Breeding Tigers in the U.S. Kills Tigers in the Wild
Asking how that can be? Here is how.
The private ownership of tigers in the U.S. negatively impacts conservation in a number of ways:
Negative conservation message. The primary driver of breeding tigers in the U.S. is the need for a constant supply of tiger cubs in order to charge the public to take photos with them, pet them and swim with them. The exhibitors falsely claim that this causes people to be more interested in conservation. The opposite is true for two reasons.
1) Exhibitors argue that close contact with the animals creates awareness of conservation. Studies with primates have shown the opposite to be true. (Citations).
2) Exhibitors tell people that the tiger is inevitably going extinct in the wild so the only way to “conserve” them is to breed them in captivity.
First, “conservation” is preserving the balance of nature in the wild. Having tigers in a cage to gawk at is not conservation. The only time breeding in captivity has a positive conservation impact is when animals (1) are of pure genetic heritage, (2) are either inherently capable of surviving in the wild or can be taught to survive in the wild (like BCR’s rehab program for orphaned bobcat kittens we teach to hunt and then release) and (3) there is habitat into which the animals can be released. NONE of these criteria are met by the generic tigers that are used for cub petting and display.
Second, as opposed to increasing interest in conservation in the wild, the statement that the tigers are going extinct in the wild so we need them in cages to preserve them does the opposite. What this argument “teaches” people in effect is that we don’t have to worry about tigers going extinct in the wild if we have them in cages. So it teaches people NOT to be concerned about preservation of tigers in the wild.
Impairing U.S. credibility in influencing other nations. There are estimated to be 5,000 to 10,000 tigers in private hands in the U.S. Those who have USDA licenses are supposed to keep a census showing acquisitions, dispositions and those they possess at a given time. But the exhibitors only need to keep records for a year and only keep them on hand for inspection. USDA does not collect this data and track it. There is no tracking of private owners of tigers who do not have a USDA license.
An organization called TRAFFIC commissioned a study a few years ago to determine if parts from U.S. tigers might be entering the illegal trade. The study concluded that there was no way to know how many U.S. tigers end up in the trade for their parts because of the lack of tracking. For instance, two of the most notorious prolific breeders of tiger cubs, one in Wynnewood, OK and one in Myrtle Beach, SC each breed dozens of tigers each year for petting and there is no tracking of where these cubs end up.
There is an international treaty called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Without going into details, the nations meet every few years to report on progress, discuss issues and vote on recommendations. Again to keep it short, China and a few other nations want to change the CITES rules to allow them to breed tigers like we breed cattle or chickens on “tiger farms” and slaughter them to sell their parts and products made from their parts (called derivatives) like tiger bone wine. Those countries falsely argue that if they “supply the market” for these products from the farms then there will be no incentive to poach tigers from the wild. This is absolutely not true for two reasons. First, the wild tiger will always be considered the premium product, particularly when it comes to derivatives that are alleged to have aphrodisiac qualities. So expanding the market by making supply more readily available will create even more demand for the premium wild tiger product. Second, it is simply much cheaper to poach a tiger than to feed and house one for years until it is large enough to slaughter.
The U.S. fortunately opposes tiger farming and sale of tiger parts and derivative, as do many other nations.
So what does this have to do with breeding captive tigers in the U.S. for cub petting and having them end up in back yards and no one knows where?
Recently we were participants in a meeting of NGOs (non governmental organizations) from around the world that are involved in tiger conservation. They universally bemoaned the fact that while the U.S. was an ally in trying to resist efforts by some nations to farm tigers and legalize the sale of parts and derivatives, the U.S. credibility and effectiveness is severely impaired because the nations favoring the legal sale of tiger parts point to our widespread untracked captive population and ask how can the U.S. credibly ask those nations to stop captive breeding when we set such a bad example of rampant breeding in our country with no idea how many tigers here may be killed for their parts and end up in the international trade. The nations with tiger farms point out that at least they know where their tigers are.
Is there something YOU can do to stop tigers from being killed in the wild? YES!
We can hugely increase the ability of the United States to influence the international community to prevent the tiger farming and sale of tiger parts and products that will increase the poaching of wild tigers. How? By passing the Big Cat Public Safety Act HR 3546 / S 2541. This law would end most of the private breeding and possession of big cats in this country. Passing this bill into law would show that the U.S. was ending the private breeding here and restore our credibility with the international community.
How can you help? It is easy and takes only a few minutes. Just visit BigCatAct.com and learn how to email or call your Representative and Senators and urge them to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
With about 80 cats of 10 species, Big Cat Rescue always has something interesting going on and we want to share it with the world. Our limitations have been the high cost of outdoor cameras and enough bandwidth to make it viable. At the bottom of this page is a map and a video of potential camera locations.
Vacation Rotation Enclosure
The Vacation Rotation enclosure is 2.5 acres where we rotate different lions, tigers and cougars for two week vacations. At the 18 second mark, if you can imagine being about 15 feet up in the air and looking down at the tiger, is where I would put a web cam so the pond and fountain are up front. It happens to be the point closest to Internet, which is about 75 feet away.
Every two weeks the new cat or cats move in, so there is always a lot of activity that day and then typically a lot of exploring in the early morning and evening hours. During the heat of the day, it will be cats snoozing, but I could watch that all day.
Max and Mary Ann
Max and Mary Ann are two young bobcats who were rescued from different situations, but were young enough to introduce. Now their favorite spot to be is on top of one of their platforms within just inches of the side wall of the cage. A camera on the side or above them would have a lot of action in about a 3 foot square space, as that is their favorite spot to groom, play and nap.
Warning, the music will stay in your head the rest of the day.
TJ Tiger Pond
TJ the tiger has a 2+ acre enclosure that goes down into our lake. One of his favorite places to lay is on the lake bank and he loves to splash in the lake. The camera could be place at the same vantage point from where this was filmed, as we were up on a cat walk above him.
