After the tigers were forced to perform in the Nerger’s circus act, this white tiger was confined to a tiny cage so guests could take photos. How in the world is taking a photo in front of a caged white tiger educational for these children?
“Nerger’s Splendid Tigers” is an old-school circus act that’s billed as the largest traveling tiger show in the United States. The Nerger Show features one dozen tigers which are forced to jump through flaming hoops, form pyramids, play leapfrog, and “dance.” The act is run by Judit and Juergen Nerger, a pair of German tiger trainers who have worked in circuses throughout eastern Europe for nearly 30 years before coming to the United States. Over the years, the Nergers and their tiger show have worked at the infamous Cole Bros. Circus, the Tarzan Zerbini/Royal Canadian Circus, and many small “shrine circuses” across the country. They also perform at fairs and festivals.
The Nergers are currently employed by John Cuneo’s notorious Hawthorn Corporation, a shadowy group with a history of severe animal abuse that leases exotic animal acts to traveling circuses. Hawthorn has racked up over $272,000 in federal fines and had their USDA license suspended twice for over 100 Animal Welfare Act violations. These including failure to provide veterinary care to sick animals, housing pairs of tigers in 6 foot long travel cages for weeks at a time, attacks by tigers on staff (one of which allegedly involved a tiger being beaten with baseball bats), providing the head and skin of a white tiger to an individual who wanted to make a rug out of the parts, and using nothing but a single thin rope as a “barrier” between the public and adult tigers. Although the Nergers themselves have their own USDA exhibitor’s license (#33-C-0452), their tigers are owned by the Hawthorn Corporation, and are housed at Hawthorn’s Illinois facility when not on the road, raising serious concerns about the conditions the animals live in when not performing.
The Nerger tigers were trained in 2002-3 at the Hawthorn facility by Luis and Marcia Palacio, a team of Mexican trainers who traveled the world in the 1980s with a “mixed act” featuring tigers, lions, leopards, and hyenas. Once the cats were suitably trained, Wade Burck (a circus trainer who once admitted to whacking animals with 2x4s because “they aren’t capable of thinking like I do”) mentored the Nergers in their “presentation methods” and accompanied them to their first few shows.
In this video of the performance, the body language of the cats (ears pinned back, leaning away from the whips) clearly indicates that they are fearful and stressed. Despite the persistent myth that a large animal “can’t be forced to do something it doesn’t want to do”, the motto of the circus is “the show must go on.” In a 2011 interview for a local newspaper, the Nergers admitted that their tigers are naturally solitary creatures and only appear to “get along” while in the ring “because they know we are there”. They also stated that every tiger is made to participate in every performance, even if it is in a “bad mood” that day.
More about the Nerger’s
Cubs too small to perform being housed in the back lot of a 2009 Maine circus.
Interview with the Nergers from the Sherando Times
22 years with really big cats
A trainer opens up about tigers, PETA and constant danger
by Dan McDermott
April 27, 2011
Juergen Nerger and his wife Judit have been working with big cats for more than twenty years. They headline this year’s Cole Bros. Circus.
For more than 30 years, Juergen and Judit Nerger have thrilled audiences with their big cat (and occasionally bear) shows. This year, the Nergers and their tiger act will be headlining the Cole Brothers Circus in Winchester during the 2011 Apple Blossom Festival.
The Sherando Times spoke with Judit Nerger about how she got into such an unusual and dangerous line of work. Nerger told us about her life with her feline colleagues, dealing with PETA and what goes through her mind when she hears about a trainer getting mauled, sometimes fatally, while doing what she and her husband do every day.
The Sherando Times: How did you get interested and involved in performing with big cats?
Judit Nerger: Oh, that’s a long story from a long time ago. For me it just happened. My husband was working on it and we are originally from East Germany. It was different there and he was the lucky one who got picked out and got in to perform with big cats and train them.
Times: How long have you been performing in front of crowds?
Nerger: Oh gosh, I have to think about it. It’s 22 years for me and for my husband it’s already 25 years.
Times: Do you own these tigers and do you always perform with the same group?
Nerger: No, we don’t own them. The owner is somebody else. We are just always around them, taking care of them, training, performing, etc.
Times: Typically, would you have to start when they are babies?
