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Big Cat Exhibition

Animal Abuser Check Point

Type in a name in the box below to see if there are any online reports at 911AnimalAbuse.com which is a community effort to expose animal abuse.  If you have facts, photos or video that expose animal abuse you can post them there anonymously and for free.  Although we find this to be a valuable resource, Big Cat Rescue is not responsible for other’s collaborative efforts at 911 Animal Abuse.  If you know of abuse, you should post it there and contact the proper authorities here:

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Educators or Exploiters?

See the shameful video of how so many big cat cubs are treated HERE

ABC did an undercover investigation, with help from Big Cat Rescue, that you can watch online HERE.  Be sure to watch all of the clips listed there.  They start out the same but are very different.  What they do share in common is the grim truth that some people are using animals in ways that put the public in deadly contact with dangerous animals.

Big cats deserve better than a life of exploitation on display in cages.  Big cats are not designed to live in captivity. This was provent in recent scientific research on the subject of the effects of captivity on wild animals in University of Oxford’s Clubb & Mason 2003 paper, “Animal Welfare: Captivity effects on wide-ranging carnivores, ” Nature 425, 473-474 (2 October 2003)]. The authors state: “Our findings indicate that the keeping of naturally wide-ranging carnivores should be either fundamentally improved or phased out.” The minor enhancements of adding faux rock, or moats instead of bars, are clearly insufficient.

There are too many people who are making their living carting exotic big cats around in circus cages. They call themselves educators. They claim to be exhibiting and breeding these unfortunate animals to save them from extinction and raise public awareness. They often claim non-profit status to avoid paying taxes on the money they gouge by deceiving the public.

More often than not, the facts of the situation are far from the illusion represented. On display, the cats are in cramped, barren cages. They may be exposed to severe heat with minimal or no protection. An observant person can see clearly that they are dejected, and often in substandard physical condition. These so called “educators” usually will not allow you to see where the animals live when not being exhibited, because if the public was aware of the miserable conditions they would not support these people. Nor will they tell you that every six months when those adorable cubs outgrow their usefulness they are discarded, either by sale to private owners ill prepared to care for these dangerous animals, or they are shot in “canned hunts” or destroyed and sold for parts to the lucrative Asian medicine trade. Currently the United States is the top supplier of tiger parts to this market.   While China is the top consumer of these products, it may surprise you that the US comes in second.

There is no valid reason to breed exotic cats for life in a cage. There is not one program in existence today that is breeding cats for return to the wild. NO ONE who is operating some road side (non accredited) zoo, pseudo sanctuary or “educational” outfit is participating in the sanctioned Species Survival Plan (SSP). Display of big cats in circus cages does not educate the public about their plight, nor does it assist in conserving their habitat in the wild. The only quasi-valid breeding programs are administered by the American Zoologic Association as the Species Survival Plan with the participation of accredited zoos. In the SSP animals have documented blood lines to protect the health of the individual and the long term viability of the gene pool. Only those species that can benefit are chosen for breeding.

“When the Park was proclaimed by President Paul Kruger (many years before this writing), attitudes toward animals were based on a very literal interpretation of the biblical injunction that God had given Man dominion over the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea.  By the time the pioneers (i.e. founders of the Kruger National Park in South Africa) bowed out the world was coming to realize that such dominion meant not the conferral of a license to plunder but the assumption of a great and noble responsibility.”A Game Ranger Remembers by Bruce Bryden.

See an interactive online map of exotic cat owners.  See people being stupid with big cats, endangering themselves and others HERE.  See the awful conditions these captive cats endure HERE.

See how you can investigate and expose abusers.  Be a Saber Tooth Sleuth

 

Can I Have a Big Cat at My Party?

Most people who ask this really love animals and just don’t know how abusive it is to the cat nor how dangerous it is to the public.  USDA prohibits public contact with big cat babies under the age of 8 weeks and over the age of 12 weeks.  If you see someone using a cub who is too young or too old, please photograph the event and report the exhibitor’s name, location and what you saw to stop this abuse.  There is only a one month window in which exhibitors are allowed to use the cubs.  There is a pending bill to ban all contact with big cats and their babies.  Before you pay to have your photo made with a big cat, check with your regional USDA office to make sure you are not breaking the Federal laws. This is an important law that will protect big cats from being bred for this purpose.  More…

Did You Know?

That just in the state of Florida there are 3,837 people with commercial permits to own wild animals.  Of that number 389 facilities are permitted to own tigers, gorillas and other Class I & Class II dangerous animals, but only 21 are accredited zoos and only 3 are accredited rescue facilities.  0.0002 of FL’s populations owns exotic animals and yet all of us pay the price in safety and damage to the environment when no-longer-novel pets are turned loose.

Florida also has 262 USDA licensed exhibitors with big cats, more than any other state. Keep in mind that USDA licensing requires only minimal standards, such as a cage large enough to stand up and turn around in. This minimal type of licensing versus AZA (American Zoologic Association) or GFAS (The Global Federation of Sanctuaries) accreditation are worlds apart in providing for the real well being of the animals.

Despite Florida’s outright ban on owning tigers as personal pets, there has been a 50% increase in the captive tiger population in the past 15 months. According to the Palm Beach Post there are now 1455 tigers in Florida, second only to Texas. There are more tiger breeders in Florida than in any other state. Numerous incidents are reported throughout the country with wild cats posing a threat to the public, generally resulting in the death of the cat. As recently as February 2006 tigers and pet cougars have been found wandering loose in neighborhoods where children play. They escaped or were turned loose when no longer wanted by their owners.

This has to stop. We need better laws and regulations that ban the breeding, selling, and exploiting of exotic cats. It is cruel for the cats, and dangerous to the community. Do not support the roadside exhibitors of wild cats, or the businesses that hire these people for commercial purposes. Write your legislators and tell them you want to protect the cats and the public. Sign our petition HERE.

The tiger in this photo belongs to a USDA regulated person in Florida who takes the cat with him as shown here or in the back of a pickup truck. He charges to bring cats to schools and events. By walking them on leashes and letting them ride in the front of his pick up truck, regardless what he says about whether they make good pets, by his example he gives people the impression that they are manageable and can make good pets.  The USDA’s own internal audit shows that they are not effectively enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, especially in the Eastern Region of the U.S.  Read it HERE

View this slide show to see what life is really like for captive exotic cats.  Play Slide show.

Big Cat Rescue recognizes the individual needs of the exotic cat and believes that there is NO reason to breed exotic cats for life in a cage. There is not one program today in which exotic cats are being bred for release back to the wild. Exotic cats do not belong in cages and were not meant to be used for our entertainment. Displaying big cats in un natural situations, such as in circus acts, on leashes (which is illegal now) or in un natural cages does not educate the public about the plight of the cat and does nothing to conserve habitat for them in the wild. No one who pays $20.00 to have their picture taken with a cub is doing anything to help the species.

On the contrary, they are helping to fuel the second largest illegal market (only behind illegal drugs) which is the 20 billion dollar trade in exotic animals. USDA does not allow contact with big cat cubs who are less than 8 weeks old, or more than 12 weeks old.  That means they can only be used for photo and petting sessions for one month, thus every month that cute little cub outgrows his usefulness, so he is discarded and more are bred. The cats are often sold to canned hunts, private owners who breed and sell more or are used to supply the Asian “medicinal” trade. The US is the number one supplier of tiger parts and the second largest consumer of them.

Watch this streaming video produced by The Humane Society of the United States that shows the rescue of 39 tigers from a USDA approved facility.  Click on the praying tiger to start the show.

 

Please Help Stop This Sort of Abuse

In this video clip (lower file size version of video clip) and the photos below you can see the shameful activities that are still occurring and will continue until you speak up for the animals.

