Published Thursday, September 7, 2006
Wildlife Group Founder Jailed Over Tiger Cage
By Gabrielle Finley email@example.com
DAVENPORT — Wildlife caretaker Darryl Atkinson is in hot water with the law
On Tuesday, the 50-year-old founder of the Horseshoe Creek Wildlife Foundation was arrested on charges of keeping a Bengal tiger in a cage that is too small, said a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrest report.
Atkinson also was charged with keeping the tiger in an unsafe cage, the report said.
Since 2003, Atkinson has been cited more than 20 times for not having large enough cages for animals kept on the animal farm west of Davenport.
He was cited an additional four times in December 2005 on the same charges, the wildlife commission said.
The citations usually result in a fine, but Atkinson faces 11 first-degree misdemeanors because of the numerous previous charges he has racked up over the years.
He could face a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for each charge.
Atkinson is scheduled for a pretrial hearing Friday, said Chip Thullbery, spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office in Bartow.
Last year, supporters of the foundation donated $5,000 for bigger and better cages, according to a December 2005 Ledger article.
A fundraiser also was held in January to support the organization.
Kody Atkinson, Darryl Atkinson’s nephew and vice president of the foundation, said Wednesday the money was used to get better cages and build new tiger yards, where the animals have space to run.
For 23 years, his uncle has supervised the foundation, which cares for about 80 mostly injured exotic and domestic animals on five acres of land, Kody Atkinson said.
The foundation cares for lions, tigers, bears, leopards and even a retired circus pony.
Tuesday’s arrest stems from charges that the Bengal tiger was kept in a cage that was too small and that the structure of the cage was unsafe, two sides of which were made from 111/2 gauge wire, which was not strong enough.
Under Florida law, the tiger’s cage should have been larger and made of stronger 91/2 gauge wire, wrote Lt. Steve Delacure in the commission’s arrest report.
But Kody Atkinson said the Bengal tiger has a broken leg, so it wouldn’t have been much of a danger to anyone.
"Having a broken leg would’ve made it pretty hard for the tiger to get away," Kody Atkinson said.
Darryl Atkinson remained in the Polk County Jail on Wednesday on $1,000 bail.
Gabrielle Finley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7590.
Note: Darryl Atkinson previously boasted that he has bred 68 leopards at Horseshoe Creek. None of these cats are genetically pure and cannot be used for conservation despite his claims to the contrary. This is also the same facility that provides baby tigers for a photo booth at the Kissimmee Skycoaster. Recent visitors have complained about untreated wounds on the cats that smelled of rotting flesh. When I last visited, the cages were far too small, side by side, sharing common walls, so that a tail or paw could easily pass to the wrong side and be bitten off. The purpose of my visit was to document that a tail had been bitten off a leopard in one of these little, barren cages and wasn’t being treated.
Wildlife sanctuary facing charges for not making improvements
an ABC Action News report – 09/06/06
DAVENPORT – A Davenport man faces charges after wildlife officials make what they say is a dangerous find.
Agents say Darryl Atkinson failed to properly cage animals at the Horseshoe Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.
Nearly 90 wild animals call the sanctuary home.
But the Florida Wildlife Commission says some of the cages and enclosures don’t meet state requirements and are unsafe for the animals and the people that visit them.
The sanctuary’s owner, Darryl Atkinson, says that is simple not true.
"It’s definitely a blatant effort to close me up. We’re a non-profit rescue, we take in animals that have no where else to go," says Atkinson.
Investigators say it’s vital Atkinson makes the requested repairs, especially with so many kids going there to learn about the animals.
The Florida Wildlife Commission says that more than 90% of the supplies needed to make those changes are already there on the grounds – and they also feel they’ve given the owner more than enough time to make the improvements.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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