State: Truck stop can continue live tiger exhibit

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries granted a permit allowing Tiger Truck Stop to keep Tony, a 10-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger, seen Dec. 2, on display outside the Grosse Tete business throughout 2011. PATRICK DENNIS/The Advocate

By KORAN ADDO
Advocate Westside bureau
Published: Dec 17, 2010 – Page: 1B

Despite a strong push from animal-rights activists, the state has granted a truck stop owner a permit allowing him to continue exhibiting a live tiger as a roadside attraction at his Grosse Tete business.

The permit issued by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries allows Tiger Truck Stop to keep Tony, a 10-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger, on display throughout 2011.

Tony is the last privately owned big and exotic cat in the state, Wildlife and Fisheries press secretary Bo Boehringer said Thursday.

The permit was required after a 2006 legislative action gave regulatory authority over private ownership of potentially dangerous animals to Wildlife and Fisheries, Boehringer said.

The legislation prohibited private ownership of big cats, but allowed people who already owned the animals before 2006 to be “grandfathered” as long as they went through a permit process to keep their animals, state officials have said.

There were four privately owned tigers living in the state when the Legislature acted in 2006, Boehringer said.

The owners of three of those tigers opted to have the cats moved to Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, he said.

Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin opted to keep Tony at his business and go through the permitting process, Boehringer said.

Sandlin had until this month to provide the state with proof of liability insurance, a written plan detailing emergency steps to take in case the tiger escapes and a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian, Wildlife and Fisheries records show.

Agency officials last made an unannounced visit to check on the tiger’s welfare on Dec. 9, Boehringer said.

The agency will continue the surprise visits throughout 2011 to ensure the tiger is healthy and has adequate food and water, he said.

The issuing of the permit comes about a month after animal-rights activists began ramping up efforts to have the tiger removed from the truck stop and placed in a sanctuary specializing in caring for big cats.

Throughout November, activists have been posting messages on blogs, calling on the public to petition the state not to renew the permit.

On Nov. 12, animal-rights activists sparred with Sandlin over Tony’s captivity on the CNN news program “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell.”

The next day, activists posted a picture on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Facebook page. The picture shows the tiger displayed on a video board in Times Square in New York City with the caption: “Tiger Truck Stop Continues to Fuel Public Outrage.”

Nine days later, the Animal Legal Defense Fund started an online petition to keep the permit from being renewed.

On Dec. 2, Mary Haik, an advocate for the tiger, made an impassioned plea to Wildlife and Fisheries commissioners asking them, to no avail, to intervene in the matter.

The tiger also gained some notoriety this summer when internationally known animal-rights activist Anthony Marr paid the tiger a visit during his six-month “Compassion for Animals Road Expedition.”

Standing outside the tiger’s cage, Marr called Tony’s captivity “shameful,” adding that it is a “blight on the face of Louisiana.”

Sandlin, the truck stop owner, could not be reached by phone for comment Thursday, but has said in the past that Tony is well cared for, healthy and happy.

Sandlin has also said he will consider placing Tony in an animal sanctuary as the tiger ages.

“This is the only home Tony has ever known,” Sandlin has said.

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