Click on pictures to see them larger.

What should be the philosophy of venues like fairs about display of big cats? We think the letter below from Get Rescued in Gulfport founder and coordinator captures it very well and sets a great example:

“I will never have a wild animal at one of my festivals.   You can rest assured that I don’t consider caging and parading wild animals in hot weather with thousands of dogs and all the other loud noises to be humane. I am also not afraid to challenge anyone who breaks my rules.”

Sincerely, Lynda Shehan
Get Rescued…….In Gulfport
Founder and Coordinator
www. GetRescuedInGulfport.com

If you see something like this going on, let us know and with your help we will try to stop it. In many cases it is not against the law but it is easy to see that it should be. For now all we can do is contact the property owners and let them know that it isn’t good for the animals, it is dangerous for the community and it makes us all look bad to have this sort of activity taking place in our town. When you contact us please have the name of the exhibitor, the street address or location where they are set up and the property owners name if you can find that out. Many of these people claim to have insurance coverage, but most are million dollar policies and some animal caused injuries have resulted in 30 million dollar law suits. If the property owners had all the facts they probably would not welcome these “educators” onto their property.

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You can file a federal complaint with appropriate regional office of USDA. You can find the right office in your state to complain at a state level.  In many cases these outfits are not listed in Florida as a non profit and are not registered with the state to solicit contributions. This is punishable by fines of $1000.00 per violation. You can research any Florida charity: Prospective donors should contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Florida only toll-free hotline at —————————— to verify registration and financial information.  Send photos if you can and copy Big Cat Rescue with your complaints and photos so that we can help put pressure on these regulating bodies to do their jobs.

You can write to the property owners where these people set up and tell them that you do not condone this sort of practice and that it makes them look bad in the eyes of the community to be profiteering from the misery of the animals.

Help Big Cat Rescue get better laws passed to protect these great cats from such exploitation. Don’t support people who drag big cats out in public to “educate” or entertain.

If you see this sort of abuse going on please report it to Carole Baskin CEO of Big Cat Rescue at MakeADifference@bigcatrescue.org or write us at 12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625.

Please include dates, times and photos and complete contact information on you so that we can verify the situation. In some cases what these people do is not illegal, but with your help we can often persuade the community to protest the activity.

Your tax deductible donation helps us fight the injustice to exotic cats.

 

SPEAK UP FOR THE CATS HERE!

Read about what happens to these unwanted cubs when they outgrow their usefulness. Nakoma’s Story.

Did you know?

The following is a partial listing of incidents involving captive big cats since 1990. These incidents have resulted in the deaths and maulings of children, adults and big cats. Updated daily HERE.

That the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that only 10% of the 15,000 tigers in the U.S. are in professionally regulated zoos and sanctuaries. Add to that more than 5000 cougars and assorted other big cats and you start to see the enormity of the problem.

That only 18 states ban big cats as pets in this country and most of those states have ridiculous loopholes that are exploited by those intent on breeding and selling big cats as pets. For example, in the state of Florida it is illegal to own a big cat as a pet, but if you buy a $40.00 USDA permit, drag it out in public in a tiny cage and call yourself an educator it is permitted.

That there are only 90 USDA inspectors who are responsible for inspecting more than 20,000 breeders, dealers and exhibitors of wildlife. USDA only requires that the animal be able to stand up and turn around in its permanent enclosure and that alone is inhumane to an exotic cat that is hard wired to roam more than 400 square miles. The USDA’s own internal audit shows that they are not effectively enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, especially in the Eastern Region of the U.S.  Read it HERE

That there are only 23 sanctuaries and rescue facilities that are accredited by The Association of Sanctuaries even though there are thousands of places that claim to be animal refuges.

That just in the state of Florida there are more than 4,000 people with permits to own wild animals.  Of that number more than 400 facilities are permitted to own tigers, gorillas and other Class I dangerous animals, and /or “small” cats, but only 21 are accredited zoos and only 3 are accredited rescue facilities.  The State of Florida does not consider a 250 pound cougar to be a “big” cat.

Even though Florida has an outright ban on possessing tigers as personal pets, the state now has 1,455 tigers, (according to the Palm Beach Post) a 50 percent increase in 15 months and second only to Texas in the nation. There are more tiger breeders in Florida than anywhere else. Florida also has 262 USDA exhibitors with big cats, more than any other state.

That 98% of all exotic animals die within the first two years of being brought home as pets.

That the illegal portion of the 20 billion dollar trade in exotic pets is second only to the market for illegal drugs?

That for every one performing animal you see, there were 30 that were killed or discarded because they refused.

There are less than 2000 tigers left in the wild due primarily to habitat loss and hunting. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the tiger population has declined by more than 95% in the past hundred years.

Until recently, most exotic cats seeking refuge came from pet owners, but since the 1990’s the majority come from badly managed facilities operating under the guise of being non profit sanctuaries. How to tell a real sanctuary from a fake.

Nakoma was purposely starved, deprived of vitamins and calcium, and kept in a small concrete space.  Hardly conditions fit for a king.
That’s when Big Cat Rescue stepped in and rescued young Nakoma from a livestock auction.  Imagine that, the “king of beasts” being auctioned off .  Nakoma was so crippled in the hind legs and so malnourished that no one wanted him and he was sold for only $200.

Only a year earlier this little lion cub was the picture of health and vitality.  His owner made money by selling people the opportunity to have their photograph taken with the cute and cuddly lion cub.  In the state of Florida, however, it is against the law to allow contact with a big cat over 40 pounds.  So Nakoma’s former owner purposely starved him and deprived him of vitamins to keep him under the weight limit.  As a result of this deficiency, Nakoma developed paralysis in his hind legs.  Crippled, unwanted and abused, he was found with gaping gashes in his body that had become infested with maggots.  Yet despite all this, he was still a very lovable, talkative cub.

Big Cat Rescue took Nakoma into their care.  But after a year and a half of proper nutrition and supplements, he was still having an increasingly hard time moving his back legs.  It took him two hours just to walk across his pen by dragging himself with his front paws.  X-rays, a spinal tap and MRI all came out negative, meaning that Nakoma’s paralysis had most likely been caused by the thiamin deficiency he endured.

On July 12, 1998, during his MRI, Nakoma tragically stopped breathing and died.  His quiet passing may have been a blessing in disguise since nothing could be done for his crippled body.  In fact, the vets said his condition would have continued to deteriorate until he could not move at all.

Today, Nakoma’s body rests in a grave on the site, adorned with his proud picture.  This brave little king will never be forgotten and everybody can take solace in that Big Cat Rescue was at least able to make his last years a little better.

You’re invited to tour the facility and see Nakoma’s tomb, as well as view over 150 big cats from 22 different species who thanks to Big Cat Rescue are alive and well today.  As an accredited non-profit educational rescue facility, Big Cat Rescue has the largest and most diverse collection of exotic cats in the world.  Here you can actually get within three feet of these magnificent creatures and see them in naturalistic enclosures that are much larger than the finest zoos.  What’s more, you can personally sponsor any cat on the premises.  Any donation is tax deductible and will help Big Cat Rescue continue to provide food, shelter, vet care and daily enrichment for the cats.

It takes USDA 5 years to shut down this sort of abuse:

Charlotte Hebert, left, and her husband, Dwain, show photographs of three tiger cubs they took into their home last year along with the man who owned the animals, 32-year-old Eric Drogosch.

The baby tigers landed in the Heberts’ lives in a bar parking lot.

That’s where a smooth-talking, 6-foot stranger from Texas offered anyone with $20 the chance to be photographed with the tigers while holding and feeding them.