Nerger: Not really. It is just always nice if they are at a very young age but like with these cats, they were already 3 or 4 years old when we got them. So somebody else got them and started, training them. Most of the time, they are 1-1/2 or 2 years old.
Times: So definitely you start them young.
Nerger: Yes, we start them young but sometimes you start with older ones if you don’t have any other choice. You can start with them at a very young age, even if they don’t understand what you want, but it’s all just playing around and making them understand this is where you are able to perform, finding out what they like to do which makes the training much easier because each cat has its own personality – they just have talent on specific things, you know?
Times: So really the cat dictates the show, to a degree because you discover what they like to do? Because obviously you can’t force a tiger to do something it doesn’t want to do?
Nerger: No, it’s kind of pointless to do something which he really cannot.
Times: Do you work exclusively with tigers or also lions?
Nerger: Well, we used to have a lion but we lost him a couple months ago and we are still looking around for a new one to replace him. In the past, before we came over to the United States, we worked with bears too, brown bears.
Times: I noticed that when the circus travels and you see them, the elephants will typically be put in one pen but the tigers and lions they will segregate. Is that because they don’t get along as well as some other animal species?
Nerger: Well, see a tiger in Mother Nature is always single. But lions are a different story. If you have an act with lions you can have all of them together. But with tigers, if you’re lucky you can have 4 or 5 together. But in most cases it’s like 2 by 2. That works out pretty good.
Times: Now they get along during the show. Is that because they are accustomed to each other?
Nerger: Yeah because we are always in there watching them, really not because they like each other, even if they sit right next to each other you never know. It’s just they know we are inside and they don’t have a chance to go at each other. So we have to be on top of it. We are the police in there.
Times: That’s an interesting analogy. Like you said, they have different personalities and just like people they have good days and bad days. Are there some days when one is in a bad mood and you don’t bring that tiger out that day?
Nerger: No, we take them all the time. We just go with the tiger then because before we line them up we can tell, okay this guy is in a bad mood. This female is in a bad mood or she just kind of doesn’t want to do it today. You really put your feelings in there and just keep an eye on that tiger or do this or this today because there is something going on but we aren’t leaving out any cats at any time unless they are sick.
Times: It was interesting when I saw an act 2 or 3 times. I was taking pictures of the circus and I noticed it was a very different show each day. One day they might be really active and energetic and then another day one of them might be having a lazy day but it was a very different show each time.
Nerger: Yeah, a show is never the same. Each show is different because you never know. They have moods like humans. Of course they have moods. Humans have moods and say, ‘I don’t want to do this.” It’s the same with big cats. I think with any animal it is the same because they have moods.
Times: One thing you have to ask when you talk to someone in your line of work because your line of work is potentially very dangerous and we hear stories every few years. The last one is what happened with the Siegfried and Roy show, a horrible accident. What goes through your mind when you hear something like that and what mistakes may have been made? I guess when something like that happens you learn from it?
Nerger: Yes, we do and each time something like that happens we always get a wake up call. We feel bad about what happened to the person but, I tell you what, most of the time it’s really because the trainer did a mistake. So each mistake you do [the cats] want to take advantage of it. So many, many, many times we get a wake up call and say, hey, never let it be us and then for the next couple days we’re going to be more … It’s just a weird feeling. You think you know it but sometimes it is feels like you are getting into a routine and you really shouldn’t because that’s going to cost you your life. So more, more, more attention!
Times: I remember even when [Roy] was injured, he was down and he said, ‘Don’t hurt the cat!’
Nerger: Yeah, yeah, because it’s not the cat’s fault. They are just taking advantage of it because that’s their nature. So we are saying always, the tiger is just sleeping, even if they are trained. Many people are getting it wrong. Many people think they are tame. They think they are pets and they are really not. They are just trained and the trainer has to always be on top of it. You cannot do any mistakes because the worst is going to happen.
Times: I know that the elephant folks are in a constant battle with PETA and other groups but I don’t hear too much about the other animals. Is that something you have to deal with all the time or do they leave you alone?
