Big cat exhibitor continues operation after license revoked
08:24 AM CST on Wednesday, January 14, 2009
By BRETT SHIPP / WFAA-TV
DALLAS – While a North Texas based big cat exhibitor has been accused of repeatedly putting the public’s safety at risk, he still remains in business.
After being stripped of his license, Marcus Cook, of ZooCats and Zoo Dynamics, appealed the decision and is free to continue his business, where he lets the public come in contact with baby tigers.
WFAA first investigated Cook six years ago. He has traveled the state and country for years allowing the public to interact with animals that pose a real danger. And for years, government officials have tried to shut him down, and now they may be about to succeed.
From Six Flags to the mall, the cat handler has taken his pet baby tigers to the public and allowed them to pet the animals for a price. However, even as babies, the tigers pose a threat.
During WFAA’s original investigation back in 2002, video showed one of the tigers bite one of Cook’s trained workers. The video had some concerned the same thing could happen to a child allowed to pet a baby tiger during one of Cook’s exhibitions.
Experts WFAA talked to raised concerns about Cook’s practices and the public’s safety. They were concerns that Cook quickly dismissed.
“Well, it depends on who you ask about public safety,” he said. “It’s totally within the guidelines of the health and humane treatment and the animal care policies and procedures of the United States Department of Agriculture.”
But after six years of observation and evidence gathering, the USDA has finally cracked the whip. It has ordered Cook to stop his exhibition, stripped him of his license and issued him a $100,000 fine.
Administrative Law Judge Victor Palmer ruled that “Marcus Cook has a history of deceiving the public, USDA and other law enforcement agencies.”
Palmer said the operation has “repeatedly endangered the lives of their customers and employees.”
“In addition to the astonishing lack of precaution taken by the respondents to protect the public, they also failed to feed their animals or properly provide them with veterinary care,” Palmer also stated.
Cook declined comment, but his attorney said his client continues to operate as he begins his appeal to a federal court if possible.
And while Cook may still be in business, his critics say they hope the public will see the USDA rulings as evidence that what Cook is doing is dangerous and wrong.