The stranger let the Heberts get extra close. He allowed Charlotte Hebert, 50, a payroll manager from Prairieville, to feed the tigers inside their cage, an event immortalized and framed in the Heberts’ kitchen. Charlotte sits cross-legged in the photo, holding a baby’s bottle to a tiger’s lips. She is smiling joyously.

Charlotte and her husband, Dwain, a plain-spoken electrician, said they have always adored animals but love the exotic kind most. During the Heberts’ only visit to the Baton Rouge zoo, they saw big cats in unbelievably small spaces and left depressed. They said they never went back.

They were thrilled, however, to find such magnificent cats in a bar parking lot 25 miles outside of Baton Rouge .

“I wanted to get in that cage with them as soon as I saw them,” Dwain Hebert said. “I always wanted tigers. Always wanted bears. I like the idea of being around them.”

The owner of the tiger cubs, Eric Drogosch, 32, told the Heberts that he raised animals at a sanctuary in Terrell , Texas , and wanted to do the same thing in south Louisiana . An older couple was going to donate the land — a vacant strip mall in Denham Springs — but he needed help. He said he needed money and he needed shelter, the Heberts said.

The Heberts were interested. Within weeks, Drogosch and his tigers were staying in the Heberts’ back yard — Drogosch in a motor home and the tigers in a horse trailer. The Heberts said everything was fine for about two days.

By the end of his stay, two of Drogosch’s tigers were dead. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had started tracking him. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had revoked his exhibitor’s license. Drogosch was arrested on a drunken driving count with one of the tigers in his truck. And Dwain Hebert, along with two women he had never met, arranged a hasty deal just before Christmas to take possession of the surviving tigers.

“You just never could believe a word he did say,” Dwain Hebert, 54, said. “I don’t know if we were stupid or what. Those tigers were just a weakness for both of us.”

Few details of Drogosch’s Baton Rouge stay surprised the USDA, which has tracked Drogosch for five years, a spokesman said.

“Eric’s had problems before,” said Dan Jones, who supervises inspections for the USDA’s Western Region. “Since we found out he was allegedly exhibiting in Baton Rouge , he was hard to track down. He’s elusive, and he’s been that way for quite some time.”

Amy Rhodes, who monitors animals in entertainment for PETA, said she hadn’t heard of Drogosch until he came to Baton Rouge . But getting a tiger is “easy as getting a dog or cat in most cases,” she said, and makes businessmen such as Drogosch liable to show up anywhere, anytime.

“Any opportunity to make a quick buck, that’s what people like Drogosch do,” Rhodes said. “People are so enthralled with baby tiger cubs, and understandably. But the information we have about this Drogosch guy is irrefutable. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to have anything to do with him.”

The USDA regulates exhibition, selling and breeding of exotic animals — not ownership — and few state laws regulate their handling. Louisiana has no such laws, although some parishes do, including Orleans and Jefferson .

The state Legislature enacted a law in 2003 that regulates handling of “non-indigenous constrictors in excess of twelve feet in length, venomous snakes, and nonhuman primates.”

Dan Maloney, who lobbied on behalf of the 2003 law as general curator for Audubon Zoo in New Orleans , said it’s time to broaden the scope of that legislation.

“Clearly Louisiana needs a state law that regulates keeping exotic big cats,” Maloney said. “Not having a law is dangerous for the community and just not appropriate. It’s time we look at our statewide obligation.”

In Business

As Animal Adventures America — his business in Texas — Drogosch has taken lions, tigers and leopards to fairs, festivals and businesses. He also has invited guests to his land, offering “a real wildlife park in the making,” according to one of his fliers. The cost runs $1,000 for five days and four nights, although “Goods and services may be used as a form of payment for activities,” the flier says.

Among the visitors to Animal Adventures America last year is a Baton Rouge woman named Susan Aronson, a self-described “animal rights activist of 35 years.” Aronson said she traveled to Terrell at a friend’s recommendation because she wanted to feed baby lion cubs. Animal Adventures impressed her.

“It was wonderful, a beautiful facility,” Aronson said. “From what I saw, I would have had no reason to doubt anything about Eric. The animals were well cared for.”

Aronson said she didn’t hear from Drogosch again until he came to Baton Rouge in June. Believing they shared a love of animals, she said, she introduced him to several of her friends. Among them is Linda McCarley, a self-employed private investigator who, with Aronson, later was involved in acquiring the cubs. McCarley said Drogosch — “a real charmer, a nice-looking guy” — visited her home three times with his cubs.

“It was so exotic,” she said. “When they’re little they’re so — I don’t know. I can’t explain it. If you ever get to touch one and feel their fur, even the color of it — and their eyes. All of that. They’re like helpless little children.”

Contacted twice by cell phone, Drogosch said he has traveled to Baton Rouge with baby tigers each of the last five years and that he did indeed plan to start an Animal Adventures in Baton Rouge . He says his intentions were good.

“I love my animals,” he said. “I felt like they were my children.”

But, he said, he also had to earn money, and that offering the tigers for feedings and photos made him as much as $400 a day.

“How is it mistreating a baby tiger to feed him from a baby bottle and allow kids to pet him?” he said.

Drogosch said if he makes 1,000 people happy and upsets “a couple of people, I’m doing a pretty good job.”

Among his stops were a fast food Mexican restaurant, an RV store, a daiquiri shop, a flea market, LSU football games, several bars and a topless club.

Scott Vankerkhove, who owns Rocky’s RV in Walker , said Drogosch set up outside the business three times, including last fall. He paid Drogosch an appearance fee — he could not remember how much — on top of whatever Drogosch earned for himself.

“It was extremely popular,” Vankerkhove said. “Wherever he was, it was an attraction. No question. People were just enamored of the tigers. It was always popular for the kids and that type of thing.”

Drogosch also twice set up at Zippy’s fast food Mexican restaurant on Perkins Road near Interstate 10.

Jason Hammack, Zippy’s general manager, said Drogosch showed up for the first time in mid-October with two tigers, a camera, a computer and a printer. Drogosch charged $20 per picture, but, Hammack said, Zippy’s didn’t pay him a dime.

“After we did it the first time, we had a lot of phone calls asking if we were going to do it again,” Hammack said. “People seemed to like it.”

Drogosch was invited back for the weekend after Thanksgiving, a visit that didn’t go as well. On the Sunday after the holiday, Hammack said, he got a call from a regular customer who complained that Drogosch had ignored her and her family as they waited to be photographed with the tigers.

Hammack said he decided to sever Zippy’s relationship with Drogosch immediately.

About a week later, Zippy’s got a two-page letter from Rhodes , of PETA. She noted that the USDA had revoked Drogosch’s exhibitor’s license two months earlier for dozens of violations dating to 2002, and encouraged the restaurant to send Drogosch packing.

Hammack, figuring he was done with Drogosch anyway, said he did not reply to PETA’s letter.

Rhodes said she fielded about six calls about Drogosch’s Zippy’s stint — “a lot considering this is one small Mexican restaurant in one small area.”

The licensing troubles she referenced are detailed in an Oct. 28 order in which Drogosch is accused of violating the Animal Welfare Act for denying USDA inspectors access to his facilities, animals and records; providing insufficient housing and care to the animals; and failing to “handle tigers carefully,” which led to a child being injured.

The document does not detail the incident, but Drogosch said it amounted to a girl being nipped on her side by a baby lion at a Longview , Texas , fair in 2002.

“The gravity of the violations alleged in the complaint is great,” the order says. “(Drogosch) has continually failed to comply with the regulations and standards, after having been repeatedly advised of deficiencies.”