Windsong Memorial Hospital
We have a Nest cam in the Windsong Memorial, directly over the operation table.
At the 40 second mark in this video you can see the inside of the hospital. At the 3:09 mark, you can see the ceiling where there is a cut out to the loft above. This is where the camera has the best view of the surgery.
Feeding Time at Big Cat Rescue
One of the things people never get tired of seeing is the cats being fed. The cats are all fed in small wire enclosures because we have to train them to come into a small space for vet exams and emergencies. It’s not a very interesting spot, except around 9 am every day, but then it can be just amazing to see and hear a cat crunching through bones. Probably the best place for a camera would be one of the 3 feeding areas attached to the Vacation Rotation area above because it would always have a different big cat and would be about 300 feet from the other VR camera.
In this video you can see the hospital room where cats go through rehab before being allowed outside.
Current Nest Cam
This is currently being used by Nirvana the Ocelot.
This is an aerial shot of our property, outlined in green. The red area is the Vacation Rotation area and Intern housing. Intern housing is on the left 1/3 and the VR is the other 2/3’s of that space. At the bottom right you can see the cell tower that is paying rent to be on our property, but has no dishes on it. They have removed most of the supportive gear, generators, etc., so I don’t think they have plans for the site any time soon. Nextel built it, but a new company pays us rent now. I’ll find out who, if this helps get us better coverage. We have Frontier FKA Verizon FIOS through our property at 10 spots (all buildings).
Below is a video where I walked around today and shot the areas that I think would make for the best web cam experiences.
Green is our boundary. Red is the Vacation Rotation area. If the site has an explore.org live cam, there will be a link.
1. Vacation Rotation 15 feet up w/ view of entire enclosure http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-vacation-rotation
2. Vacation Rotation feeding area http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-feeding-station
3. TJ Tiger lake bank http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-tiger-lake
4. Max and Mary Ann the Bobcats on their platform
5. Rehab (actually further to the right in a 3 ac parcel adjacent http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-bobcat-rehab-and-release
6. Kitten Cabana for domestic kittens that are always between 6-8 weeks of age http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-kitten-cabana
7. Vacation Rotation for small cats that is under construction
8. Nakita Lioness from 15 feet up in the corner of the open area http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-lioness-nikita
9. Cat Hospitals (one for surgeries, the other for rehab) http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-windsong-memorial-cat-hospital and X-ray http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-x-ray-cam
10. Alternate feeding station that looks into the cypress bayou for TJ tiger
It was either late 1997 or maybe 1998 when a friend of mine walked into my office and said, “You have to see this!”
That led to a road trip to secretly meet with an elephant keeper who said that he just hated tigers and would do anything to get rid of them. He was angry because his well hidden plot of dirt, where used elephants go to disappear, had been taken over by a long row of circus wagons full of tigers. I could not believe my eyes when I saw circus wagon after wagon, each with a lone tiger and a water bowl and nothing else.
No shade, no toys, no place to lay except on the hot, hard floors of the iron barred cages. The keeper said the cats had been there for a couple of years because they wouldn’t perform any more and that USDA was all over them about the conditions, but nobody wanted to spend money on building a retirement center for them because, unlike the elephants, breeding them wasn’t as lucrative. There were plenty of back yard breeders who were using cubs for photo ops and then selling them to the circuses to be used.
That began 2 or 3 years of negotiations between me and the circus to get these cats out of the beast wagons and into our sanctuary. I’d just lost my husband and the courts had seized our assets because we didn’t know where he’d gone, or if he’d be back. His kids by a former wife didn’t want any more of “their money” being wasted on feeding and caring for lions, tigers and the other hundred or so exotic cats at the sanctuary. I had to learn how to ask for money and help because I could only access a limited allowance, which was a third of what it cost to actually run the rescue. There was no way I could afford to take the 20 tigers from the circus when I knew that each cat would cost me 7500.00 in just food and vet care (back then).
The negotiations ended with the agreement that the circus would build the cages and supply the food and vet care costs and I would take the cats who were currently sitting in Williston, FL and the rest of the tigers as they got ill or stopped performing until all 19 tigers and 1 leopard were here. The caveat was that I could not tell anyone the name of the circus or they could take the cats back. I held good to that promise because I shudder at the thought of where these cats could end up.
Just before Christmas in the year 2000 the first six tigers arrived: “the bengal” (because he never had a name and was just referred to by his breed), his brother, S.A.R.M.O.T.I., Nini, Axel, Buffy and Conan. We added the i to Bengal to give him a proper name of Bengali. Bengali and S.A.R.M.O.T.I. had been reported to have been born at the infamous Siegfried and Roy nightclub in Las Vegas, but because they were the “wrong” color (golden instead of white) they were handed off to the circus. They rode in a chariot behind horses, which had to be a torment to the horses, as well as the tigers, who were restrained (use your imagination for how, but I guarantee it wasn’t “positive reinforcement”) from doing what they would naturally do to horses.
Getting records from circuses and private owners always proves challenging. The paperwork they arrived with said Bengali had been born in 1995, but later, one of the circus vets said they had records on him going back to 1993. We discovered that back in 2013 when his brother S.A.R.M.O.T.I. died. Whether he was 5 or 7 when he arrived; he was still a youngster. Tigers usually don’t begin killing their owners and trainers until they are somewhere between 5 and 7, even though they can look full grown at a year or two. When Bengali arrived his trainers said he was treacherous and would surely kill someone, but as soon as he had 2,000 square feet of space to himself, with a pond, cave, trees, bushes and grass, he became one of the happiest and most beloved of tigers who ever stepped foot on Tampa soil.
It was clear, as I tried to walk off the morning’s events, and saw ALL of our volunteers and interns crying, from one end of this 67 acre refuge to the other, that Bengal was leaving a hole in our hearts that nothing would ever fill. Bengali’s health has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for the past several years. He’s been treated for a recurring ear infection, and each time has bounced back, but a week or so ago he had a seizure and bit his tongue. After that he didn’t want to eat and we couldn’t get him to take his meds. Without his pain management meds, for all of his old cat issues, he felt worse. The worse he felt, the less inclined he was to eat or take his pills. When he had a second seizure and bit the other side of his tongue we knew that it was time to let him go. He was the last of the cats from that circus.
