Sipek given state license for big cats

Sipek given state license for big cats

Federal officials have said facility lacks standards

By Nancy L. Othon
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

July 20, 2006

Steve Sipek can keep his exotic cats for the next year, as far as state
officials are concerned.

Captive-wildlife inspectors this week renewed Sipek’s commercial license to
exhibit his two tigers, a lion and a leopard about a month after an
inspection at Sipek’s Loxahatchee compound.

Sipek, who gained worldwide notoriety two years ago after the highly
publicized death of his escaped pet tiger Bobo, got two tiger cubs last year
but was allowed to have them only if he obtained a commercial license from
the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

That license requires Sipek to maintain a commercial enterprise and keep a
log of visitors to his compound on C Road.

“He has to have [the cats] on some sort of display to the public,” said
Capt. Jeff Ardelean of the wildlife commission. “He has to maintain a log
that shows that people are actually coming.”

Several hundred people visited the animals between July 2005 and early 2006,
according to an inspection report.

But federal officials have denied Sipek a license to legally exhibit the
exotic cats because the facility failed to meet the standards of the Animal
Welfare Act. Sipek is the subject on an ongoing investigation by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service,
according to spokeswoman Karen Eggert. She could not comment on the
investigation but said the agency’s focus is on the treatment of the
animals.

“His dilemma now is that we’re saying he’s OK as far as state law, but he
needs to continue to work to try to get into compliance with the feds
because they can come and shut him down whether he has a state permit or
not,” Ardelean said. “He’s OK with us right now, but he’s got up to a year
to get into compliance with them.”

Federal inspectors denied Sipek a permit because he had no veterinary staff
and because of problems with wiring on some cages, Sipek said.

State inspectors also noted faulty wiring and issued Sipek a warning for
failure to use proper clamps, ties or braces of equivalent strength as the
cage material. Sipek said he already has remedied the problem.

“Sometimes they don’t make sense, but I fixed it anyway,” Sipek said
Wednesday.

Sipek, who had a first birthday party for the tigers on Sunday, said he
takes no fees or contributions from visitors to his compound, so he is not
exhibiting and he is in compliance with federal law. He said he does not
understand why he would be under investigation by the federal agency.

“They would like to make it their business but they can’t because I don’t
take money from people,” Sipek said. “They can’t police my home.”

Nancy L. Othon can be reached at nothon@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6633.

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