G.W. Exotics Joe Schreibvogel Exploiting Cubs at Platte River Mall
Big Cat Rescue Entertainment arrived at the Platte River Mall on Wednesday with a collection of exotic animals on display, and possible controversy following behind them.
For a fee, visitors to the exhibit may pet a baby lion/tiger cross or have their photo taken with a 6-week-old tiger. Based out of the G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla., the show has toured under a variety of names. In April 2010, owner Joe Schreibvogel and associates Beth Corley and Vicky Welch were in North Platte with "Alex Productions."
A representative of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla., contacted the Telegraph on Wednesday to emphasize that the group in North Platte is not affiliated in any way with their organization.
"They are a group that travels the country, displaying tiger cubs and other exotic animals," said Big Cat Rescue public relations representative Susan Bass. "They visit communities and say they are doing great work in education. In fact they are incessant breeders. They sell them to private zoos, or keep them in deplorable conditions in their private facilities."
At the mall on Wednesday, Corley confirmed her organization is not affiliated with Big Cat Rescue and yes, they do breed exotic animals for display. Animals not on display remain at the facility in Oklahoma, she said.
"We are working to educate people that exotic animals don't make good pets," Corley said.
The founder of the similarly-named rescue organization in Florida had strong criticism for Big Cat Rescue Entertainment's message.
"Groups like this understand that the only way to sell their concept is to say it's for education," said Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin said in an interview from her sanctuary in Tampa on Wednesday. "They are sending the worst possible message, that these animals can be made into pets. It's way to easy to get your hands on these animals that grow up to be several hundred pounds of a top level predator."
U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations say that the public is only allowed to touch an exotic animal if it is between the age of 8-12 weeks, Baskin said.
Josephine Martell is program director at Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, the group that certified Baskin's organization as an accredited sanctuary. She has worked in the animal welfare field for eight years with a primary focus on exotic animals in captivity.
"Big Cat Rescue is a top-notch facility and Carole is a longtime advocate." Martell said.
While at the International Fund for Animal Welfare Martell conducted an undercover operation at the Oklahoma facility now traveling under the name of Big Cat Rescue Entertainment.
"At the time we did investigation they had a number of violations of the animal welfare act and were cited repeatedly by USDA," Martell said.
Big Cat Rescue Entertainment associate Corley was not eager to talk about Baskin's comments.
"I really don't know why she is after us, she has no proof," she said. "I've done this for eight years. These animals are in my heart. It's not a nine-to-five job; it's seven days a week, sometimes 14 hours a day. All I know is this is my life, taking care of these animals. That's the choice I have made."
Ginger Bernard of North Platte is a former employee of Big Cat Rescue Entertainment.
"I firmly stand behind what they do," she said. "People don't understand what they do. They are here to rescue these animals. Once they are no longer part of the show, they go back to our park in Wynnewood and live out their lives."
Sanctuary owner Baskin is lobbying for a ban on ownership of private possession of exotic animals.
"There is no reason for the public to be petting a tiger or a lion," Baskin said. "You don't do it in the wild, you don't do it at the zoo and you don't do it at a mall."
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