E-mail campaign complains about Davis County Fair’s big cat show

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FARMINGTON — The e-mails began pouring in at 4:03 p.m. Monday, and they never stopped.

As of Tuesday evening, 1,140 e-mails had been sent to local news media and Davis County officials complaining about the upcoming Davis County Fair's mane … er … main attraction.

Following 2009's successful alligator show, this year's fair — scheduled for Aug. 18-21 — has given top billing to a free show featuring big cats.

Originally, fair organizers had booked Texas-based Great Cat Adventures. But when fair organizers learned in June that Great Cat Adventures had gone out of business, they scrambled to find a replacement, said fair coordinator Megan Hatch.

"All of our marketing is centered around our cat show," Hatch said Tuesday.

The theme for the Davis County Fair this year is "It's the Mane Event," and posters feature a growling lion.

Hatch said she wanted a show that would promote the conservation of large felines, and she considers the county lucky to have a big cat show at all because nationwide, August is typically the busiest month for county fairs.

Welch's Tiger Experience seems to fit the bill, Hatch said, and a contract is in the works with the Oklahoma-based exhibitor.

But the endless e-mails originating from bigcatrescue.org state the show is related to G.W. Exotic Animal Foundation, an "exhibitor with a long, notorious history of U.S. Department of Agriculture violations, suspensions and fines for animal abuse and public endangerment."

Hatch said she hates to think the fair would have hired an organization that fits that description.

The contact for Welch's Entertainment, Beth Corley, and G.W. Exotic Animal Foundation sometimes share a mailing address, but a Deseret News review of the past six inspections for Corley and the past 17 inspections for the foundation, by the Department of Agriculture, show few noncompliance issues.

Corley's inspections, the most recent of which was April 6, show no noncompliant issues.

For the foundation, a July 7 inspection revealed that one cub, which had looked lethargic in a photograph, appeared playful. Another cub from the same photograph had been moved to another facility. No noncompliance issues were found during that inspection, however.

A Dec. 1, 2007, inspection, which was later rescinded, found that cubs had not been vaccinated properly before being handled by the public, which could have put the cubs at risk. The follow-up inspection the same day found no noncompliance issues.

The foundation's website, www.gwpark.org, states that the foundation exists to rescue exotic animals and to provide awareness about why exotic animals don't make good pets.

The website also states the foundation is aware of "lies and other things put on the Internet by animal rights groups."

"We are not concerned about it, because we cannot make it go away," the foundation states. "But we know it is not true. So please do not e-mail us about it, as we will not return your e-mail."

Most of the e-mails sent to local media, Davis County officials and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack are canned messages, and most are coming from outside of Utah. At last count, only five were from Utahns. Two were from Davis County residents.

Hatch said that after reviewing the inspection reports, she feels content with Welch's Entertainment.

"We're just trying to have a fun event for Davis County residents," she said. An estimated 40,000 people attended last year's event.

Other attractions this year include motocross, a demolition derby, rodeo, musical entertainment and food.

e-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com twitter: dnewspolitics

Published: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 7:15 p.m. MDT

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