By GREG GARLAND
Advocate Westside bureau
Published: Dec 16, 2008 – UPDATED: 11:23 a.m.
PLAQUEMINE – A district court judge signed a temporary restraining order today that blocks state wildlife officials from seizing a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger from a Gross Tete truck stop pending a hearing Dec. 29.
The ruling by 18th Judicial District Judge J. Robin Free was in response to a lawsuit that Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin filed against the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Iberville Parish officials.
State wildlife officials had given Sandlin a deadline of today to move “Tony” from his cage at the Gross Tete truck stop.
The temporary restraining order means Sandlin will be able to keep the tiger at the truck stop until a hearing Dec. 29 on Sandlin’s request for a permanent injunction.
Sandlin is trying to buy time to get changes made to an Iberville Parish ordinance on exotic animals, which would allow him to keep the tiger.
“A large portion of the business at Tiger Truck Stop comes from customers stopping to view the tiger exhibit,” his suit states.
“Mr. Sandlin will suffer irreparable harm if he is required to relocate his tiger according to the Dec. 16, 2008 deadline,” the suit states. “If he is forced to relocate the tiger or if the tiger is seized then he will most likely be prevented from bringing it back to the State of Louisiana.”
Sandlin has long been under fire from animal welfare advocates who say the tiger does not belong in a barred cage with a concrete floor and cement block “den” as a roadside attraction.
Sky Williamson, an animal rights advocate who has campaigned to move the tiger, said she is disappointed Sandlin filed the suit.
“It makes me sad to see that Tony will remain at the truck stop through the holidays, when he could be in a humane sanctuary and, for once in his life, be taken care of properly,” Williamson said.
Sandlin’s attorney, Joseph B. Dupont Jr., had asked state wildlife officials to extend the Dec. 16 deadline for removing the tiger. The request was rejected in a letter dated Monday.
Sandlin plans to ask the Iberville Parish Council to amend a 1993 ordinance that prevents him from getting a state permit needed to keep the tiger, Dupont said.
The 1993 parish law prohibits an individual from keeping any “wild, exotic, vicious animal or reptile for display or for exhibition purposes.”
The local rule went unnoticed until Sandlin tried to apply for the state permit. The permit requires him to comply with all local ordinances and regulations.
“It is clearly impossible for Mr. Sandlin to comply with Wildlife and Fisheries regulations &hellip as written,” the lawsuit states.
It says further that Sandlin has exhibited tigers at the truck stop for 20 years without escapes or injuries to humans.
Dupont said Sandlin should be “grandfathered” out of the 1993 parish ordinance dealing with exotic animals.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at https://bigcatrescue.org
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