We don’t know if he’s 21 or 23, but in either event, it’s twice as long as tigers usually live. Bengali got to spend most of that surrounded by people who love him. As we kneeled beside him for his last breaths I noticed again the scars on his elbows from the years of pacing around in the tiny circus wagon. I couldn’t hold back the tears. None of us could. If you knew Bengali, then I know you are crying too.
Please don’t let his life in the circus, and that of all the cats who have lived and died in miserable little cages for the amusement of ignorant people, be in vain. Please take the pledge to never go to a circus that uses wild animals and help end the suffering. http://nocircustigers.com
More history of Bengali Tiger
A circus commissioned Big Cat Rescue to build him, as well as several other big cats, a 2,000 square foot enclosure with a den, pool, and lots of space to lay out by the lake and soak up the Florida sunshine. They could have sold him into the pet trade or worse, but instead they sent Bengali here.
Bengali used to ride on a horse drawn chariot in the circus. When he arrived we were told that he was very dangerous because he was so confrontational. It is amazing what a change in living conditions have done for this tiger. Since his days are no longer spent on the road living in a cramped transport crate, but rather playing with his giant red ball, soaking in his pool, napping high on top of his jungle gym platform, or chuffing at his visitors, he is a very happy tiger.
Bengali loves operant conditioning sessions. Operant conditioning is a form of training that utilizes positive reinforcement to encourage natural behaviors such as “sit” and “down.” Being able to have cats like Bengali perform these behaviors on command allows our veterinarians to get a much closer and hands off look during routine examinations.
Several years ago Bengali became ill. He had been losing interest in food and was losing weight. Thanks to Bengali’s operant conditioning the vet was able to draw blood from his tail without having to sedate him. His keepers asked Bengali to lay down and kept his focus on food rewards during the entire procedure.
September 2014 Video: Natalia Borrego, a doctoral research student from the University of Miami, conducts a research experiment with Bengali and some of the other tigers around the sanctuary. Turns out, Bengali is one smart feline (but we already knew that)! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cd1jyaymOhg
July 2013 Video: Independence Day at Big Cat Rescue! Watch Bengali, Shere Khan & China Doll create some purr-fect artwork to celebrate the 4th of July! *Using non-toxic paint and 4ft x 4ft canvases the tigers had a grrreat time making “art”! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNL-KeDlPAc
December 2008 Video: Bengali has a habit of “playing” with his water bowl which actually means desctroying it. His water bowl has been replaced a few times, watch this funny video to see how he keeps destroying his water bowl and what the staff has done to try to ‘fix’ the issue. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1ro89JLu_I
My hands were shaking, all the way up my arms and vibrating my torso. It was the emotional tension of what was going to happen next and the physical tension of holding the Y pole in such a way to ensure that the vet wouldn’t take a bite to her face and making sure that the touch against Teisha’s neck was only feather light. She had been sedated twenty minutes earlier and appeared to be completely unconscious but you just never know when a big cat will wake with no warning or if some muscle spasm might cause them to chomp at the air. Usually this was Jamie’s roll, but she was inbound on a flight from St. Kitts, where she and Dr. Justin Boorstein, her husband and our other volunteer vet, had been lecturing to the 200 vet students there. Gale is much more experienced as a vet tech, and was assisting by holding off a vein to cause it to bulge enough so that Dr. Wynn could inject the pink liquid that would ease Teisha to whatever comes next.
The needle was thin, so I could see Dr. Wynn successfully struggling against the thick fluid. She was trying desperately to make this last moment that Teisha had on this planet one that was filled with peace and a feeling of being surrounded by souls who loved her. As usual, when cats are sedated, I was breathing in rhythm with her and watching every heart beat, in its tiniest movement of her thick fur and whiskers. If you have ever had to euthanize a beloved pet, or sat by the bedside of a loved one who was dying, you know that mere seconds feel like an eternity. A wash of memories flooded over me.
Years ago when Ohio finally outlawed the private possession of lions, tigers and other big cats, in the wake of the Zanesville massacre, there were a couple of loud mouths who vowed they would never comply with the law. The reasons they gave, in the ensuing legal battles, was that there was no where for their cats to go. I always assume these big cat breeders and exploiters are lying, but give them the benefit of the doubt and contact them to let them know that there are accredited sanctuaries who will make sure the cats will find permanent homes. I contacted Stapleton but he didn’t return my emails or posts to his social pages.
When the Ohio Department of Agriculture enforced the law in 2015 I let them know that we and other sanctuaries, who are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, were standing by and willing to help. Having dealt with us before, ODA knew that we were the best equipped to deal with the health issues they were seeing in one of Stapleton’s five tigers. At the time of confiscation they noticed that she did not stand, even when darted. When they asked if she was suffering some sort of disability, it’s reported that her owner casually said that she couldn’t walk because her cage mates beat her up all the time.
Once back at the state holding facility they treated her for deep punctures to her neck and back that appeared to have been from the other tigers biting her. They noticed that she couldn’t walk and would lay in her own waste. Because their temporary enclosures were cement floored, ODA asked if we would take her. They knew that we have soft earthen floors, an amazing vet team, an abundance of professional animal care givers and the funding provided by our donors that would give Teisha every chance at recovery. On October 21, 2015 our rescue team set out on the 15 hour drive to bring Teisha Tiger to Florida.
It’s been seven months, but it feels like it was yesterday that our team rolled Teisha out of the transport trailer and up to the side of the area that would be her new home. It took Teisha 3 hours to stand up and make it down the ramp we built from her rolling cage, which was only about 20 inches off the ground, to the deep soft sand of her 1200 square foot home. She was exhausted from the ride and 60 pounds overweight, from getting a lousy diet and no exercise, for who knows how long. Our first goal was to bring her weight down and see if that would enable her to walk.
