Tiger Lady Busted

Avatar BCR | April 28, 2000 68 Views 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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SOURCE: Wire services

BYLINE: JOHN P. McALPIN, Associated Press


It’s not like a newspaper ad saying”Wanted: Good home for big cat” will work. After all, these are tigers, 400-pound carnivores. “They are just very hard animals to find a home for. They scare the hell out of you.

They’re big, and they will eat you if they get a chance,”said Craig Brestrup, executive director of a national association for animal preserves. After losing a court appeal, New Jersey’s Tiger Lady, Joan Byron-Marasek, must now get her 26 animals out of her Jackson Township preserve and into suitable shelters.

Experts say that is a job far more difficult than it sounds. Resources at accredited animal preserves are strained as they deal with increasing numbers 1 NEW3 of big cats that once were pets, wildlife activists said. Tigers present particular concerns for habitat managers, especially because big cats breed easily in captivity. Animal rights workers are unsure how many tigers there are in the United States,

because many owners fail to keep breeding records and routinely sell cubs to roadside zoos.

New Jersey officials alleged Byron-Marasek did just that. She also fed her animals roadkill and kept them in cramped, chain-link cages, state authorities said.

Local officials and residents who live near Byron-Marasek’s property have complained of noise, odors, dust, and other problems. In addition to the tigers, Byron-Marasek keeps approximately 30 guard dogs.

An investigation into the Tigers Only Preservation Society began when a 431-pound Bengal tiger wandered into a neighborhood two miles from her property. Authorities shot the tiger. Byron-Marasek denies the animal was hers. State officials revoked Byron-Marasek’s permit to keep the animals, and she appealed. On Wednesday, an administrative law judge sided with the state. Byron-Marasek can appeal, but unless this latest decision is overturned, she must find new homes for the animals, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Peter Page. The judge ruled that they must be placed in an”appropriate, lawfully operated facility.” “There’s no bona fide sanctuary out there that can take 26 tigers,” said Lynn Cuny, executive director of Wildlife Reserve and Rehabilitation in Boerne, Texas.”This has been going on for so long that most of us are in a position where we can’t even take two or three.

We’ve taken in two or three so many times before.” Like others who operate such preserves, Cuny said she gets”dozens of calls a month”from people looking for homes for lions, tigers, mountain lions, and large primates. “The zoos don’t want them. They could not go back to the wild. It’s absolutely out of the question,” Cuny said. Most tigers wind up in roadside zoos where they are bred and the cubs sold, Cuny said. Although those zoos may be legal, they are not in the best interests of the animals, she said. Instead of finding homes for Byron-Marasek’s tigers, the 1 NEW3 best solution might be to have the animals euthanized, Cuny said. “As unfortunate as that might be and as much as we might hate to say it, certainly it is a better option than a slow death in substandard conditions,”Cuny said. Richard Gilbreth estimates it costs him $ 565 a month for each of the tigers he keeps at his International Exotic Feline Sanctuary in Boyd, Texas.

“Everything we do here is straight-line legit. Every time you don’t do it, you put the cats in jeopardy,” Gilbreth said. He has neither room nor money for any new tigers, he said. This week alone, Gilbreth said he got calls from three people looking to unload exotic pets. And he got an e-mail from a man in Brazil with seven tigers that need a home, Gilbreth said. “It’s an epidemic. It is a major problem all over this country,”he said.

For Byron-Marasek’s tigers, the closest wildlife refuge accredited by the Association of Sanctuaries is in Mississippi, said Brestrup, the group’s executive director. Representatives from his group examine each property and check on the animals living conditions, he said. But many animals kept as pets suffer from improper care, lack of access to recreation areas, and poor food supplies, Brestrup said, citing Byron-Marasek’s tigers as an example. “This is one of the clear reasons why people ought not to be allowed to own wild animals as pets,”he said. Byron-Marasek had been allowed to keep the animals while she appealed the state decision to revoke her license. That means the animals just suffer longer, said Jennifer O’Connor, a caseworker with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “When people fight it out in court, the animals languish,” O’Connor said. All of this adds to PETA’s argument that such animals should not be pets, she added. “There are only about 5,000 of these animals in the wild,”O’Connor said. “Yet there are thousands more in little backyard hellholes throughout the country.” Although not obligated to do so, state officials will look”on an informal basis”for appropriate homes for the tigers, said Page, the DEP spokesman. “It’s not going to be easy. Anybody that has tigers probably has all the tigers they want. It’s not like they’re panda bears,”Page said.


April 28, 2000, FRIDAY


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