By GREG GARLAND
Advocate staff writer
Published: Dec 11, 2008 – Page: 7B – UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
The tale of Tony the Tiger, whose days as a roadside attraction at a Grosse Tete truck stop could be numbered, has taken an international Internet twist.
Those who believe the 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger should be moved to a tiger sanctuary and those who think he should stay where he is are each busily gathering signatures on dueling, online petitions.
Hundreds of people from across the U.S., and from far flung corners of the globe, have signed and weighed in with their opinions. The petitions encourage them to e-mail state wildlife officials and Iberville Parish Council President J. Mitchell Ourso.
Sky Williamson, an activist from Florida, came out first with a petition, titled “Endangered tiger named Tony at ‘Tiger Truck Stop’ in Grosse Tete needs your help!”
Since posting it online Oct. 31, the petition has drawn 1,117 signatures from around the country and some from as far away as Belgium, Poland, Romania and France.
“Tony is a little over 8 years old and has been at the truck stop his whole life” her petition says. “He deserves to live the rest of his life at a sanctuary in peace. Your opinion counts.”
Tiger Truck Stop’s Michael Sandlin followed with a petition of his own on Nov. 26, titled, “Keep Tony at home! Save hand-raised tiger from wild.”
His petition has drawn 165 signatures from several states, as well as from Russia, Peru, Brazil and other foreign lands.
“Tony, a tiger raised from infancy by hand, is the target of a misguided attempt to remove him from the people that raised him, love him, and take care of him daily,” Sandlin’s petition states. “He has known no other life, and receives great food, and the best medical attention when needed.” Williamson herself signed Sandlin’s petition with a message setting the record straight for others to see. She said she wants Tony moved to a humane tiger sanctuary, not sent back to the wild.
Animal welfare advocates have long complained of the conditions under which Tony has been kept at the truck stop. The tiger is on display as a roadside attraction in a barred cage with a concrete floor and concrete block “den.”
Williamson, who has been working in Louisiana as a cable company contractor since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, has been campaigning to get the tiger moved ever since she first saw it a year ago. Time is running out for Sandlin to do something with the tiger. In mid-November, he received a letter from state wildlife officials that gave him 30 days to remove the tiger from his premises.
Sandlin says his facility was “grandfathered” in under a state law that took effect in 2007. The law prohibits individuals after that date from owning exotic and dangerous animals.
However, the new state law required Sandlin to meet certain requirements and to obtain a permit to continue keeping the tiger.
He was working toward that end when state officials discovered a 1993 Iberville Parish law that prohibits private ownership of “wild, exotic, vicious” animals for exhibition.
The local ordinance means Sandlin can’t qualify for a state permit and must remove the tiger from his premises, according to state wildlife officials. Sandlin has said that he might file suit to keep the tiger.
Greg Garland is The Advocate’s West Side bureau chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at https://bigcatrescue.org
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