Nerger: Well we have to deal with it, not all the time. And you know we even have a website for that reason because I don’t want to get bothered by those people and once in a while you have people in front of the circus – they have demonstrations. Over the years you just get so used to it and it just doesn’t bother you anymore. So we aren’t even going into any arguments or discussions about it because it’s pointless. They don’t know what they are talking about. They have no idea. They don’t understand so therefore we are pretty cool about it. It’s not nice to get bothered by it but I can’t change it. They have their mind. I have my mind and that’s it. And actually with the large cats it’s not so bad as with the elephants.
Times: Yeah I was just reading that at one point there were some elephants in the Cole Bros. Circus I guess last season, and they were calling ahead to each town the circus was in to talk to the local authorities and it was just this ongoing hassle that resulted in eventually losing the elephants.
Nerger: Yeah, I know. Sometimes it’s really bad and some areas are really bad and sometimes you don’t have anything like this so it just depends. It’s very bad.
Times: Now you said you’re from East Germany. I know that the circus, it’s pretty much a novelty in The United States. A lot of kids grow up and they don’t ever get a chance to see a circus except on television. It’s a lot more popular and a bigger deal in Europe isn’t it?
Nerger: Yeah, it’s a big deal; but over the years it’s just business is not too good. To be honest, we have way too many circuses in Germany right now and people will go to circuses they know – they always have good business. But [with] small circuses or family circuses they may have had a bad experience so they aren’t going too often. It used to be a big thing, especially in East Germany because we had no entertainment really. We didn’t have all those cool movie theaters and stuff at the time so it was a big thing.
Times: It was definitely a big difference before the wall fell. A big, big difference between East Germany and what they had.
Nerger: I have a feeling that the circus business here in the U.S. is going way better than in Europe.
Times: Have you performed before in The United States?
Nerger: We have been traveling here for over 8 years now.
Brags about 8 generations of tigers being bred in his back yard in Florida. Appears to con the audience by saying that circus acts are protecting tigers from extinction. None of the tigers in private possession, like his, do anything for conservation. In fact, it hurts conservation because when people see them being used this way, they believe that tigers must not be in any danger of extinction, or it wouldn’t be allowed.
Think it would be cool to touch a cub? Then you might be interested in this shocking online review of the infamous Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Miami. In December, a family’s vacation was ruined when a large tiger cub that was “not under control” attacked their young daughter, biting her on the leg and sending her to the hospital with a nasty wound which required three stitches. The family posted photos of the girl’s injuries as well as the exact moment the cub attacked her.
May 10, 2009 As an example of where Antle’s tigers end up, in AWA Docket No. 09-0085 the judge found that Bhagavan Antle released two tigers to Ray Thunderhawk, who had already lost his USDA license and who had abandoned 75 tigers in Palm Bay, Florida. Thunderhawk ran a “pay to play” operation whereby patrons pay to pet and pose with big cats and he took the two tigers from Antle in S.C. to Boston before taking them to the buyer in Miami.
The buyer was Mario S. Tabruae of Zoological Imports 2000 located at 16225 SW 172 Av Miami, FL 33187. Tabruae admitted to falsifying records to make it look as if he had purchased directly from Antle and that Antle had delivered the tigers. Dec 12, 1987 New York Times reports that Mario S.Tabruae was arrested for:
A drug-smuggling ring that killed an informer and cut up his body while trafficking in a half-million pounds of marijuana has been broken, the Federal authorities said today. The ring also bribed police officers to protect their operation, said Richard Gregorie, the chief assistant United States Attorney here. At one time, the indictment charged, members of the ring used Miami police officers to collect, count and disburse drug profits.
The ring operated for at least 10 years, smuggling the marijuana, along with some cocaine, into Louisiana and Florida, Mr. Gregorie said. Six of the seven people indicted in the case were arrested here by a special Federal law-enforcement group combatting drug smuggling. The seventh was in custody in another state. $50,000 Caught by Agent Among those arrested were the men who the authorities said headed the ring, Mario Tabraue and his father, Guillermo. When the men were arrested at their homes in Dade County, Mario Tabraue’s wife tossed a bundle of $50,000 in cash out the back window, said Lloyd E. Dean, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation here. The money was caught by a Federal agent, Mr. Dean said.