Exhibiting

The Heberts said Drogosch initially told them he was keeping the tigers in a warehouse, but they learned from their 22-year-old son — who had also befriended Drogosch — that the animals were staying either in Drogosch’s hotel room or in pet carriers in his truck.

Two weeks later, the son, who did not want to be identified or interviewed, told his parents that one of the tigers, named Sonja, had died.

Drogosch told the Heberts that Sonja died from anaphylactic shock — circulatory and respiratory failure — after being moved too quickly from 100-degree heat to a 55-degree hotel room. The Heberts were unsettled, but agreed when Drogosch tearfully asked if he could bury the tiger in their back yard. He wrapped the animal in a white sheet, and buried it next to their Great Dane.

Drogosch said in an interview that the tiger’s death was “my own mistake.”

Shortly after Sonja died, Drogosch was still talking about starting a wildlife refuge in Baton Rouge . Spurred by such a vision, the Heberts said they took him in along with three of his tigers.

The only time he did anything productive, they said, was on Fridays and Saturdays, when he packed up two tigers for a night of business. The Heberts said Drogosch prepared the tigers for their exhibitions by withholding food for hours so that they would fixate on being bottle fed by strangers. Drogosch denies this.

Meanwhile, plans for the refuge never progressed.

“All we heard was excuse, excuse, excuse,” Dwain Hebert said. “We were all gung-ho. We still are. The idea of getting your picture taken with a tiger is great, but not at a bar and not with some guy who’s just trying to make money.”

A series of incidents made the Heberts more wary and led them to cut ties with Drogosch, they said. First, he was arrested on a count of second-offense DWI the morning of Nov. 11, after a Baton Rouge police officer allegedly saw him swerve along Interstate 10 near College Drive .

The officer wrote in a report that Drogosch — unsteady, slurring his speech and emitting a “strong odor” of alcohol — was transporting a baby tiger. Drogosch was booked into Parish Prison after lamenting to the officer that he would not pass a breath test, an arrest report says. His arraignment in City Court is scheduled for Feb. 15.

The Heberts said they grew more concerned when another of Drogosch’s tigers, Zena, which had been staying elsewhere because it didn’t get along with the other tigers, also died. In the interview, Drogosch said he took the animal to a veterinarian’s office in December for what he thought was a stomach ache. Two days later, Zena was dead. He said he does not know what happened to the tiger’s body or the official cause of death.

“We finally got tired of him not doing anything and staying drunk all the time,” Dwain Hebert said. “I told him, ‘I don’t care about you, I’m doing this for the tigers and that’s it.’ He said that hurt his feelings. I said, ‘I don’t care,’ and that I’d take care of the tigers forever but he had to go.”

Drogosch confirmed that he has had a drinking problem, but said he is in treatment.

Hebert said he and Drogosch brokered a deal in which he and his wife would take the tigers and find land where they could keep them. They found 16 acres in St. Amant and began thinking about selling their home.

But the deal fell apart one day as the Heberts played with the tigers after work, which had become a daily ritual. While trying to keep one of the cubs from jumping on her, Charlotte Hebert was bitten in the right arm, a wound that she said needed seven stitches.

Dwain Hebert said Drogosch insisted that the Heberts lie about the cause of the bite. Dwain Hebert said he wouldn’t lie, and an argument erupted. Both Hebert and Drogosch said Drogosch packed up the tigers and left. Drogosch said he moved into a hotel, and at night kept the animals either in his room on in pet carriers.

Served

East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control Center Director Hilton Cole said that about that same time, he first talked to Dan Jones of the USDA. Cole learned that Drogosch’s license, revoked in October, would have remained valid until January, but that Drogosch had not notified the USDA that he would be exhibiting tigers across state lines, which he was required to do within 10 days. His license was therefore invalid, Jones told him.

Having already fielded several complaints about Drogosch while he still thought his license was valid, Cole wrote a letter ordering him to stop conducting business in East Baton Rouge Parish. But he couldn’t track down Drogosch to serve it. Finally, based on a tip, Cole left the letter on a Perkins Road apartment door on Dec. 21 where he thought Drogosch was staying.

That same day, Aronson said, she got a call from Drogosch in which he said he was taking his tigers and leaving town. He asked for gas money. By then, Aronson had also become suspicious of Drogosch, although she declined to say why.

“Let’s just say I did some checking on my own,” she said.

No longer believing Drogosch had the animals’ interest at heart, Aronson called McCarley, who agreed that Drogosch shouldn’t take the tigers anywhere. The women offered to buy the tigers.

Drogosch initially asked $1,500 per tiger, McCarley said. Instead, with Aronson leading the negotiations, a group made up of McCarley, Aronson, the Heberts and others agreed to put up $800 in exchange for the three tigers. The agreement called for the tigers to go to Audubon Zoo. Negotiations were simple, Aronson said.

“I think Eric may be a good-hearted person, but I believe he was neglecting the animals that died,” she said. “The other three were living in cages, and we wanted them to be in a better place. The only way to get them away from him was to give him what he wants, which is money.”

Drogosch said he did not sell the tigers — selling tigers without a license is illegal — but that he was given money during the exchange to help pay for his Christmas travels to San Diego . He said he didn’t want to let go of the tigers but was compelled because Aronson, McCarley and the Heberts “kept hounding me and harassing my clients.”

“I was bawling my eyes out,” he said. “But it was just less hassle. I got rid of the cats and got (Aronson and McCarley) off my back.”

Maloney of Audubon Zoo said the tigers arrived in weakened condition — thin and lacking “an optimum diet.” Two had ringworm. One had been given a “rudimentary de-claw job” which Maloney said would be as painful as walking on broken glass. He estimates the tigers were about 7, 5 and 4 months old.

Told of Maloney’s assessment, Drogosch said the tigers were “healthy and strong when they left my possession.”

The tigers stayed in New Orleans for a week before being sent to the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center in Colorado , a nonprofit refuge where they will spend the rest of their days. The Heberts said they plan to visit the tigers and still hope to open a wildlife refuge in south Louisiana .

Dan Jones of the USDA said Drogosch will not be allowed to exhibit animals again.

“He does not have an exhibitor’s license with the USDA, and we do not intend to give him one,” Jones said. “I don’t think Eric’s going to be in your area exhibiting animals anymore. He’s done with us.”

Jones would not discuss his thoughts on exotic animal ownership.

“We’ve been instructed not to answer those kinds of questions,” he said. “But the official statement from the agency discourages the ownership of dangerous exotic animals.”

Although Drogosch is still free to own tigers just as anyone else, he said he is out of the animal business. He has been raking leaves for a living, but said he hopes to find a better job soon.

http://www.2theadvocate.com/stories/020605/new_tiger001.shtml

It took USDA even longer to shut down Savage Kingdom and people had to be mauled and killed there before any action was taken.

Stop this sort of abuse now. Speak out for the animals.

 

How can you tell a real sanctuary from a fake?

  1. Real sanctuaries don’t breed or buy animals.  People don’t get rid of them until they are too big to handle.  If there is a baby, ask how it got there and for proof.
  2. Real sanctuaries don’t exploit animals.  They don’t take dangerous animals out in public on leashes or in cages.
  3. Real sanctuaries adhere to the law.  They will be licensed by the state, and usually by USDA.  They will be a non profit 501 c 3 charity.  They will be licensed by the state to solicit donations, and every piece of solicitation that you see, will have documentation of the fact that they are so licensed.
  4. Real sanctuaries spend your donated dollars on program services.  GuideStar.com lists all non profit organizations and posts their tax returns so that you can see how the money is being spent.  The industry standard allows that charities spend up to 35% of their donations on soliciting and still be considered reputable.  A search of the 990s on GuideStar will show that fake sanctuaries often spend as much as 75% of their donations on raising more money.

