bill introduced by Louisiana State Sen. Rick Ward (R-Port Allen) would exempt Tony’s owner from the big cat law in that state.
Senate Bill 250 would undo every victory made by animal advocates on behalf of Tony the tiger. The bill, which exempts certain persons from the requirements of the big exotic cats rules, seemingly would affect only one person: Michael Sandlin, Tony’s owner.
On April 15, the Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources amended the bill to remove an exemption for people who hold a USDA Class C exhibitor’s license. Sandlin possesses the license.
Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is urging the Louisiana state legislature to defend existing protections for tigers. In 2011, ALDF sued the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) for unlawfully issuing Sandlin a permit to keep and exhibit Tony.
According to ALDF, “SB 250 undermines a 2006 state law that bans private ownership of tigers and other large exotic cats by exempting ‘certain persons from the requirements of the big exotic cats rules.’ The bill is an attempt to retroactively remove Tony’s protection under the 2006 law, and allow Michael Sandlin to retain possession of Tony.”
In April 2013, the Court of Appeal held that Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop were ineligible for a big cat permit. A petition filed by Sandlin was rejected by the Louisiana Supreme Court in October 2013.
Stephen Wells, executive director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said “This bill was deviously snuck in the back door, with no notice, and is one more attempt from Sandlin to say he is not accountable by law and should receive special favors—Tony deserves the court to uphold the law.”
A petition entitled “Louisiana State Senate: OPPOSE SB 250 & Keep Louisiana Big Cat Law Strong!” currently has more than 4,700 signatures. A counter petition by Tiger Truck Stop to stop discrimination against exotic animal owners and the truck stop curiously has received more than 6,000 signatures. More than 39,000 people have already signed the petition to Ensure Tony The Tiger Is Released To A Reputable Sanctuary.