Joe Schreibvogel operates a roadside zoo in Oklahoma with 1400 animals, including over 150 tigers, on sixteen acres, that has a history of serious animal abuse (see below). He generates revenue by constantly breeding tiger cubs, ripping them from their mothers shortly after birth, and abusing them by carting them around from mall to mall charging people to pet them alongside a magic show he performs. USDA rules prohibit using the cubs for this purpose after they reach 12 weeks old. When he can no longer use them to make money, he “donates” (or by some reports sells) them, or brings to his zoo. In most cases these animals will at best spend their entire lives in small, prison-like cells. Current USDA regulations permit keeping an adult tiger in a cage smaller than a parking spot. Many of his cats are sent to places with a history of animal abuse violations.
What is life like for these poor cubs dragged around from mall to mall for the early weeks of their lives? Videos of the mall exhibit reveal what they endure.
In the video below, you can see that the cub has diarrhea. Witnesses report this was true of at least three of the cubs. Instead of taking the cubs off display, the attendant follows the cub with a rag. First Beth Corley wipes the floor, then she wipes the cub’s bottom with the same rag. The cub’s bottom is likely raw and sore from the diarrhea. You can hear the cub scream. You can see the video under “Sick Cubs at Mall” below.
Malls who allow Joe to exhibit are supporting this abuse. If venues would not allow acts like this, the breeding and suffering would stop. Fortunately, more and more responsible venues are making the right decision. For instance, after a cub display at one of their stores, Petsmart recently issued a policy that there would be no exotic animal displays at their U.S. and Canada stores. In doing so they showed that they truly care about animals.
Joe claims that he has to breed cubs and take them out on the traveling show in order to support the animals at his zoo. He acknowledges that this is wrong when he says in a Facebook post that he does not want to do this but is “forced to” in order to make money to support the animals at the zoo. Joe is only forced to do this as a result of his own bad decisions and lack of caring for animals.
Joe’s latest argument to justify his rampant breeding (which he calls “selective”) is that he is doing a public service because by supplying a cub to every zoo and exhibitor who wants a tiger, he is putting out of business the “back yard breeders.” This is a little bit like John Dillinger claiming he was doing public service by putting other bank robbers out of business because he had robbed all the banks. It does not matter who is breeding tigers to make money from cubs and then discarding them to a life of misery. It is just wrong.
The fact is that real sanctuaries all around the country are able to support their rescue and animal care work without adding to the problem by breeding and without abusing animals to make money. They do that by operating facilities that have excellent animal care that donors appreciate and want to support. They also do that by being financially responsible and not taking in more animals than they can support.
The fact that true sanctuaries all of over the country do support their animals without tormenting innocent cubs proves that it can be done. If Joe cannot do the right thing for the animals, he should not be collecting them. If real sanctuaries around the county are capable of doing this, why can’t Joe?
Joe’s website says his zoo was started in 1999 as a way to honor his deceased brother, who reportedly loved animals. Joe could have done exactly that. He could have built a real sanctuary by taking in animals and giving them the kind of care that would have touched the hearts of donors who would have supported him like other real sanctuaries have done. He says on his website that in 2005 he “grew away from the word ‘Sanctuary’ … because everyone wanted to dictate how you run a business as a sanctuary, but no one wanted to help pay the bills.”
Regarding having others “dictate”, yes, to be a real sanctuary, you have to meet certain standards of animal care. The animal abuse documented in USDA violations from 2000 to 2015, discussed below, shows he never was a sanctuary. He could have invested time in learning the skills needed to run a true sanctuary, including how to run the financial side of a nonprofit. He could have built a place that would have been a true tribute to a deceased animal lover. He did not.
Young Children Bitten at GW Park
Before going into the details about Joe’s exploitation and lies, below are three videos taken in September 2011 by visitors to GW Park. According to a USDA Fact Sheet, cubs under 8 weeks old should not be petted because their immune systems have not sufficiently developed to prevent disease. Separately, USDA guidance forbids petting cubs over 12 weeks of age because they are dangerous. (See 2010 in the Palazzo case upholding USDA position established in 2004).