 

Animal Abuser Check PointType in a name in the box below to see if there are any online reports at 911AnimalAbuse.com which is a community effort to expose animal abuse.  If you have facts, photos or video that expose animal abuse you can post them there anonymously and for free.  Although we find this to be a valuable resource, Big Cat Rescue is not responsible for other’s collaborative efforts at 911 Animal Abuse.  If you know of abuse, you should post it there and contact the proper authorities here:

Report to USDA         Report to State Government         Report to the Press

Educators or Exploiters?

See the shameful video of how so many big cat cubs are treated HERE

ABC did an undercover investigation, with help from Big Cat Rescue, that you can watch online HERE.  Be sure to watch all of the clips listed there.  They start out the same but are very different.  What they do share in common is the grim truth that some people are using animals in ways that put the public in deadly contact with dangerous animals.

Big cats deserve better than a life of exploitation on display in cages.  Big cats are not designed to live in captivity. This was proven in recent scientific research on the subject of the effects of captivity on wild animals in University of Oxford’s Club & Mason 2003 paper, “Animal Welfare: Captivity effects on wide-ranging carnivores, ” Nature 425, 473-474 (2 October 2003)]. The authors state: “Our findings indicate that the keeping of naturally wide-ranging carnivores should be either fundamentally improved or phased out.”  The minor enhancements of adding faux rock, or moats instead of bars, are clearly insufficient.

There are too many people who are making their living carting exotic big cats around in circus cages. They call themselves educators. They claim to be exhibiting and breeding these unfortunate animals to save them from extinction and raise public awareness. They often claim non-profit status to avoid paying taxes on the money they gouge by deceiving the public.

white tiger cubs are purposely inbred to get the coat color causing a myriad of birth defectsMore often than not, the facts of the situation are far from the illusion represented. On display, the cats are in cramped, barren cages. They may be exposed to severe heat with minimal or no protection. An observant person can see clearly that they are dejected, and often in substandard physical condition. These so called “educators” usually will not allow you to see where the animals live when not being exhibited, because if the public was aware of the miserable conditions they would not support these people. Nor will they tell you that every six months when those adorable cubs outgrow their usefulness they are discarded, either by sale to private owners ill prepared to care for these dangerous animals, or they are shot in “canned hunts” or destroyed and sold for parts to the lucrative Asian medicine trade. Currently the United States is the top supplier of tiger parts to this market.   While China is the top consumer of these products, it may surprise you that the US comes in second.

There is no valid reason to breed exotic cats for life in a cage. There is not one program in existence today that is breeding cats for return to the wild. NO ONE who is operating some road side (non accredited) zoo, pseudo sanctuary or “educational” outfit is participating in the sanctioned Species Survival Plan (SSP). Display of big cats in circus cages does not educate the public about their plight, nor does it assist in conserving their habitat in the wild. The only quasi-valid breeding programs are administered by the American Zoologic Association as the Species Survival Plan with the participation of accredited zoos. In the SSP animals have documented blood lines to protect the health of the individual and the long term viability of the gene pool. Only those species that can benefit are chosen for breeding.

“When the Park was proclaimed by President Paul Kruger (many years before this writing), attitudes toward animals were based on a very literal interpretation of the biblical injunction that God had given Man dominion over the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea.  By the time the pioneers (i.e. founders of the Kruger National Park in South Africa) bowed out the world was coming to realize that such dominion meant not the conferral of a license to plunder but the assumption of a great and noble responsibility.”A Game Ranger Remembers by Bruce Bryden.

See an interactive online map of exotic cat owners.  See people being stupid with big cats, endangering themselves and others HERE.  See the awful conditions these captive cats endure HERE.

See how you can investigate and expose abusers.  Be a Saber Tooth Sleuth

Can I Have a Big Cat at My Party?

Most people who ask this really love animals and just don’t know how abusive it is to the cat nor how dangerous it is to the public.  USDA prohibits public contact with big cat babies under the age of 8 weeks and over the age of 12 weeks.  If you see someone using a cub who is too young or too old, please photograph the event and report the exhibitor’s name, location and what you saw to stop this abuse.  There is only a one month window in which exhibitors are allowed to use the cubs.  There is a pending bill to ban all contact with big cats and their babies.  Before you pay to have your photo made with a big cat, check with your regional USDA office to make sure you are not breaking the Federal laws. This is an important law that will protect big cats from being bred for this purpose.  More…
Did You Know?

That just in the state of Florida there are 3,837 people with commercial permits to own wild animals.  Of that number 389 facilities are permitted to own tigers, gorillas and other Class I & Class II dangerous animals, but only 21 are accredited zoos and only 3 are accredited rescue facilities.  0.0002 of FL’s populations owns exotic animals and yet all of us pay the price in safety and damage to the environment when no-longer-novel pets are turned loose.

Florida also has 262 USDA licensed exhibitors with big cats, more than any other state. Keep in mind that USDA licensing requires only minimal standards, such as a cage large enough to stand up and turn around in. This minimal type of licensing versus AZA (American Zoologic Association) or GFAS (The Global Federation of Sanctuaries) accreditation are worlds apart in providing for the real well being of the animals.

Despite Florida’s outright ban on owning tigers as personal pets, there has been a 50% increase in the captive tiger population in the past 15 months. According to the Palm Beach Post there are now 1455 tigers in Florida, second only to Texas. There are more tiger breeders in Florida than in any other state. Numerous incidents are reported throughout the country with wild cats posing a threat to the public, generally resulting in the death of the cat. As recently as February 2006 tigers and pet cougars have been found wandering loose in neighborhoods where children play. They escaped or were turned loose when no longer wanted by their owners.

This has to stop. We need better laws and regulations that ban the breeding, selling, and exploiting of exotic cats. It is cruel for the cats, and dangerous to the community. Do not support the roadside exhibitors of wild cats, or the businesses that hire these people for commercial purposes. Write your legislators and tell them you want to protect the cats and the public. Sign our petition HERE.

The tiger in this photo belongs to a USDA regulated person in Florida who takes the cat with him as shown here or in the back of a pickup truck. He charges to bring cats to schools and events. By walking them on leashes and letting them ride in the front of his pick up truck, regardless what he says about whether they make good pets, by his example he gives people the impression that they are manageable and can make good pets.  The USDA’s own internal audit shows that they are not effectively enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, especially in the Eastern Region of the U.S.  Read it HERE

View this slide show to see what life is really like for captive exotic cats.  Play Slide show.

Big Cat Rescue recognizes the individual needs of the exotic cat and believes that there is NO reason to breed exotic cats for life in a cage. There is not one program today in which exotic cats are being bred for release back to the wild. Exotic cats do not belong in cages and were not meant to be used for our entertainment. Displaying big cats in un natural situations, such as in circus acts, on leashes (which is illegal now) or in un natural cages does not educate the public about the plight of the cat and does nothing to conserve habitat for them in the wild. No one who pays $20.00 to have their picture taken with a cub is doing anything to help the species.

On the contrary, they are helping to fuel the second largest illegal market (only behind illegal drugs) which is the 20 billion dollar trade in exotic animals. USDA does not allow contact with big cat cubs who are less than 8 weeks old, or more than 12 weeks old.  That means they can only be used for photo and petting sessions for one month, thus every month that cute little cub outgrows his usefulness, so he is discarded and more are bred. The cats are often sold to canned hunts, private owners who breed and sell more or are used to supply the Asian “medicinal” trade. The US is the number one supplier of tiger parts and the second largest consumer of them.