As the pounds came off Teisha was able to go from dragging her back legs to actually standing on them and taking a few steps. As she got stronger she was able to pull herself into and out of her pool and delighted everyone with her antics. She would hold her breath and try to catch the little fish and would blow bubbles out her nose. I remember Teisha getting her first Halloween pumpkin. I loved seeing her enjoy a life, free from the abuse that had surely been inflicted on her by people and cage mates in that tiny, barren cage she lived in her 13 years prior. All was seeming to progress well, albeit slowly for her, but then she began to relapse. She walked less and less and by the end of April had begun to drag her back legs.
We had done X-rays that showed a narrowing of the spine, but couldn’t find a veterinarian who could do such delicate work without the benefit of an MRI. On May 2, 2016 we found a vet who said she could do the surgery, and wanted the MRI to be done at her local facility in Gainesville. We had reached the end of our ability to help Teisha. As much as we hated the idea of loading her up for the 2.5 hour trip to the University of Florida’s Large Animal Hospital, we knew it was her only chance. I never expected her to return from that trip as the stress of the MRI and surgery, either one, could be the end of her.
What the MRI showed was that there were 15 places along her back that had bulging discs and defects pinching her spinal cord. The vet said they were so bad and had been going on for so long that there was nothing she could do surgically. We thought that would be the end of it, but she encouraged us by suggesting that treating her with steroids could reduce the inflammation enough to give her relief and make it possible for her to walk again.
Teisha seemed game to try so we gave it our best. She was a champ; always taking her meds (no easy feat as cats are notoriously hard to pill) and eating well. Her keepers tried to use feeding time as physical therapy time to get her on her feet and maybe take a step or two so that her muscles wouldn’t atrophy. Like before, she had a modest gain, but then relapsed again. On May 24, 2016 she nearly choked to death because she couldn’t keep herself upright while eating. Once she fell on her side, she could barely breathe well enough to cough the little square of meat back up. We had to cut her food into tiny, tiny pieces to keep that from happening again.
On Friday she made her last tumbling, dragging walk from the side of her enclosure where she and the cat next door would chat, to the pool area lakeside. Teisha laid there in the misting breeze of her fan, and looked out over the lake. She continued to eat and took her meds but her body was failing and she could no longer walk. When we saw that she was unable to get our of her own waste, we called the vet to come assess her condition. Dr. Wynn was torn between knowing that euthanasia was the humane thing to do and the concern that Dr. Boorstein, who had been tending to Teisha during most of this, might feel that he should be here; but he was on a plane somewhere east of Cuba. Teisha couldn’t bathe herself and flies were gathering. I didn’t want even one more fly to land on this precious tiger. I told her Dr. Justin would be fine with our decision to end the suffering.
So here we were. It’s one of those awful decisions that has to be made because an animal just can’t go another hour or another day, but it fell on Memorial Day. Like Simba Tiger, all those years ago on Thanksgiving, a holiday just makes the situation worse because you are sure to re live it every year on that day. As hard as it was for everyone involved here, we all loved Teisha too much to make her wait.
Her breathing stopped, and I found myself holding my breath, until I realized that it was her last. Dr. Wynn checked her heart with the stethoscope, but I could see there was no more gentle thumping beneath the fur. Teisha was gone and the only thing that kept me from breaking down and sobbing over her lifeless body was the anger I felt at a society that allowed her abuse. Teisha’s passing furthers my resolve to end the private possession of big cats. No tiger should ever be bred to be used as an ego prop and then relegated to a nasty backyard cage to be denied everything that makes tigers the regal, untouchable creatures they were designed to be.
If Teisha’s story touched your heart, please call your legislator today and ask them to champion the BigCatAct.com Don’t let her suffering have all been in vain.
On Monday, October 5, 2015, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office took possession of 5 tigers from Mike Stapleton, owner of Paws & Claws Animal Sanctuary near Columbus.
Stapleton has been battling state officials to keep his tigers ever since Ohio legislators enacted an exotic animal law that went into effect almost two years ago. Authorities arrived prepared to seize Stapleton’s cats after he had vowed to never give up his cats, but in the end Stapleton peacefully surrendered his cats. All 5 cats will be placed in approved sanctuaries outside of Ohio.
When we learned that Teisha – a 13-year-old tiger, in such bad shape that she was unable to walk, and didn’t move even during the chaos and darting when authorities took possession of her two weeks ago – we immediately offered to bring Teisha to Big Cat Rescue where we can provide her with the best possible medical and dental care and nutrition.
It is our understanding that Stapleton told people on the scene Teisha had been injured by the other tigers in the cage, who constantly picked on her. It’s doubtful that a vet ever examined Teisha before ODA rescued her. The ODA vets treated her for deep puncture wounds, and heavy parasite loads upon arrival.
Four Big Cat Rescuers left Tampa on Wednesday, October 21, for the 15-hour drive up to Ohio with our transport carrier. They drove straight through and met with Ohio authorities this morning and took possession of Teisha. They are now en route back to Tampa with their precious cargo.
Until we get Teisha to Big Cat Rescue on Friday, and our vets can examine her at our Windsong Memorial Hospital, we are not sure what her exact condition is and how serious her injuries are.
We do know that for the first week after she was rescued by ODA, she did not stand and just peed and defecated while laying down. The ODA vets put her on pain medication and she has begun getting up and walking a little bit. It’s heartbreaking to speculate how long Teisha has been in pain but not receiving any medication while owned by Stapleton.
ODA also told us Teisha may have some bad teeth, which is sadly very common for cats who are pulled from their mothers at birth to be used as photo props and fed an improper diet. When big cats lack calcium, they pull it from their bones before pulling it from their own teeth. This is nature’s way as tigers would not be able to survive if they can’t chew. So that means tigers like Teisha who have bad teeth also suffer from very fragile bones. This may be why she can’t walk.