In these three short videos you see GWPark employees blatantly violating these USDA policies and endangering the cubs and the public. In the videos the handlers acknowledge that the cubs are 14, 15, 16, 19 or 20 weeks old. In one video you hear the handlers laughing about a child being bitten by one of the overage cubs and being taken in to see under age cubs to appease the family. Remarkably, just one week later, with a handler lying by saying “we have never had an incident,” the video shows a young child jumped on and bitten by a 20 week old cub. After that, even though in both videos the handlers talk about the smaller cubs having weak immune systems which makes public contact dangerous for them, the park manager brings out a tiny two week old cub to appease the crowd. He allows two and three people to grope at the cub at a time. He only stops when the poor cub, who is so young that its eyes are not even open yet, starts squealing loudly and desperately tries to climb away to avoid the petting.
As a practical matter, USDA inspectors are never going to see the animals mistreated or see animals that are too young or too old being used this way. The inspectors do not do undercover work, they announce themselves on arrival. An individual who worked at GW Park tells us that when the inspector arrives, someone at the park announces “USDA on the property” and some individuals are assigned to delay the inspectors while others run around filling water bowls and stop any behavior that could result in citation. As you watch the tiny cub squealing in discomfort and fear in the third video, knowing that each of the hands you see groping at him is a threat to his infant weak immune system, and as you hear the handlers in the first video chuckle about a child being bitten, and as you see Schreibvogel in the video at the top of this page strike a tiny cub with a pole and say “just pop ’em in the ass,” ask yourself if you think Joe Schreibvogel is someone who loves animals. Does someone who loves animals torment tiny cubs to make money? And if you are a venue that permits his traveling exhibit to set up in your mall or fair, aside from the potential liability, is this kind of treatment of animals what you want to support?
Underage Cubs Used to Appease Crowd After Child Bitten
Sick Cubs at Mall
Joe Schreibvogel Exposed by Inside Edition
HISTORY OF ANIMAL ABUSE
Instead of creating a sanctuary, Joe created a facility that in its early years, 2000 – 2004, was cited repeatedly by USDA for serious violations of the minimum standards of the Animal Welfare Act. USDA has limited enforcement resources. They can only take a few animal abusers to court, so they reserve that for only the most blatant cases. Typically they will issue citations for years, giving the licensee every opportunity to correct the out of compliance conditions before they consider filing a lawsuit. After years of citations they finally sued Joe. In April 2005 the agency filed a 20-page complaint against Joe with numerous charges, including the following:
* Failure to provide adequate veterinary care
* Failure to handle animals so that there was minimal risk of harm to the animal and to the public
* An incident in which a tiger escaped from his enclosure and attacked and seriously wounded a camel
* Transportation of 15 tigers and lions in a manner that allowed urine, feces, or both to contaminate the animals caged below
* Lack of potable water for 18 lions, 23 tigers, 15 bears, 20 cougars, three leopards, and a pig
* Lack of employees present to provide care to 80 large, dangerous cats
* Lack of knowledge by employees about how often the animals were fed
* Filthy, wet, unsafe, and dilapidated enclosures
* Failure to handle animals in a manner that does not cause trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm, or unnecessary discomfort
* Failure to provide animals with minimum space
* Exposed live, bare wires in tiger nursery play area
In November 2015 Schreibvogel / Maldonado was cited for dangerous conditions for his cubs who were being raised in a room with “live, bare electrical wires” and glass window panes within reach of the cubs that could provide both injury or a way of escape. He was also cited for improper handling of food for the animals. Records indicate 99 tigers at this time. Read the USDA violation.
In August 2015 Schreibvogel / Maldonado was cited for displaying a 19 day old liger cub at the Mississippi State Fair. Read the USDA violation.
In July 2015 Schreibvogel / Maldonado was cited for fly infestation, filthy food bowls, inadequate methods of temperature control for primates, unsafe fencing and more. Read the USDA violations.
In March 2015 Schreibvogel / Maldonado was cited for a “trail of rodent droppings” on the rails between cages, food stored on the floors, dirty food receptacles, rotting meat on top of the cages, where keepers had apparently tried to throw it into the cages and failed, a decomposing rat that was intended as food, no shade for a tiger named Batista and more. Read the USDA violations.