Watch this streaming video produced by The Humane Society of the United States that shows the rescue of 39 tigers from a USDA approved facility.  Click on the praying tiger to start the show.

Please Help Stop This Sort of Abuse

In this video clip (lower file size version of video clip) and the photos below you can see the shameful activities that are still occurring and will continue until you speak up for the animals.

Click on pictures to see them larger.

» State and Federal Bills on Big Cats «
Stop exotic cats from being killed and abused.
Save the Lion
Sign Petition to Protect the Lion from Extinction GO »
The IX Indoor Amusement Park hosts abusive circus acts!
Please help by speaking up for the tigers today GO »
Dying to be Held
The Truth Behind Tiger Cub Encounters GO »
End Tiger Farming in the U.S.
Breeding for Pay to Play Sessions Results in Thousands of Tigers Ending Up in Awful Situations GO »
Mounds Mall hosts abusive cub exhibits!
Please help by speaking up for the cubs today GO »
What should be the philosophy of venues like fairs about display of big cats? We think the letter below from Get Rescued in Gulfport founder and coordinator captures it very well and sets a great example:

“I will never have a wild animal at one of my festivals.   You can rest assured that I don’t consider caging and parading wild animals in hot weather with thousands of dogs and all the other loud noises to be humane. I am also not afraid to challenge anyone who breaks my rules.”

Sincerely, Lynda Shehan
Get Rescued…….In Gulfport
Founder and Coordinator
www. GetRescuedInGulfport.com

If you see something like this going on, let us know and with your help we will try to stop it. In many cases it is not against the law but it is easy to see that it should be. For now all we can do is contact the property owners and let them know that it isn’t good for the animals, it is dangerous for the community and it makes us all look bad to have this sort of activity taking place in our town. When you contact us please have the name of the exhibitor, the street address or location where they are set up and the property owners name if you can find that out. Many of these people claim to have insurance coverage, but most are million dollar policies and some animal caused injuries have resulted in 30 million dollar law suits. If the property owners had all the facts they probably would not welcome these “educators” onto their property.

You can file a federal complaint with appropriate regional office of USDA. You can find the right office in your state to complain at a state level.  In many cases these outfits are not listed in Florida as a non profit and are not registered with the state to solicit contributions. This is punishable by fines of $1000.00 per violation. You can research any Florida charity: Prospective donors should contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Florida only toll-free hotline at 1-800-HELPFLA (435-7352) to verify registration and financial information.  Send photos if you can and copy Big Cat Rescue with your complaints and photos so that we can help put pressure on these regulating bodies to do their jobs.

You can write to the property owners where these people set up and tell them that you do not condone this sort of practice and that it makes them look bad in the eyes of the community to be profiteering from the misery of the animals.

Help Big Cat Rescue get better laws passed to protect these great cats from such exploitation. Don’t support people who drag big cats out in public to “educate” or entertain.

If you see this sort of abuse going on please report it to Carole Baskin CEO of Big Cat Rescue at MakeADifference@bigcatrescue.org or write us at 12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625.

Please include dates, times and photos and complete contact information on you so that we can verify the situation. In some cases what these people do is not illegal, but with your help we can often persuade the community to protest the activity.

Your tax deductible donation helps us fight the injustice to exotic cats.

SPEAK UP FOR THE CATS HERE!

Read about what happens to these unwanted cubs when they outgrow their usefulness. Nakoma’s Story.
Did you know?

The following is a partial listing of incidents involving captive big cats since 1990. These incidents have resulted in the deaths and maulings of children, adults and big cats.   Updated daily HERE.

That the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that only 10% of the 15,000 tigers in the U.S. are in professionally regulated zoos and sanctuaries. Add to that more than 5000 cougars and assorted other big cats and you start to see the enormity of the problem.

That only 18 states ban big cats as pets in this country and most of those states have ridiculous loopholes that are exploited by those intent on breeding and selling big cats as pets. For example, in the state of Florida it is illegal to own a big cat as a pet, but if you buy a $40.00 USDA permit, drag it out in public in a tiny cage and call yourself an educator it is permitted.

That there are only 90 USDA inspectors who are responsible for inspecting more than 20,000 breeders, dealers and exhibitors of wildlife. USDA only requires that the animal be able to stand up and turn around in its permanent enclosure and that alone is inhumane to an exotic cat that is hard wired to roam more than 400 square miles. The USDA’s own internal audit shows that they are not effectively enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, especially in the Eastern Region of the U.S.  Read it HERE

That there are only 23 sanctuaries and rescue facilities that are accredited by The Association of Sanctuaries even though there are thousands of places that claim to be animal refuges.

That just in the state of Florida there are more than 4,000 people with permits to own wild animals.  Of that number more than 400 facilities are permitted to own tigers, gorillas and other Class I dangerous animals, and /or “small” cats, but only 21 are accredited zoos and only 3 are accredited rescue facilities.  The State of Florida does not consider a 250 pound cougar to be a “big” cat.

Even though Florida has an outright ban on possessing tigers as personal pets, the state now has 1,455 tigers, (according to the Palm Beach Post) a 50 percent increase in 15 months and second only to Texas in the nation. There are more tiger breeders in Florida than anywhere else. Florida also has 262 USDA exhibitors with big cats, more than any other state.

That 98% of all exotic animals die within the first two years of being brought home as pets.

That the illegal portion of the 20 billion dollar trade in exotic pets is second only to the market for illegal drugs?

That for every one performing animal you see, there were 30 that were killed or discarded because they refused.

There are less than 2000 tigers left in the wild due primarily to habitat loss and hunting. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the tiger population has declined by more than 95% in the past hundred years.

Until recently, most exotic cats seeking refuge came from pet owners, but since the 1990’s the majority come from badly managed facilities operating under the guise of being non profit sanctuaries. How to tell a real sanctuary from a fake.

Nakoma was purposely starved, deprived of vitamins and calcium, and kept in a small concrete space.  Hardly conditions fit for a king.

That’s when Big Cat Rescue stepped in and rescued young Nakoma from a livestock auction.  Imagine that, the “king of beasts” being auctioned off .  Nakoma was so crippled in the hind legs and so malnourished that no one wanted him and he was sold for only $200.

Only a year earlier this little lion cub was the picture of health and vitality.  His owner made money by selling people the opportunity to have their photograph taken with the cute and cuddly lion cub.  In the state of Florida, however, it is against the law to allow contact with a big cat over 40 pounds.  So Nakoma’s former owner purposely starved him and deprived him of vitamins to keep him under the weight limit.  As a result of this deficiency, Nakoma developed paralysis in his hind legs.  Crippled, unwanted and abused, he was found with gaping gashes in his body that had become infested with maggots.  Yet despite all this, he was still a very lovable, talkative cub.

Big Cat Rescue took Nakoma into their care.  But after a year and a half of proper nutrition and supplements, he was still having an increasingly hard time moving his back legs.  It took him two hours just to walk across his pen by dragging himself with his front paws.  X-rays, a spinal tap and MRI all came out negative, meaning that Nakoma’s paralysis had most likely been caused by the thiamin deficiency he endured.

On July 12, 1998, during his MRI, Nakoma tragically stopped breathing and died.  His quiet passing may have been a blessing in disguise since nothing could be done for his crippled body.  In fact, the vets said his condition would have continued to deteriorate until he could not move at all.

Today, Nakoma’s body rests in a grave on the site, adorned with his proud picture.  This brave little king will never be forgotten and everybody can take solace in that Big Cat Rescue was at least able to make his last years a little better.