We will post updates about Teisha and her prognosis as we can. It is only because of our amazing donors like YOU that Big Cat Rescue can save these cats! THANK YOU for your continuing support of our work and our sanctuary!
Even with the steroid therapy, recommended after seeing the results of her MRI, Teisha Tiger continued to worsen. On May 24 she nearly choked to death because she wasn’t mobile enough to cough up small chunk of meat. We began cutting her food into even smaller pieces, and feeding her on a stick to make it easier on her, but on Friday, the 27th she took her last walk. She walked out to her pool, where she could lay in the misting breeze of her fan, and look out over the lake. She continued to eat and took her meds but her body was failing and she could no longer walk. When we saw that she was unable to get our of her own waste, we called the vet to come ease her to the other side. Her transition was peaceful and her suffering has ended, but we will miss her gentle spirit.
Don’t let Teisha’s suffering be in vain. You should know that whenever someone poses with a cub for a photo, or pays to see cubs on display, that they have contributed to this sort of suffering that goes on behind closed gates all around the world.
This video clip is 3 days after Teisha’s MRI.
Tiesha Tiger has had mobility issues since she was rescued from Ohio in October of 2015. These could have been caused from inbreeding, poor nutrition due to being pulled from her mother to be a plaything, injuries from being passed around, and from being beaten up by her cage mates when she was no longer a cute cub. When she first arrived she was too heavy and unhealthy to sedate, so we put her on a diet to get her a little bit leaner so we could sedate her.
The x-rays showed she had arthritis all along her spine. She was put on medication to help with inflammation and pain. Still, her condition worsened, so we decided to take her to the University of Florida for a full exam.
There she had an MRI which showed she had several bulging discs putting pressure all along her spine especially in her neck. The specialist said that surgery was not an option because of the number of areas that would have to be repaired, however they did think that steroids would help her greatly. The vet said that Teisha has been in this condition for many years.
Since her return those who have seen her may have noticed that she is a lot worse than when she left. She can barely move her back legs and she cannot stand up and walk on her own. This can be a result of being sedated and manipulated for the exam and MRI.
If you think about if any of you have had a hurt back in the past know that if you move a certain way it will hurt so you either brace yourself or move a different way. Being sedated Tiesha may have been moved in ways that put pressure on her spine increasing Inflammation or worst-case furthering the damage to her spinal cord. It could take several days for the inflammation to go down and for her to go back to normal for her. In the meantime we have her on the new medication which can take up to two weeks to show their full effects.
Our vets will be watching her closely over the next few days and observing her quality-of-life. We may be trying K-laser therapy as well. If it seems that she is not going to improve we will have to make the decision to let her go.
There’s just something about Teisha. I fell in love with her at first glance and she’s had a similar effect on just about everyone she has met. You see in her such a playful peaceful spirit, despite having been treated so badly by humans and her own kind. Cats hate diets as much as people do; maybe more, because eating is the highlight in their day. It’s been especially hard to restrict her food, and bring her down to a weight that her pinched spine can support, because she looks at you with those enormous golden eyes, that plead, “Just one more, please?”
Most places feed fat scraps to their cats because they can get it for free, but the result is cats that are morbidly obese, like Teisha and her cage mates all were. Even without the spinal injuries, it would have been very hard for her bones and back to carry so much weight, so she had to lose some weight. From Oct till April she’s gone from looking like a beached whale (361 lbs) to looking like a fit tiger (326 lbs), but her ability to get around has only improved slightly. Even with those improvements she has bad days where all she can do is drag her back end. Since her arrival our vets have been in consultation with specialists from all over trying to find someone who could do the delicate spinal surgery if an MRI shows that could improve her condition.
Thanks to wonderful donors we were able to do the X-rays on site, in our own Windsong Memorial Hospital, and we see a narrowing of the spine that could be the culprit. It’s just impossible to tell if that would be operable without an MRI, so this morning, after weeks of arrangements were finalized, Teisha Tiger is on her way to the University of Florida’s state of the art, large animal veterinary hospital. Because the MRI takes so long, and keeping a big cat sedated is such a dangerous proposition for the cat, they will probably do the MRI today and then, if they think she is operable, will do the operation tomorrow. Our President, Jamie Veronica, and her husband and vet, Dr. Justin Boorstein will stay with her in Gainesville.
Teisha’s prognosis is not good. I tearfully said “goodbye” to her as we shut the trailer doors, because I don’t expect to see her again. Everything about this is hard for her. The trip is long and miserable, even though she has A/C, C02 monitors and CCTV. Sedation is extremely dangerous in big cats and that alone can kill them. Our vets know what they are doing, but UF probably will insist that only their vets be in charge, and they probably don’t treat as many tigers as our vets do. Spinal surgery, if that is the option they choose, has all of its own risks, that are further complicated by the sedation for such a long, tedious process. Then there is that long ride home, after just having had surgery. It’s all a rotten hand that Teisha has been dealt, but if we can give her a good quality of life in the end, it will be worth it. And it will be worth the $6,000 that UF said it might cost us.
Donating to our general food fund helps us cover the daily costs of caring for so many big cats so that we can afford to give Teisha the medical care that could save her life.
Video Update on Teisha 10 25 15
WHY Change Name from Keisha to Teisha?
We always try to keep a cat’s name, but at Big Cat Rescue we have protocols that demand every Keeper post observations to a database that shares the info with the CEO, President, Ops Mgr, maintenance crew and the Vets if it is a medical related post. Each cat has to have a unique name in the database.
We have had cats with the same name before, like Cleo Cougar, Cleo Serval and Cleo Bobcat, but we already had a Keisha Tiger. Calling the new cat Teisha Tiger makes sure that her observations records are unique to her and sounds similar enough to her that we hope she will just pass it off as a regional accent.
Cats are masters at hiding symptoms when they are ill. Daily observations are crucially important to managing health. That observations database is vital part of the daily care so a unique name is a must.
