An animal-rights activist made an impassioned plea to Louisiana wildlife commissioners Thursday, calling on them to withhold renewal of a permit allowing an Interstate 10 truck stop to keep a live tiger on display as a roadside attraction.
Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission members, however, declined to intervene in the matter. One of them said the issue is properly under the control of the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department, and not the commission.
Mary Haik, of Zachary, argued before the commission that the tiger exhibit at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete is an example of “one of those times when the whole world looks at Louisiana and thinks that we reek of corruption and idiocy.”
Haik asserted the state has stood by doing nothing while Iberville Parish government has made exceptions to its parish ordinances in order to allow the truck stop to continue to exhibit Tony, a 10-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger, on the property.
An Iberville Parish ordinance enacted in 1993 prohibits parish residents from owning wild, exotic and vicious animals for exhibition.
The tiger exhibit was grandfathered in last year when the Iberville Parish Council approved a new ordinance allowing the truck stop to keep the tiger.
The new ordinance carries several conditions, however, such as requiring liability insurance, training staff how to deal with a possible tiger escape and specifying that the tiger’s diet must be approved by a licensed veterinarian.
The ordinance further stipulates that the truck stop be subject to unannounced inspections to make sure the tiger is in good health and that Tony is the last tiger the business would be able to exhibit.
Haik argued that the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission should not renew a state permit allowing the tiger to remain on display in what she described as unhealthy conditions.
The tiger has been “illegally owned” since 2000, she said, citing the parish ordinance enacted in 1993 that prohibits exhibition of big cats such as Tony in Iberville Parish.
“If laws are written to protect these endangered species, and then the laws are not enforced as written, then why write them in the first place?” Haik asked the commissioners.
Commissioner Patrick Morrow suggested after the meeting adjourned that Haik should have taken her case against Tony’s continued captivity at the truck stop to Wildlife and Fisheries Department staff members and not to the commission itself.
“The commission enacts rules and regulations,” Morrow said. “As long as the truck stop is in compliance with existing laws, the department, from the commission’s standpoint, has no reason to deny the permit.”
The fate of the tiger now rests entirely with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and will be decided Dec. 31, 2010