Protesters question treatment of rare tigers

Avatar BCR | July 4, 2009 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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Protesters question treatment of rare tigers

By Josie Kerk, Journal staff

Note: For information about Marcus Cook visit:

After seeing the Black Hills Heritage Festival prominently feature Zoo Dynamic’s Royal White Tiger exhibit on its Web site, Richard Raridon, 26, of Spearfish, thought it was an unusual venue for the annual celebration. With further research into the company’s practices, Raridon plans to bring an Internet-organized protest to distribute animal conservation facts at the festival exhibit.

Raridon began posting information about the tigers on Facebook and said he has seen friends spreading the message and gathering comments on their pages, too.

At Zoo Dynamic’s Web site, which depicts children holding tiger cubs and claims an “outstanding” public safety record, Raridon became concerned about handling practices.

With an Internet search, he came across a September 2008 United States Department of Agriculture court decision against ZooCats, Inc. and its related nonprofits, which include Zoo Dynamics. The judgment calls for permanent revocation of the ZooCats’ Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service exhibit license and finds the company in violation of the Animal Welfare Act’s handling and containing requirements.

Marcus Cook, ZooCats director, is with the cats at the Heritage Festival and says the case was overturned during an appeal process. APHIS confirmed Wednesday that the company is currently licensed to exhibit animals. The two White Royal Tigers cleared a check in with South Dakota’s Animal Industry Board, having a temporary captive non-domestic import permit, and had a health inspection from a veterinarian at the festival Wednesday.

State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said Zoo Dynamics has been to South Dakota frequently and their exhibits have visited a number of fairs and festivals throughout the state. Though health inspections with imported animals are standard, Tuesday’s veterinarian visit was in response to a concern by the Black Hills Humane Society, Oedekoven said.

“A lot of times we will check those out just to be sure everything is how it’s supposed to go,” Oedekoven said. “Mostly just to ensure they have a health certificate, that the animals present are what they had listed on their permit when they applied to bring their animals to South Dakota.”

Raridon, however, is still bothered by the handling practices described in the case, and the practice of breeding animals for exhibits. He wants to let people know about conservation efforts and the facts presented in cases against Zoo Dynamics before festival-goers choose to visit the tigers.

“I think, more than anything, the problem is how (Cook’s) representing the organization,” Raridon said.

According to the Texas Attorney General’s Web site, ZooCats has a history of claiming a perfect track record. A release by Attorney General Greg Abbot states:

“To the contrary, ZooCats has been cited numerous times by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violations such as failing to keep the adult animals under control of a trained animal handler and for failure to maintain structurally sound facilities to prevent escape.”

Heritage Festival Coordinator Dan McElroy said Zoo Dynamics came recommended from state fairs and takes all state and federal precautions with the white tigers.

“They actually usually perform at bigger venues,” McElroy said. “We were lucky to get them passing through.”

The cats were exhibited in Minnesota before coming to the Heritage Festival, Cook said, and will visit Montana before coming back to the Midwest for more venues. Splash and Gita, the two tigers at the festival, travel 16 weeks out of the year, he said.

Raridon said he has never been involved in animal activism before but does have a background working with animal sanctuaries and for animal conservation. He does not associate himself with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and said he does not condemn the judgment of people deciding to visit the tigers.

“I’m a hunter. I’m a fisherman. I obviously eat meat and all those sorts of things,” Raridon said.

“Shooting for the sky,” he said, he’d like the Heritage Festival to send Zoo Dynamics packing and for more people to learn the facts of animal conservation.

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