A big cat facility in Roane County is under fire once again, this time, from a county commissioner.
Ray Cantrell, now in his second 4-year term as a commissioner, is proposing several resolutions related to Tiger Haven, a non-profit rescue sanctuary for big cats.
“The neighbors have a tremendous smell there, and the noise, from 2 o’clock in the morning sometimes up till daylight when they’re hungry, that rattles their windows,” Cantrell said. Kids are waking up screaming at night, (neighbors) claim.”
Cantrell said he’s been hearing complaints from nearby neighbors since he first took office.
“These people are hurting, and when they’re hurting, I’m hurting, and I want to help them if I can,” the commissioner said. “I’m not against the tigers, but I want them to be kept safe and protect my community there.”
The commission is set to vote on three resolutions proposed by Cantrell at a Monday night meeting.
First, Cantrell says he wants more access to Tiger Haven for county officials, adding he would like a tour for the county commission.
He says the commission made that request back in April 2009 but has never been allowed inside.
Dan Hicks, information officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, says there’s a reason for that.
“Right now, the way the law is written, TWRA is the only government agency with the authority to go in and inspect this facility,” Hicks said. “The county government does not have that. Therefore, Tiger Haven does not have to let them in.”
TWRA is charged with overseeing and inspecting Tiger Haven. Hicks said that typically happens several times a year, with the most recent inspection taking place this past October.
Hicks adds that Tiger Haven has never failed these inspections.
However, Cantrell says he isn’t getting all the answers he’d like from TWRA or any of the other agencies he feels should be keeping tabs on the facility.
“I’ve decided, now we need to have some answers on who has oversight in and outside the place because of the noise, the smell, the runoff, a lot of various things that’s happening,” he said.
But Tiger Haven, through its attorney, S. Douglas Drinnon, points out it is frequently inspected by numerous agencies because of the many neighbor complaints.
Drinnon reports that the following agencies have performed their own inspections: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation-Division of Water Pollution Control, Tennessee Department of Agriculture-Division of Forestry, the Roane County building inspector, and Roane County property assessor.
“Tennessee, via the regulations of the TWRA, has one of the most stringent (if not the most stringent) regulatory schemes for keeping and maintaining wildlife,” Drinnon said in a statement. “Tiger Haven, Inc. is one of the most inspected and most regulated facilities in the country.”
Still, Cantrell is not satisfied. His third resolution calls for placing a tracking device on each of the more than 280 big cats at Tiger Haven. And, he wants Tiger Haven to foot the bill.
“Right now, there’s no indication at all, or no identification,” he said. “If one got out, I don’t know if (Tiger Haven) would, but they could say, ‘that’s not ours,'” Cantrell said. “There’s always a possibility (of escape.) It’s not going to be if, it’s going to be when something like that happens.”
But Hicks said that those tracking devices would be “overkill.”
“If you’ve ever seen a WWII prison movie in Germany, it’s very kind of similar to that,” he said. “You’ve got your cage and inner perimeter fence, and you got a larger fence, and then you’ve got the fence the public sees, so there’d almost have to be an earthquake or a meteorite fall from the sky or a tree as big as a semi fall on those fences before that would allow animals to escape through that system.”
Hicks also points out there is a good emergency response plan in place in the event of an escape. Law enforcement officers would respond in the same way they would to a human hostage situation.
Hicks also took the time to praise the man behind that plan, Jack Jinks, who is the county’s new EMA director. Hicks says Jinks has been criticized as having a “conflict of interest” because Jinks also works for TWRA. But Hicks said Jink’s connection to TWRA, along with his decades of experience as a captain with the Knoxville Police Department, should be seen as an asset.
“I think it’ll all work out, I think it’ll come to a positive end, and the main thing is, we want the public to feel safe, not worry about it,” Hicks said. “They’ve been through enough in Roane County with the ash spill, and they don’t need to be worrying about lions and tigers and bears.”
The commission is set to approve the emergency response plan and vote on Cantrell’s resolutions at a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the Roane County Courthouse.
The following is a statement from Tiger Haven attorney S. Douglas Drinnon:
The TWRA regulates Tiger Haven, Inc.
Tiger Haven, Inc. is not open to the general public. According to the records of the TWRA, since 1999, the facility has undergone over 56 inspections for safety and soundness. At no time were there any conditions noted that constituted a threat to public safety. Issues of any kind noted during any inspection have been promptly addressed. Further, Tiger Haven, Inc. has been inspected by the TWRA on multiple occasions within the last year and was last inspected in October 2010. Further, based upon complaints from neighbors, Tiger Haven, Inc. has been inspected by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation-Division of Water Pollution Control on multiple occasions, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture-Division of Forestry, the Roane County Building Inspector on multiple occasions, and the Roane County Property Assessor.
At this time, we are not aware of any state that requires animals to be implanted with a chip or other such device described in the proposed resolution. Thus, we would not be able to comment on the proposed resolution.
Fencing, security, and safety measures at Tiger Haven, Inc. are governed and regulated by the TWRA. All of Tiger Haven, Inc.’s fencing, security, and safety measures comply with the regulations of the TWRA. Moreover, the perimeter fencing and cage security meet or exceed that of the Knoxville Zoo.
Tennessee, via the regulations of the TWRA, has one of the most stringent (if not the most stringent) regulatory schemes for keeping and maintaining wildlife. Tiger Haven, Inc. is one of the most inspected and most regulated facilities in the country.
I would point out that Tiger Haven, Inc. is a non-profit corporation, which serves as a sanctuary for abused, abandoned, neglected, and unwanted large feline wildlife. Tiger Haven, Inc. has been in operation for over 13 years.
Sounds like developers might want the property and the county might want the revenue from property taxes. The cats were there before most or all of the neighbors. It also sounds as if they are trying to regulate the sanctuary out of business–keep demanding more and more concessions and more and more expensive rules to comply with. These cats are there because of irresponsible people. They don't need more trouble.