In August 2014 Schreibvogel was cited for standing water, food and waste in an open ditch next to the primates, described by the inspector as “an open sewer,” unsafe caging, “numerous wasps” in the primate shed, tigers being kept in a cage where the gate hinge had “rusted through”, “significant” rust in a support pole, no water and no water bowls in the grizzly cage, rancid meat on the floor of the tiger cage that was covered in maggots, numerous ants and food stuck in the feed chutes that was covered in ants. At this time records show 100 tigers. Twenty one more tigers than just 5 months ago. Read the USDA violations.
In April 2014 Schreibvogel was cited because a bear, named Crybaby, had been injured on April 2, resulting in a 4-8 inch long laceration. The vet was said to have stitched up the bear, but the wound was reopened 3 days later. Apparently Joe re stitched the bear, without the vet, but on April 14 workers reported that the wound was open. The vet came on April 15 and euthanized the bear. He was cited for failing to have the vet care for the injured bear between April 5 and April 15.
In March 2014 Schreibvogel was cited for inadequate vet care, rusty cages with sharp, protruding edges, a missing plank in the tiger’s walkway and exposed screw. At this time Joe claimed to own 79 tigers, which is 15 fewer tigers than this same time last year. Read the USDA violations.
In March 2013 Schreibvogel was cited for fencing and a gate that was leaning and sagging and could provide a means of escape, a broken roof in a tiger’s enclosure, inadequate shade. At this time records indicated 94 tigers. Read the USDA violations.
In January 2006 Schreibvogel consented to a $25,000 fine and a probation period. Based on inspections since, hopefully conditions have improved. But, for over five years before USDA forced changes, the animals Joe “rescued” were subjected to the horrible conditions USDA cited.
In September 2009 USDA issued a warning notice for alleged violations of the AWA handling requirements stemming from separate incidents that occurred in 2007 and 2008, one involving a customer injured by a lion cub.
On September 13, 2011 Schreibvogel was cited by USDA for failing to provide veterinary care to two animals.
On December 1, 2011 Schreibvogel was cited by USDA for improper handling related to an incident in September 2011 at GW Park where young boy was injured by a tiger cub.
23 CUBS DIED AT GW PARK
Schreibvogel is currently under investigation by USDA for the deaths of 23 tiger cubs and separately for other possible violations of the AWA. The cubs died between April 2009 and May 2010 according to what Joe’s people reported to the FDA. Any responsible facility would have done necropsies on the initial deaths. Joe finally did necropsies on one or two of the last cubs to die and called in FDA to test the formula. The necropsies indicated curdled milk formula in the stomachs of the cubs. So, Joe insists that the cubs were killed by “bad formula.” But, the FDA testing of the samples Joe provided and of samples from the manufacturer found nothing wrong with the formula. This formula must be stored, handled, mixed and administered properly. Since FDA found nothing wrong with the formula itself, if the cubs did die from the formula, the most logical conclusion is that it was because Joe’s staff did not do one or more of these activities properly.
Between February and June 2006, a PETA investigator working at GW Exotics kept a log documenting a pattern of abuse. These included animals seriously injured from fighting, food dishes teeming with maggots, hungry animals who went without food, animals who were abused and beaten by staff. For instance, here are two examples from http://www.peta.org/features/gw-the-animals.aspx:
JULIE, THE THREE-LEGGED LION
On his first day on the job, PETA’s investigator met Julie, a three-legged lioness, who had a bloody, raw, and gaping hole where her right front leg used to be. Julie had been attacked by two tigers who literally chewed and tore her leg off and then ate it. The remaining stump of her leg had to be amputated and when she pulled out the stitches, Julie’s open wound went untreated.Though she moaned and whimpered for days, she was given nothing for pain. Julie languished in a small and barren indoor cage on a concrete floor with nothing more than a small towel for comfort. Although she was bred and born at the zoo, [J1] tells people that he “rescued” Julie and that she was injured before coming to the zoo.
‘THE VEGAS TIGERS’
GW’s Holiday 2005 newsletter reported that the Fercos Bros., a Siegfried & Roy wannabe magic act in Las Vegas, gave the park two male tigers who had “outgrown” the stage. Two days after PETA’s investigator started working at the park, the “Vegas tigers,” as they were called, were killed by lethal injection because staff decided they were “mean.”
Reportedly, the tigers’ teeth were cut out, and one was decapitated and his head given to the veterinarian’s husband to be mounted. When the Fercos came to visit the tigers in June, they were told that the cats were killed when lightning struck their cage during a storm.
