LaWanna Jones on Predator World issues

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Dear Jeremy,

Thank you for running the story on Predator World and the need for better laws in MO to end these reckless practices.  LaWanna has been a Godsend to the cats and it means a lot to me that you took the time to hear her out, check out the facts and report on the need for better legislation to protect the public from those who profit from the exploitation of big cats. 

In the past we have often found the media to only care about what was cute and would "sell" to the public, like petting tigers and other acts of ignorance and ego.  Protecting animals from abuse had been portrayed as being anti-human rights, in some inexplicable twist of thinking.  If you saw the movie called Amazing Grace, you may remember that in 1824 William Wilberforce started the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  That was right on the heels of his long and successful battle to end slavery in England. It was the beginning of a change in consciousness toward animals.  Up until 1920 women weren't allowed to vote because they were thought to be irrational creatures and not as intelligent as men. The movement for female equality began in the 1500's, but it wasn't until 400 years later that it became law.  We are seeing the same changes in attitudes toward the animals.

There are three stages to truth:
1. Ridicule
2. Violent opposition
3. Acceptance

While your story wasn't focused so much on the animal welfare issue as it was on the human protection issue, the underlying current was there.  The image of the note the owner posted on the gate saying "Do to family emergency" rather than "Due to family emergency" spoke volumes about the basic ignorance of those in charge of Predator World.  Seeing the flimsy cages and lack of respect for the power of the animals, which is what ultimately resulted in the tragedy this week, just further illustrated the need for better laws. 

What I most want to thank you for is being brave enough to listen to a woman who, knowing the past bias of the press, still had the conviction to expose herself to ridicule by talking about the issue.  LaWanna Jones is a perfect example of an every day person who is doing their own thing;  raising kids, building her own business, and one day something happens.  One day a person sees a situation that is intolerable and decides right then and there that they can be the cure.  At first they think that the odds and public attitudes are too overwhelming and they deal with self doubt and defeat after defeat, but they just won't quit.  Isn't that kind of person what inspires all of us?

When we see a person like LaWanna keep on promoting a more compassionate and responsible attitude, day in and day out, with so little reward it makes all of us want to help her.  As she becomes successful and begins to turn the tides, we want to be like her.  You have been a crucial part in turning that tide.  These are important issues that can only be cured with better laws and you spoke a lot about how that can happen.  People need to know.  One day soon, as people look back on road side menageries like Predator World and wonder how on earth that ever could have been legal, they will remember you and say, "Jeremy got it."

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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Animal Activist Calls for Tougher Tiger Laws

Play Media
Reported by: Jeremy Stevens

Friday, Aug 8, 2008 @09:16pm CST

Just days after a teenager is hospitalized from a possible tiger attack in Stone County, a local animal activist is now calling for tougher laws on where large exotic animals can be kept.

"Facilities like that need to have regulations," says Lawanna Jones, "and they need to know that those regulations are going to be checked on and enforced."

Lawanna Jones is a private contractor with "Big Cat Rescue" and says the incident, where a 16-year old employee was supposedly attacked by three tigers at the Branson Interactive Zoo and Aquarium– should never have happened.

She says this facility known as "Predator World" promotes itself as a zoo, but needs more regulations for standard procedures and safety protocol.

For example, Jones shot video at predator to observe the animals. She says the walls would shake and rattle when the tigers jumped at them and the animals were not even full grown at the time.

"If that had gave way the Plexiglas and the tiger would have been right out in the sidewalk on people, not just with people but on people," says Jones.  "And what they had told me was prior to putting those cubs in there, the female tiger was in there."

Predator World didn't return our phone call to comment on this footage or the current condition of its facility.

We did reach state representative Bob Dixon who says he's concerned with employee and visitor safety in places like this.

A representative from Warren County is working to pass legislation that would add additional oversight and regulations to owning exotic animals.

Dixon says the legislation died the last two years but he's looking to strengthen the bill and pass it through the General Assembly.

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