Teisha is an Arabic name that means Alive and Well, which is our goal for her.
October 25, 2015 Teisha got her first perfume tube and she certainly enjoyed sinking her claws and teeth into it.
UPDATE: When we first saw how crippled she was, we thought we would have to sedate her, yet again, to do Xrays and maybe an MRI, but on the same pain management drugs that our other arthritic cats are on, she’s doing great, so we will just watch her closely and see how she does as she loses all of that excess weight.
Early November 2015 – Teisha’s 1st Pumpkin at Big Cat Rescue.
November 8, 2015 – Teisha Tiger is settling in nicely. She is beginning to look forward to her enrichment goodies and is learning which keepers clean and which keepers bring treats and what time breakfast is etc.
November 12th, 2015 – Teisha mastered getting in and out of her pool yesterday. Today, she has been in and out a few times. HAPPY TIGER
INVITATION TO TIGER TRADE EVENT AT EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
TIGER trade is a serious and pressing threat to the last of the world’s wild tigers and the London-basedEnvironmental Investigation Agency (EIA) – together with partners Education for Nature – Vietnam(ENV) and Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) – is calling on the European Union to take urgent action to tackle it.
On Wednesday, May 25, 2016, Neena Gill MEP (West Midlands) will host an event to highlight the issue at the European Parliament in Brussels at which EIA, ENV and WPSI will give insights into the situation on the ground in China, Vietnam, India and other countries, and discuss practical policy measures the EU can take.
The purpose is to showcase the plight of wild tigers and the threat posed by tiger ‘farming’, and to ensure Indian and Vietnamese civil society perspectives are heard.
All three NGOs believe the EU can play a critical role in helping to end the demand for, and trade in, tigers and other Asian big cats.
The global wild tiger population is likely little higher than 3,200; however, in the absence of completed scientific population surveys across all range countries it is difficult to establish an accurate estimate. In contrast, there are more than twice that number of captive tigers in ‘tiger farms’ in China, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos – facilities which stimulate demand for tiger parts and undermine enforcement efforts.
WHAT: Panel Discussion on Tiger Trade
WHEN: 16:30-18:30 on Wednesday, May 25, 2016
WHERE: Meeting Room ASP 3H1, European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium
CONTACTS FOR MEDIA:
• Ms Debbie Banks, EIA – debbiebanks@eia-international. org
• Ms Shruti Suresh, EIA – shrutisuresh@eia- international.org
• Mrs Nguyen Dung, ENV – email@example.com
• Ms Belinda Wright, WPSI – firstname.lastname@example.org
1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK- and Washington DC-based Non-Governmental Organisation that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes, including illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, hazardous waste, and trade in climate and ozone-altering chemicals. More information here: https://eia-international.org/
2. Education for Nature – Vietnam (ENV) is the country’s first NGO focused on the conservation of nature and protection of the environment: More information here. http://envietnam.org/index.php
3. Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) is one of the most effective wildlife conservation organisations in India, providing support and information to government authorities to combat illegal wildlife trade, particularly in wild tigers. More information here: http://www.wpsi-india.org/wpsi/index.php
4. More information on the tiger trade is available here. https://eia-international.org/our-work/environmental-crime-and-governance/illegal-wildlife-trade/illegal-trade-seizures-tigers-asian-big-cats
5. More information on tiger farming is available here: https://eia-international.org/where-are-the-tigers
Environmental Investigation Agency
62-63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
Tel: +44 207 354 7960
DejaVu is all I can say. It happens over and over, like a recurring nightmare for the wild animals suffering through it; only the names and places change.
Someone wants to “rescue” wild animals because that seems like glamorous work, so they buy animals (and just prolong the problem) until the really bad guys find out there is a new place to dump last year’s photo cubs, and then the “rescues” become more legitimate, in the eyes of the “rescuer” because at least they aren’t paying for animals any more. Usually the big cats who need rescuing are the cubs who just outgrew the ridiculous 8-12 week window, in which USDA condones the use of cubs for photo and pay to play sessions. All it takes to fix this mess is for USDA to acknowledge that it is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act to take cubs from their mothers for this inhumane, unethical, albeit lucrative exploitation… But I digress.
Five years go by, and citations pile up for not providing sufficient shelter, not having an attending vet, not willing to provide documentation of where the cats came from or went and having a perimeter fence that was only 2 feet above the 6 feet of snow. This article from 2009 detailed the illegal purchase of a leopard that resulted in seizure and a fine, as well as a number of other violations, and yet the media treated it like a puff piece. http://bigcatrescue.org/lions-tigers-and-bears-find-refuge/
So, every few weeks more litters of lions, tigers, primates and bears are bred, used and discarded into these pseudo sanctuaries. But then the animals grow up into 500 pound apex predators who require thousands of dollars in food & vet care each year and before you know it, the “sanctuaries” have collapsed under the collective weight and debt. Then other sanctuaries, of varying financial stability, are called in to clean up the mess; but most of those are not in much better shape than the facilities they are being asked to bail out.
Big cats are bounced around from breeder, to photo booth operator, to the public as pets, who then dump them into the hands of backyard hoarders, who collapse and then the bigger sanctuaries come and move them to their fourth or fifth home, where they may stay until they die, but even then will sometimes end up in yet another rescue situation when the bigger places fail as well.
The second worst part of all of this is that the animals suffer from the time they are only a few hours or days old, when they are ripped from their mothers and thrust into this dismal cycle, and begin the years of suffering as the legal processes wind through the courts.
In 1997 Ken and Jackie Wisniewski started “rescuing” big cats, bears, wolves and a variety of other wild and domestic animals. Before long they were in over their heads. Feeding the animals wasn’t a problem because there is a lot of roadkill in Sinclairville, NY. We counted half a dozen dead deer, a duck and raccoon, in just two days visiting this sleepy little town. Maybe the locals drive too fast, or maybe it is all of the grape vineyards and farms that attract so much native wildlife.