Below is a video by the investigator showing a dying horse left suffering, workers beating animals with tools, and a worker explaining how they forge the feeding log to say animals were fed that were not because USDA had no way to prove otherwise.
According to one report “PETA activists took their recordings to law enforcement, but no charges were filed after authorities said no criminal activity occurred in the videos they viewed. Federal agents inspected the park twice after the videos were released and found no violations. Schreibvogel claimed the PETA videos took out of context what was going on, but did admit he had fired four of the employees featured in the investigation.” Although authorities decided not to file criminal charges, it is hard to imagine the behavior in this video not being animal abuse no matter what the “context.”
Allowing animals to suffer horrible conditions for years until USDA forced him to correct them clearly contradicts Joe’s claim to be a lover of animals. His current argument that he should be allowed to abuse cubs and subject a steady stream of them to lifelong misery in order to support those he has collected raises further doubts. He accepts animals from places known for animal abuse without regard for the fact that these places continue to operate and abuse more animals. Is that a rescuer, or someone just building the “world’s largest” big cat zoo to satisfy his ego?
IS JOE A PERSON OF CHARACTER AND PROFESSIONALISM?
To get an insight into Joe’s character, let’s look at a few examples of his behavior.
Photos of PETA and BCR effigies being killed. One of his responses to criticism from PETA and BIG CAT RESCUE was to post photos on his Facebook page showing figures labeled PETA and BCR with guns to their heads, hangman’s nooses around their necks, and a bow and arrow pointed at them.
If you are a manager of a mall reading this, is this the kind of person you want to be associated with?
Photo shooting polar bear cub. One mall executive found out how professional Joe is when his company decided they did not want to be associated with Joe’s abuse. Joe, using one of his “stage names” Aarron Alex, accused the management company online of “supporting the killing of animals” and posted a photo with his proposed boycott of their properties showing a polar bear plush toy with a handgun to its head and the title “If Mama Don’t Want It Don’t Nobody Want It.”
If you were a mall owner or manager, is this the kind of vendor you want?
Registering URLs in Name of Dead Person. Another rather bizarre behavior is that in recent years Joe has been in the habit of registering new internet URL’s using the name Brian Rhyne, who the GW website said died in 2001. What kind of person uses a dead man’s name to register their websites? Recently Joe has been changing some of these, perhaps as a result of this strange behavior being commented upon online.
Crude, sexually oriented comments and lies. Joe and a small band of cronies, most of whom are people who support subjecting exotic animals to the unsuitable condition of being pets, constantly post blatant lies, sometimes sexually oriented, about his critics. Some of the Facebook identities making these comments are fake identities set up by Joe or this group. For instance, it is hard to imagine that his Facebook supporter “Carole Backsins” is anything more than a shallow and childish alteration of the name of Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue.
JOE’S MULTIPLE COMPANY NAMES AND PERSONAL NAMES
What about all those company names listed at the top of this page? One of the most basic principles in marketing is to develop a consistent brand image. The problem for Joe is that his brand is tainted by his animal abuse, so he keeps making up new names. He really went to town in 2010 adding at least four of the names listed above.
He says he uses different names to avoid the “animal activists.” Joe is not fooling any of the people who fight to protect animals and want him to stop abusing the cubs. They find him no matter what entity name he uses. The only people he can fool this way are the members of the public. One individual, Aaron Wissner, whose posts indicate he simply was concerned at what he saw at a mall and wanted to find out who “Tigers in Need” was, spent what had to be hours researching. Some of his information came from prior versions of this page, but much he obtained elsewhere. A URL to his research appears at the bottom of this page.
Joe’s Names. In addition to using his own name, Joe has performed his magic act using Joe Exotic, Aarron Alex, and Cody Ryan. Cody Ryan frequently performs as a duo with a man named Aaron Stone. Joe posts disparaging remarks about his critics under both his own name and Aarron Alex, and Aaron Stone has shown up with similar comments as a “volunteer” on at least one post.
