Animal Protection Groups and Sanctuaries Challenge Zoning Permit for Pahrump Tiger Exhibitor

Shaquille the black leopard had been beaten by his former owner Karl Mitchell

Pahrump, NV. – The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the nation’s premier legal advocacy organization for animals, was joined by PETA, and three reputable big cat sanctuaries, Lions, Tigers, & Bears (“LT&B”), and Keepers of the Wild, and Big Cat Rescue, in appealing the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission’s (RPC) issuance of a conditional use permit to Kayla Mitchell to keep ten tigers.

On November 12, the RPC voted 4-3 to issue the permit to Kayla Mitchell despite her role in the ongoing illegal exhibition of big cats and improper interstate transport of tigers without a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) license on behalf of Big Cat Encounters, a business that makes tigers available for direct contact and other exhibition in exchange for a fee. The groups argue that permit issuance to Kayla Mitchell is improper given that her husband, Karl Mitchell, their business, Big Cat Encounters, and their landlord, Ray “Flagman” Mielzinski, are currently under a Nye County District Court order to remove the tigers from Pahrump. The Mitchells refused to comply with the court’s order, issued following the county’s revocation of Karl Mitchell’s permit due to his violation of its conditions—including illegal exhibition of tigers without a USDA license.

ALDF, PETA, LT&B, Keepers of the Wild, and Big Cat Rescue have offered to rehome the big cats to reputable sanctuaries.

Two of Mitchell’s cats were sent to Big Cat Rescue back in the 1990’s.  Founder, Carole Baskin said, “Two of the worst cases of physical abuse I have ever seen came from Karl Mitchell.  Back in the 90s we rescued a black leopard, named Shaquille (photo above) and a cougar named Darla from him.  When they arrived their faces were bloodied beyond recognition.  Darla’s injuries resulted in a fungal infection of the brain that later killed her.  Shaquille’s eyes constantly teared from the malformed healing of his skull.  When my late husband called Karl to ask what had happened to them, he said Karl told him that he had to take a baseball bat to them and that’s why he didn’t want them any more.”

Big Cat Rescue’s policy for the last 18 years has been that if they take a cat it must either be a government confiscation or the owner must agree to never possess another cat.

“The Mitchells have played fast and loose with the law for long enough,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Instead of acting in the best interest of the cats they use as entertainment props, they continue to defy federal laws and a local court order meant to keep the animals and community safe. ALDF is calling upon Nye County Commissioners to reject the Mitchells’ latest attempt to circumvent the law, and overturn the permit that the RPC improperly issued.”

Nevada is one of six states (NV, AL, NC, SC, WI, IN) that currently does not regulate the private ownership of inherently dangerous animals. ALDF, PETA, LT&B, Keepers of the Wild, and Big Cat Rescue all advocate against the use of big cats for pets or entertainment, and have worked with localities in Nevada that aim to institute basic public safety and animal welfare measures.

Copies of the appeal are available upon request.

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About ALDF

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, ALDF files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.

About PETA

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), founded in 1980, is the largest animal rights organization in the world, with more than three million members and supporters. The organization’s mission statement provides that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or exploit in any way. For more information, please visit peta.org.

About Lions, Tigers, & Bears

Lions Tigers & Bears is a no kill, no breed, no sell rescue and educational facility that allows the big cats and bears in its care the opportunity to live out their lives with dignity in safe, species-appropriate habitats. The sanctuary, located on 96 acres outside of San Diego, Calif., is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), which recently awarded the Carole Noon Award for Sanctuary Excellence to LT&B Founder and Director, Bobbi Brink. For more information, please visit, lionstigersandbears.org.

About Keepers of the Wild

Keepers of the Wild, located approximately two hours east of Las Vegas in Valentine, Ariz., provides life-long care for more than 140 exotic and indigenous wild animals who were rescued, surrendered by an owner, or rehomed by other animal welfare agencies. The sanctuary is engaged in public education and collaborates with several organizations to help pass legislation aimed at curtailing the use of exotic animals in traveling circuses and exhibits. Keepers of the Wild has been the recipient of numerous commendations and awards from animal welfare groups and government agencies, including the Nevada Wildlife Federation and the Arizona Attorneys’ & Sheriffs’ Association. For more information, please visit keepersofthewild.org.

About Big Cat Rescue

Big Cat Rescue, located in Tampa, Fla., is a GFAS-accredited sanctuary for tigers, lions, and other exotic cats who have been rescued or confiscated from owners who can no longer care for them. Big Cat Rescue has emerged as a leading national voice in advocating for state and federal legislation to end the exploitation of big cats for entertainment and use as pets. The sanctuary pursues its vision of ending the exploitation of captive exotic animals and promoting legitimate species conservation by providing lifelong care to big cats and public education. For more information, please visit bigcatrescue.org.

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