The problem was that the rotting carcasses were just left to fester, along with the piling excrement, in the tiny, barren cages. The lions and tigers, who are the most fastidious creatures on earth, were forced to live in these abysmal, fly infested conditions while USDA went through the tedious process of citing the facility year, after year, after year with no improvements.
Finally after many years of failing to to provide vet care or clean and safe caging, USDA revoked the license, which is a multi year task. The state of NY had previously banned the private possession of big cats, bears and wolves, but in all but 4 states (KY, OH, WA & WV) a person could circumvent the ban if they held a USDA license.
Now JnK had lost their USDA license and the animals could have been seized years ago, but as is often the case, the violator will just have a family member or friend get a USDA license issued in their name and then the whole process starts over. When Ken and Jackie Wisniewski lost their USDA license, they just had their daughter, Kristy Wisniewski, get one in her name. It’s easy: a one page form, name, address and phone and $40 and you can get around any ban, just about anywhere.
So, the long legal battles had to start over again until the daughter had a falling out with her mother and decided not to renew her USDA license. What usually happens is that there would now be no government agency checking in on the animals and conditions. These kinds of places would then enjoy the luxury of doing as they please with no one looking over their shoulder, and that would always lead to worse conditions for the animals.
By this time Terry Thompson in Zanesville, OH had set free 56 lions, tigers and bears in 2011 and state agencies woke up to the fact that it could happen in their states too. The NY state attorney’s office decided to send a message to all of the backyard breeders, dealers and pseudo sanctuaries that they would no longer turn a blind eye to the danger that these facilities pose to the public and launched the biggest seizure of wild animals in New York’s history.
USDA contacted the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and asked if they could place the JnK animals. GFAS made arrangements for all of the animals to be rescued, but then Jackie Wisniewski decided that she didn’t want to give them up and would wait and see if the NY Department of Environmental Conservation really would take action, or if they would, like they do in most places, just ignore the situation until someone was mauled or killed.
On May 27, 2014 at 7:30 am Jackie Wisniewski found out the state of NY wasn’t bluffing.
What she couldn’t know, and we couldn’t tell you, is that the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, had taken the lead and arranged for the 11 tigers, 3 lions, 3 bears, and 2 wolves to be picked up and transported to Big Cat Rescue in FL via Loving Friends, Safe Haven Wildlife Rescue Zoo in NV, Wild Animal Sanctuary in CO, In-Sync Exotics in TX, the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in IN, and Animal Lifeline would transport the wolves to a facility in PA. On July 3rd IFAW reimbursed the transport costs of $4,409.03 for Big Cat Rescue.
We couldn’t let the cat out of the bag until after the last animal was rescued from the site for fear of starting a media circus that could propel the owner into doing something dangerous to the animals or the rescue crews. We know that most people who will donate to help big cats want to fund a rescue, but once the cats are safe, they are off to the next exciting rescue.
We hope that you are different.
We went out on a limb because these cats were literally starving to death, and one tiger, Sasha, had died before we even arrived. (We had agreed to take four tigers, but when we got there Sasha was no longer alive and no one seemed to know anything about why or when she died. Some said she was alive last summer, others said she was still alive in Feb of this year and others said she had been dead for years) We had to give up the chance to involve everyone in the excitement of a rescue because these cats depended on us keeping quiet so the owner wouldn’t do anything foolish. We were able to load our tigers by 1PM on Tues. May 27, 2014 but had to maintain silent mode until all of the animals were safely on their way to other rescue sites.
What we saw during the rescue was unimaginable suffering and conditions that clearly threatened everyone in the area. No agency had been able to inspect the animals since December 2013 (nearly 6 months ago) and at that time they said the cats were well fed, but that the rotting carcasses, piles of feces and ramshackle cages were reason enough to seize the animals. “Well fed” appears to be a judgement call because the 2009 video of the tigers showed them to to be far too thin 5 years ago, in our opinion. JnK had a pile of citations for not allowing inspectors onto the property, but in many cases those are considered by the bad guys to be far less incriminating than actually answering the gate and letting inspectors see what they are doing.
The cats were starving to death!
Their ragged fur, which was missing in places from laying in their own excrement, was stretched taut over protruding bones. Kimba the tigress, (born 8/94) seemed to have just given up and laid, unresponsive, in her den. Former volunteers there said she had been bred to Zeus for 4-6 litters of cubs in her life) It wasn’t until she saw that there was the promise of food, in exchange for pulling her aching body up into the transport wagon, that she came to life. Big Cat Rescue President, Jamie Boorstein, had locked Kimba in her den so that we could push the wagon up to the rickety door. As soon as she was released and given the scent of beef on a stick, she followed it right into the foreign transport box without much hesitation.
Zeus the tiger, (born 9/96 to Kimba) has limited vision and it looks like his retina may be separated in his eye, which can be extremely painful. Other tigers there had the same strange looking eyes, where the golden part of the iris has almost completely covered over the lens. As soon as Zeus saw food, he RAN down the length of his cage, chasing Big Cat Rescue’s Operations Manager, Gale Ingham, who was racing (outside the cage) toward the beast wagon that had been affixed to a hole that was cut into the side of his cage. Zeus was the largest tiger and the hole wasn’t really big enough, but metal piping made it impossible to make the hole any larger. Zeus didn’t care. He wanted that life giving morsel of food so bad that he squeezed, like liquid tiger, through the opening into the circus wagon. Jamie dropped the door and Zeus was on his way to a life of luxury that he couldn’t possibly imagine.
The cages were rotted to the point of falling apart. Rusty screws held ragged sheets of plywood together for the dens and doors. If the tigers had any strength left in them, they could have burst through. This made for some tense moments, especially when it came to loading Keisha the tigress. (born 5/00 to Kimba and Zeus)
Apparently, the way cats had been fed, back when they were being fed, was they were locked out of their dens, the food tossed into the dens via a back door, and then they were let back into the den.
