Exhibit featuring baby tigers, lion draws criticism

Saturday, September 9, 2006

By ELAINE HOPKINS

of the Journal Star

PEORIA – While spectators watched cute, young tigers roll and play in temporary cages at The Shoppes at Grand Prairie on Friday, their owner, Jamie Palazzo, explained that the exhibit educates people about the creatures.
Displaying the 14 tigers and one baby lion, ranging in age from four weeks to 11 months, does not send a mixed message to onlookers, she said.

“This is the main point of our show, why they don’t make good pets,” Palazzo said.

Palazzo’s exhibit, Great Cat Adventures, opened on Wednesday at the shopping center and closes Sunday. Spectators are asked for donations to “feed the tigers,” and can buy a souvenir or pay a fee to have their photo taken near the animals.

A Peoria ordinance prohibits them from touching the little cats.

Kitty Yanko, education director of the Peoria Humane Society, on Friday sent a letter to The Shoppes opposing the exhibit.

This type of display “teaches our children that it is acceptable to exploit wild animals for personal gain and that meeting (their) needs is secondary to profiting from them,” she wrote.

“The cute, cuddly cubs on display today will in a short time be large, hard to control adult(s). Where will they go at that point?” There are not enough accredited sanctuaries to house the “large numbers of cubs touring the country,” she continued.

Palazzo said the young tigers are not bred to be in an exhibit, and instead are rescued from abusive homes. The seven 4-week-old tigers came from adults rescued in Indiana that turned out to be pregnant, she said.

But Lisa Wathne, captive exotic animal specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said whether Palazzo is breeding the animals is irrelevant.

“As long as someone exploits them, someone will produce them,” she said.

Cathy Asbury, marketing manager for the Shoppes, said Great Cat Adventures contacted the mall and asked for space. “When I heard it was for the preservation of these animals through education and entertainment, I thought it would be great,” she said.

Palazzo said the mall space is free. Her refuge is in Amarillo, Texas, she said, where there are “30 (big cats) back home.”

But a brochure states the refuge, with “more than 65 big cats” is in Halton City, Texas, near Fort Worth, three hours away from Amarillo.

Tammy Hawley of the Humane Society of North Texas said she had never heard of any refuge in Halton City.

Palazzo said she travels the country with the tigers in a 48-foot trailer and will next appear in Oklahoma City.

Her organization is not a not-for-profit, she said. “It’s too hard to beg and plead when we knew we could make money doing this,” she said.

Tammi Happach, 19, of Peoria paid $10 to have her photo taken near a young tiger. “They’re so cute. I want one,” she said. The animals are not being exploited if they’ve been rescued, she added.

“I’m suspicious of it,” a spectator, Dorothy McKinley of East Peoria, said of the exhibit.

Elaine Hopkins can be reached at 686-3247 or ehopkins@pjstar.com

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