You’re invited to tour the facility and see Nakoma’s tomb, as well as view over 150 big cats from 22 different species who thanks to Big Cat Rescue are alive and well today.  As an accredited non-profit educational rescue facility, Big Cat Rescue has the largest and most diverse collection of exotic cats in the world.  Here you can actually get within three feet of these magnificent creatures and see them in naturalistic enclosures that are much larger than the finest zoos.  What’s more, you can personally sponsor any cat on the premises.  Any donation is tax deductible and will help Big Cat Rescue continue to provide food, shelter, vet care and daily enrichment for the cats.

It takes USDA 5 years to shut down this sort of abuse:

Charlotte Hebert, left, and her husband, Dwain, show photographs of three tiger cubs they took into their home last year along with the man who owned the animals, 32-year-old Eric Drogosch.

The baby tigers landed in the Heberts’ lives in a bar parking lot.

That’s where a smooth-talking, 6-foot stranger from Texas offered anyone with $20 the chance to be photographed with the tigers while holding and feeding them.

The stranger let the Heberts get extra close. He allowed Charlotte Hebert, 50, a payroll manager from Prairieville, to feed the tigers inside their cage, an event immortalized and framed in the Heberts’ kitchen. Charlotte sits cross-legged in the photo, holding a baby’s bottle to a tiger’s lips. She is smiling joyously.

Charlotte and her husband, Dwain, a plain-spoken electrician, said they have always adored animals but love the exotic kind most. During the Heberts’ only visit to the Baton Rouge zoo, they saw big cats in unbelievably small spaces and left depressed. They said they never went back.

They were thrilled, however, to find such magnificent cats in a bar parking lot 25 miles outside of Baton Rouge .

“I wanted to get in that cage with them as soon as I saw them,” Dwain Hebert said. “I always wanted tigers. Always wanted bears. I like the idea of being around them.”

The owner of the tiger cubs, Eric Drogosch, 32, told the Heberts that he raised animals at a sanctuary in Terrell , Texas , and wanted to do the same thing in south Louisiana . An older couple was going to donate the land — a vacant strip mall in Denham Springs — but he needed help. He said he needed money and he needed shelter, the Heberts said.

The Heberts were interested. Within weeks, Drogosch and his tigers were staying in the Heberts’ back yard — Drogosch in a motor home and the tigers in a horse trailer. The Heberts said everything was fine for about two days.

By the end of his stay, two of Drogosch’s tigers were dead. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had started tracking him. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had revoked his exhibitor’s license. Drogosch was arrested on a drunken driving count with one of the tigers in his truck. And Dwain Hebert, along with two women he had never met, arranged a hasty deal just before Christmas to take possession of the surviving tigers.

“You just never could believe a word he did say,” Dwain Hebert, 54, said. “I don’t know if we were stupid or what. Those tigers were just a weakness for both of us.”

Few details of Drogosch’s Baton Rouge stay surprised the USDA, which has tracked Drogosch for five years, a spokesman said.

“Eric’s had problems before,” said Dan Jones, who supervises inspections for the USDA’s Western Region. “Since we found out he was allegedly exhibiting in Baton Rouge , he was hard to track down. He’s elusive, and he’s been that way for quite some time.”

Amy Rhodes, who monitors animals in entertainment for PETA, said she hadn’t heard of Drogosch until he came to Baton Rouge . But getting a tiger is “easy as getting a dog or cat in most cases,” she said, and makes businessmen such as Drogosch liable to show up anywhere, anytime.

“Any opportunity to make a quick buck, that’s what people like Drogosch do,” Rhodes said. “People are so enthralled with baby tiger cubs, and understandably. But the information we have about this Drogosch guy is irrefutable. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to have anything to do with him.”

The USDA regulates exhibition, selling and breeding of exotic animals — not ownership — and few state laws regulate their handling. Louisiana has no such laws, although some parishes do, including Orleans and Jefferson .

The state Legislature enacted a law in 2003 that regulates handling of “non-indigenous constrictors in excess of twelve feet in length, venomous snakes, and nonhuman primates.”

Dan Maloney, who lobbied on behalf of the 2003 law as general curator for Audubon Zoo in New Orleans , said it’s time to broaden the scope of that legislation.

“Clearly Louisiana needs a state law that regulates keeping exotic big cats,” Maloney said. “Not having a law is dangerous for the community and just not appropriate. It’s time we look at our statewide obligation.”

In Business

As Animal Adventures America — his business in Texas — Drogosch has taken lions, tigers and leopards to fairs, festivals and businesses. He also has invited guests to his land, offering “a real wildlife park in the making,” according to one of his fliers. The cost runs $1,000 for five days and four nights, although “Goods and services may be used as a form of payment for activities,” the flier says.

Among the visitors to Animal Adventures America last year is a Baton Rouge woman named Susan Aronson, a self-described “animal rights activist of 35 years.” Aronson said she traveled to Terrell at a friend’s recommendation because she wanted to feed baby lion cubs. Animal Adventures impressed her.

“It was wonderful, a beautiful facility,” Aronson said. “From what I saw, I would have had no reason to doubt anything about Eric. The animals were well cared for.”

Aronson said she didn’t hear from Drogosch again until he came to Baton Rouge in June. Believing they shared a love of animals, she said, she introduced him to several of her friends. Among them is Linda McCarley, a self-employed private investigator who, with Aronson, later was involved in acquiring the cubs. McCarley said Drogosch — “a real charmer, a nice-looking guy” — visited her home three times with his cubs.

“It was so exotic,” she said. “When they’re little they’re so — I don’t know. I can’t explain it. If you ever get to touch one and feel their fur, even the color of it — and their eyes. All of that. They’re like helpless little children.”

Contacted twice by cell phone, Drogosch said he has traveled to Baton Rouge with baby tigers each of the last five years and that he did indeed plan to start an Animal Adventures in Baton Rouge . He says his intentions were good.

“I love my animals,” he said. “I felt like they were my children.”

But, he said, he also had to earn money, and that offering the tigers for feedings and photos made him as much as $400 a day.

“How is it mistreating a baby tiger to feed him from a baby bottle and allow kids to pet him?” he said.

Drogosch said if he makes 1,000 people happy and upsets “a couple of people, I’m doing a pretty good job.”

Among his stops were a fast food Mexican restaurant, an RV store, a daiquiri shop, a flea market, LSU football games, several bars and a topless club.

Scott Vankerkhove, who owns Rocky’s RV in Walker , said Drogosch set up outside the business three times, including last fall. He paid Drogosch an appearance fee — he could not remember how much — on top of whatever Drogosch earned for himself.

“It was extremely popular,” Vankerkhove said. “Wherever he was, it was an attraction. No question. People were just enamored of the tigers. It was always popular for the kids and that type of thing.”

Drogosch also twice set up at Zippy’s fast food Mexican restaurant on Perkins Road near Interstate 10.

Jason Hammack, Zippy’s general manager, said Drogosch showed up for the first time in mid-October with two tigers, a camera, a computer and a printer. Drogosch charged $20 per picture, but, Hammack said, Zippy’s didn’t pay him a dime.

“After we did it the first time, we had a lot of phone calls asking if we were going to do it again,” Hammack said. “People seemed to like it.”

Drogosch was invited back for the weekend after Thanksgiving, a visit that didn’t go as well. On the Sunday after the holiday, Hammack said, he got a call from a regular customer who complained that Drogosch had ignored her and her family as they waited to be photographed with the tigers.

Hammack said he decided to sever Zippy’s relationship with Drogosch immediately.

About a week later, Zippy’s got a two-page letter from Rhodes , of PETA. She noted that the USDA had revoked Drogosch’s exhibitor’s license two months earlier for dozens of violations dating to 2002, and encouraged the restaurant to send Drogosch packing.