The part that has to be explained here is that the dens were made of crumbling plywood. Citations went back to 2012 for these unsafe conditions. The doors had deteriorated over time to the point where a makeshift system was rigged to keep the tigers from just pushing the doors out of their rotted frames. It was made of curtain hooks that were shaped in a semicircle and screwed with tiny, and now rusted screws; one on either side of the door opening. Then 2 pipes were passed through the hooks to hold the doors shut. Jamie took a handful of the material and it turned to shards and dust in her hand.
The first attempt at capturing Keisha was to shut her in the den, then hook up the transport to a hole that was hastily cut into the side of her prison cell. With the other cats, Rescuers had been able to shut them out of their dens and lead them into the wagons, but Keisha still had life enough left in her to be frantic to eat, so as soon as her den door shut her out into the yard, she began clawing frantically to get back into the den where she thought the food would be. When a cat is focused on something, there isn’t much you can do to get their attention. Gale was waving the chicken and beef chunks on a stick and trying to get Keisha to forget about getting back into the den for food. It wasn’t working.
The area where Rescuers were working was so tight that the rope holding the transport door open had to be threaded into a vacant, nearby cage and operated from there by Big Cat Rescue’s CEO and Founder, Carole Baskin. Jamie decided to pull the den door open and hold it open so that Keisha could see for herself that there wasn’t any food in there, but Keisha was afraid to climb into the hay filled beast wagon and sensed it was a trap.
In typical cat style, she would stretch her neck and one paw as far toward the juicy meat as she could, without committing her back legs. Gale let her come in and get a piece or two, to see that nothing would happen, and on the third offering Keisha was emboldened to climb all the way in.
Keisha only has half an ear and a little bobbed tail. We think she lost them to the lions next door.
All over this compound the bears and big cats shared common walls of a material never witnessed by Big Cat Rescuers for housing big cats. The openings in the metal cattle panels were 8 inches wide and 6 inches high. It is incomprehensible that no human ever lost their life or limbs working so close to such dangerous wild animals, with nothing to prevent the animals from reaching the full length of their arms out to grab the passerby.
In the 2009 video above Jackie Wisniewski reaches her arm, all the way up to her armpit, to pet the cats and talks about how her staff and volunteers have to earn the cat’s trust to pet them this way, but then admits that the cats are always looking for a way to pull you into the cage.
In some places a new barricade fence had been erected (where previously there had been none) and it was so tight against the cage that there was NO safe way to walk around the enclosure. All of the animals had shared walls which must have led to some intensive fights and quite possibly the deaths of animals along the way. No one seemed to know exactly when or how Sacha the tigress had died.
The only cage to have a double wall (one with a space of about 3 feet between the walls) was the one between Keisha and 2 lionesses. Keisha and the lionesses both had common walls with Zeus, but it would appear that after Keisha lost her ear and tail, someone finally installed a double wall between the lions and Keisha. That one small measure has probably saved her life, but her tail healed in such a scarred and unusual way that it’s doubtful she had a vet attend to her wounds. In the video you can see that her tail was missing as far back as 2009.
As each of the cats were loaded into their transport wagons they were rolled up into Loving Friend’s transport vehicle where they probably experienced air conditioning for the first time ever. Even though they loaded quite easily, they were all stressed out by the move and the chaos of the day, so the lower temp helped take some of the edge off. Within minutes Kimba was sound asleep in the deep, soft hay.
If anyone wouldn’t survive this trip, it would be Kimba. She just had so little spirit left in her. I checked on her several times to be sure she was still breathing, and seemed blissfully asleep. Update: 17 Days later we had to euthanize Kimba because she could not recover from the ailments brought on by being kept in such filth and starved. More here: http://bigcatrescue.org/euthanize-tiger/
Zeus gulped down water before laying down in his big fluffy hay bed. These cats, like so many others across the country, were kept on rocks. There was no place for them to feel the soft earth, nor roll in the grass, nor enjoy the shade of trees or bushes. The only shade, or escape from the sharp edged rocks, was in their smelly dens and on a small table in each cage, but these cats didn’t look fit to jump up onto them. Zeus had been a big and powerful male tiger at some point in his life, but now you could see the remains of his wasted muscles and protrusion of his ribs and hips.
Big Cat Rescuers loaded tigers for 2 hours and the officer in charge commented that we worked together like a well oiled machine. Despite the rush to load the tigers and move out of the way for the next rescue group, there were some heart breaking moments. The worst for cat lovers was the owner said her cat had died, so she had thrown the cat into the cage that housed the 4 youngest tigers, who appear to have been born at JnK in 2004 and were probably considered favorites.
As hungry as those tigers must have been; something must have registered in their heads that this was just too awful to consider. Time may have finally caused them to overcome their disgust at being fed another cat, had they not been rescued today, so the bloated body of the domestic cat laid there in a haze of flies.
As soon as the tigers were all loaded and their transport cages were strapped down for the 22 hour trip, Big Cat Rescuers and JT and Laura Taylor of Loving Friends were on their way back to Tampa.
The cost of the transport and rescue was approximately $7,000, but that is just the beginning. Getting these tigers back on the road to health will mean vet care, and specialists for the eyes. It means a lot of high quality food, vitamins, joint supplements and probably a good deal of pain management. Just one healthy tiger costs Big Cat Rescue $10,000 per year, just for food and vet care and these neglected tigers will need much more intensive care. Even though they are safe and will never go hungry again, it is only because people like you will open your hearts to these precious creatures. Please let them know that you are there for them, for now and forever, with a monthly gift of whatever you can afford.
In this 2007 video Jackie claimed Zeus was 850 lbs
By 2014 they look to be less than 400 lbs. for Zeus and less than 300 lbs for the females.
IFAW Footage of the Rescue in Five Parts
Big Cat Rescue was not allowed to film during the rescue, so what footage we did manage to get was from cell phones in pockets. Below is footage that looks much better than ours and details the rescue from JnK.