It took the combined efforts of USDA, undercover agents and concerned citizens seven years to shut down Diana McCourt (aka Cziraky) and her Siberian Tiger Foundation. It wasn’t until her landlords, Donnalynn and Christian Laver were able to evict her from the property that Knox County was able to seize the six cats who had been used for years as props in Diana McCourt’s “tiger training” scheme.
By the end of the ordeal eye witnesses said that the cats were starving and they still have inadequate shelter from the elements.
Even though McCourt lost her USDA license to operate the tiger-tamer camp in 2000, and permanently in 2006, she still continued to charge people to come into her back yard in Gambier, OH and pet the adult lions and tigers.
The cats would often be chained down so that people could touch them or have their photos made with the cats.
To make the cats more pliable McCourt had their teeth and claws removed. (Joseph still has his canine teeth) Despite the abusive violations to their bodies and mobility, the USDA investigation included eight allegations of attacks on visitors in an 8 month period.
In May of 2007 Diana McCourt emailed Carole Baskin asking if she could move her operation to Tampa and bring her cats to Big Cat Rescue. Our response was that her cats were welcome here but her brand of animal abuse was not. By August McCourt had been evicted and Knox County was awarded custody of the four tigers and two lions. Dean Vickers, the State Director for the Ohio branch of the HSUS contacted Big Cat Rescue and asked if we could take the cats, but six more big cats increases our annual budget by $45,000.00.
When Sarabi, our lioness died, her half acre enclosure was opened up so that Nikita our only other lioness could have the run of both half acre enclosures. This large enclosure has an open roof and is only suitable for lions because they don’t climb, or very old, declawed tigers, who would be unable to climb. Taking on two lions, age 9 and 13, who have a 20 year life expectancy means a cost of $15,000.00 annually and $150,000.00 in the long run. Lions often end up in canned hunts, especially males who are coveted as wall trophies, so we felt certain our donors would help us rescue these two cats. Our board convened and agreed that the lions would be rescued as soon as we could make travel arrangements for them.
Calling with the good news, that at least the lions would be spared, we were told by the landlord, who has been caring for the cats since evicting Diana McCourt, that the male tiger, Nikita, would be heartbroken that his best friend in the world, Joseph the lion, would be leaving. As the conversation unfolded it appears that for the last 13 years, two tigers and two lions have shared a cage. (Joseph only coming along in the past 9 yrs) Instead of being elated for the lions, we now felt sick that they would be separated from the only pride (albeit tigers) they had ever known. And thinking about how they would feel, of course, led to thinking about how the tigers left behind would feel.
We appealed to our supporters, asking if they would be willing to help us rescue all four cats who have lived together and the response was an overwhelming, "YES!"
On Oct. 19th Big Cat Rescue's President Jamie Veronica, VP Cathy Neumann, Operations Manager Scott Lope and Veterinarian Dr. Liz Wynn, DVM flew to Columbus, OH to rendezvous with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) staff and a driver and vet tech from the Animal Sanctuary of the United States (ASUS) at the Columbus Zoo at 6 am on the morning of the 20th. From there the entourage drove an hour to the Gambier, OH facility and met with the property owner and the Knox County Animal Control Officer, Rich Reed who had been granted possession of the six cats.
Within just a few hours all of the cats were safely loaded and on the way to Florida where they arrived at 6 am the morning of the 21st. While the weary drivers slept, the Big Cat Rescue team unloaded Nikita, Simba, Sasha and Joseph into their new enclosure, which is a little more than half an acre of lakeside living with high grass, cave like dens and hills from which they can survey their new kingdom.
We let you know that the rescue would cost us $34,000.00* and 294 of you responded. As of 11/16/07 $29,435.00 has been raised to save these four cats. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) agreed to help rescue the last two cats and IFAW paid to transport all six cats to their final destinations. That saved us $4,000.00! We are now only $565.00 short of what this rescue will cost us in the first year. Thank you everyone who has helped so far! If you haven't helped yet, keep in mind that your donations are tax deductible and that these cats rely entirely on your generosity.
See slideshow of photos taken 9/26/07 in Ohio: Siberian Tiger Foundation
Media Contacts: We have posted 5 minutes of high resolution b-roll clips of the rescue and transfer of these cats from OH to FL online that you can download for 1.99 at VEOH.com Providing it this way is cheaper than mailing and you can download it immediately HERE.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) agreed to help rescue and place the last two cats, Sierra and Ekaterina at Wild Animal Orphanage. When WAO collapsed in 2010 these two tigers were relocated to the Wildcat Sanctuary.
|Sierra the white tigress||Ekaterina the tigress|
Should there be any surplus in the donations made to this rescue they will be used for the continued care of the cats.
Watch as we let Joseph and his pride of another lion and two tigers into their new large enclosure. These cats have been settling in since October and getting use to their new life here at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.
Sadly, there are still at least hundreds of cats like them out there in the U.S. Some states have little or no laws regarding ownership of big cats. And those that have tough laws lack the abilities to enforce them.
Few people realize the small amount that eventually find a decent home at one of the few good rescues/sanctuaries out there still take away resources that could be spent on saving these animals and their habitats out in the wild.
Thanks again to those that helped us from the Wild Animal Orphanage (Texas), Columbus Zoo, Humane Society of Ohio, Knox County Ohio, IFAW, & to our wonderful volunteers and supporters who made this all possible.
A video after their rescue