Hammack, figuring he was done with Drogosch anyway, said he did not reply to PETA’s letter.

Rhodes said she fielded about six calls about Drogosch’s Zippy’s stint — “a lot considering this is one small Mexican restaurant in one small area.”

The licensing troubles she referenced are detailed in an Oct. 28 order in which Drogosch is accused of violating the Animal Welfare Act for denying USDA inspectors access to his facilities, animals and records; providing insufficient housing and care to the animals; and failing to “handle tigers carefully,” which led to a child being injured.

The document does not detail the incident, but Drogosch said it amounted to a girl being nipped on her side by a baby lion at a Longview , Texas , fair in 2002.

“The gravity of the violations alleged in the complaint is great,” the order says. “(Drogosch) has continually failed to comply with the regulations and standards, after having been repeatedly advised of deficiencies.”

Exhibiting

The Heberts said Drogosch initially told them he was keeping the tigers in a warehouse, but they learned from their 22-year-old son — who had also befriended Drogosch — that the animals were staying either in Drogosch’s hotel room or in pet carriers in his truck.

Two weeks later, the son, who did not want to be identified or interviewed, told his parents that one of the tigers, named Sonja, had died.

Drogosch told the Heberts that Sonja died from anaphylactic shock — circulatory and respiratory failure — after being moved too quickly from 100-degree heat to a 55-degree hotel room. The Heberts were unsettled, but agreed when Drogosch tearfully asked if he could bury the tiger in their back yard. He wrapped the animal in a white sheet, and buried it next to their Great Dane.

Drogosch said in an interview that the tiger’s death was “my own mistake.”

Shortly after Sonja died, Drogosch was still talking about starting a wildlife refuge in Baton Rouge . Spurred by such a vision, the Heberts said they took him in along with three of his tigers.

The only time he did anything productive, they said, was on Fridays and Saturdays, when he packed up two tigers for a night of business. The Heberts said Drogosch prepared the tigers for their exhibitions by withholding food for hours so that they would fixate on being bottle fed by strangers. Drogosch denies this.

Meanwhile, plans for the refuge never progressed.

“All we heard was excuse, excuse, excuse,” Dwain Hebert said. “We were all gung-ho. We still are. The idea of getting your picture taken with a tiger is great, but not at a bar and not with some guy who’s just trying to make money.”

A series of incidents made the Heberts more wary and led them to cut ties with Drogosch, they said. First, he was arrested on a count of second-offense DWI the morning of Nov. 11, after a Baton Rouge police officer allegedly saw him swerve along Interstate 10 near College Drive .

The officer wrote in a report that Drogosch — unsteady, slurring his speech and emitting a “strong odor” of alcohol — was transporting a baby tiger. Drogosch was booked into Parish Prison after lamenting to the officer that he would not pass a breath test, an arrest report says. His arraignment in City Court is scheduled for Feb. 15.

The Heberts said they grew more concerned when another of Drogosch’s tigers, Zena, which had been staying elsewhere because it didn’t get along with the other tigers, also died. In the interview, Drogosch said he took the animal to a veterinarian’s office in December for what he thought was a stomach ache. Two days later, Zena was dead. He said he does not know what happened to the tiger’s body or the official cause of death.

“We finally got tired of him not doing anything and staying drunk all the time,” Dwain Hebert said. “I told him, ‘I don’t care about you, I’m doing this for the tigers and that’s it.’ He said that hurt his feelings. I said, ‘I don’t care,’ and that I’d take care of the tigers forever but he had to go.”

Drogosch confirmed that he has had a drinking problem, but said he is in treatment.

Hebert said he and Drogosch brokered a deal in which he and his wife would take the tigers and find land where they could keep them. They found 16 acres in St. Amant and began thinking about selling their home.

But the deal fell apart one day as the Heberts played with the tigers after work, which had become a daily ritual. While trying to keep one of the cubs from jumping on her, Charlotte Hebert was bitten in the right arm, a wound that she said needed seven stitches.

Dwain Hebert said Drogosch insisted that the Heberts lie about the cause of the bite. Dwain Hebert said he wouldn’t lie, and an argument erupted. Both Hebert and Drogosch said Drogosch packed up the tigers and left. Drogosch said he moved into a hotel, and at night kept the animals either in his room on in pet carriers.

Served

East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control Center Director Hilton Cole said that about that same time, he first talked to Dan Jones of the USDA. Cole learned that Drogosch’s license, revoked in October, would have remained valid until January, but that Drogosch had not notified the USDA that he would be exhibiting tigers across state lines, which he was required to do within 10 days. His license was therefore invalid, Jones told him.

Having already fielded several complaints about Drogosch while he still thought his license was valid, Cole wrote a letter ordering him to stop conducting business in East Baton Rouge Parish. But he couldn’t track down Drogosch to serve it. Finally, based on a tip, Cole left the letter on a Perkins Road apartment door on Dec. 21 where he thought Drogosch was staying.

That same day, Aronson said, she got a call from Drogosch in which he said he was taking his tigers and leaving town. He asked for gas money. By then, Aronson had also become suspicious of Drogosch, although she declined to say why.

“Let’s just say I did some checking on my own,” she said.

No longer believing Drogosch had the animals’ interest at heart, Aronson called McCarley, who agreed that Drogosch shouldn’t take the tigers anywhere. The women offered to buy the tigers.

Drogosch initially asked $1,500 per tiger, McCarley said. Instead, with Aronson leading the negotiations, a group made up of McCarley, Aronson, the Heberts and others agreed to put up $800 in exchange for the three tigers. The agreement called for the tigers to go to Audubon Zoo. Negotiations were simple, Aronson said.

“I think Eric may be a good-hearted person, but I believe he was neglecting the animals that died,” she said. “The other three were living in cages, and we wanted them to be in a better place. The only way to get them away from him was to give him what he wants, which is money.”

Drogosch said he did not sell the tigers — selling tigers without a license is illegal — but that he was given money during the exchange to help pay for his Christmas travels to San Diego . He said he didn’t want to let go of the tigers but was compelled because Aronson, McCarley and the Heberts “kept hounding me and harassing my clients.”

“I was bawling my eyes out,” he said. “But it was just less hassle. I got rid of the cats and got (Aronson and McCarley) off my back.”

Maloney of Audubon Zoo said the tigers arrived in weakened condition — thin and lacking “an optimum diet.” Two had ringworm. One had been given a “rudimentary de-claw job” which Maloney said would be as painful as walking on broken glass. He estimates the tigers were about 7, 5 and 4 months old.

Told of Maloney’s assessment, Drogosch said the tigers were “healthy and strong when they left my possession.”

The tigers stayed in New Orleans for a week before being sent to the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center in Colorado , a nonprofit refuge where they will spend the rest of their days. The Heberts said they plan to visit the tigers and still hope to open a wildlife refuge in south Louisiana .

Dan Jones of the USDA said Drogosch will not be allowed to exhibit animals again.

“He does not have an exhibitor’s license with the USDA, and we do not intend to give him one,” Jones said. “I don’t think Eric’s going to be in your area exhibiting animals anymore. He’s done with us.”

Jones would not discuss his thoughts on exotic animal ownership.

“We’ve been instructed not to answer those kinds of questions,” he said. “But the official statement from the agency discourages the ownership of dangerous exotic animals.”

Although Drogosch is still free to own tigers just as anyone else, he said he is out of the animal business. He has been raking leaves for a living, but said he hopes to find a better job soon.

http://www.2theadvocate.com/stories/020605/new_tiger001.shtml

It took USDA even longer to shut down Savage Kingdom and people had to be mauled and killed there before any action was taken.

Stop this sort of abuse now. Speak out for the animals.