Joe’s Accomplices. Joe has two accomplices in the subterfuge of his entity “name game.” One is Beth Corley. Joe has one USDA license. Beth Corley has her own license, registered at the same address as Joe’s, i.e. the G.W. Animal Park address. The other accomplice is Vicky Welch, spelled with a “y” in news reports, but with an “i” when Joe uses her name to register URL’s for the new names he makes up for the magic act and cub display. She travels with the show and has been referred to in the press as “road manager and animal caretaker” for Awakening Productions.
Are they all interconnected? It would take too long to give details on each here. We have built an excel spreadsheet sorting out his maze. Some names are registered as Trade Names of G.W. Exotics. Others are separate corporations. And still others are not registered at all with the Oklahoma Secretary of State nor show up on the IRS.gov site as nonprofits even though they claim to be.
Just for example, let’s look at one person and one entity.
Beth Corley. As mentioned, Beth has a USDA license registered at Joe’s address. Beth is referred to in an online news story posted by Joe as “Director” of Big Cat Rescue Entertainment. She is referred to by a reporter for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, IN as “Beth Corley, a worker with Big Cat Rescue” (failing to include the “Entertainment”). A report in The Telegraph on the exhibit at the Alton Square Mall in Alton, IL in July 2010 refers to “Beth Corley, co-founder of Welch’s Entertainment.” The Fremont Tribune from Fremont, NE on 1-28-10 refers to “Corley’s Exotics, run by Beth Corley of G.W. Exotic Animal Park.”
Tigers In Need. Now, let’s take one entity, or one name since it does not actually appear to be an entity, “Tigers In Need”. As of this writing, we could not find it registered as a Trade Name nor as a separate Corporation, so it appears to be just a made up name. One advantage, assuming that is intentional, is that it is difficult to know who “owns” it. Below is a list of some of the ways in which Tiger In Need is connected to the other entities and accomplice names:
1) The URL tigersinneed.org was registered 1/30/10. Before 7/29/10 the WHOIS report showed Registrant Name was “Tigers in need” and Registrant Email was Joe_Exotic@Yahoo.com. On 7-29-10 the registration was changed to show Registrant Name as Vicki Welch and Registrant Email left blank.
2) The tigersinneed.org website has a description that clearly is GW Park. It refers to being started in 1999 in Southern Oklahoma and having over 150 big cats. It says “Please note that we are a non-profit organization and are not affiliated with any other company”, when it clearly is the same facility as the GW Exotic zoo.
3) The “Contact Us” link at tigersinneed.org brings up “Florida Office 813-361-9611”, the same phone being used by Big Cat Rescue Entertainment.
4) The “Guestbook” link at tigersinneed.org contains comments from visitors to the Alton Mall in July. The Alton, IL newspaper, The Telegraph, reporting on the show at the mall, refers to the cats being “just a few of the 150 or so from the Tigers In Need refuge in Wynnewood, Okla. Welch’s Entertainment holds the tours…to raise money for Tigers In Need.” It quotes “Beth Corley, co-founder of Welch’s Entertainment.”
5) The Davis County Clipper 7-27-10 in Bountiful, UT refers to Welch’s Tiger Experience also being called Tigers in Need.
6) An event notice on the East Town Mall website was titled Tigers in Need formally (sic – formerly) Awakening Productions.
What kind of person creates a maze of entities like this, and for what legitimate purpose?
Joe and his employee Bobbi Corona have a total disregard for the truth that is remarkable. He says and writes whatever nonsense he decides to make up. PeTA identified statements about his breeding and selling that they show to be false at http://www.peta.org/features/gw-exotic-animal-trade.aspx
Here are some examples where Joe misleads or issues totally false statements:
Tigers In Need Nonprofit and Not Affiliated. His many names and entities and the deception that they foist on the public are discussed above. A number of his entities, like Tigers In Need, have claimed on their websites, literature and press reports to be “nonprofit.” They do not show up as registered trade names of a nonprofit, nor on the IRS site under their own names. G.W. Exotic Animal Park is a nonprofit, so maybe Joe thinks that any name he wants to call it by becomes a nonprofit, even when he is denying that the name is associated with GW. The other deception is the idea that these are not related. Tigers In Need, which clearly is just another name for the GW Animal Park, has on its website at this writing “we… are not affiliated with any other company”, an obviously false statement. Then, in his depositions in our lawsuit, he did an about face and says that G.W. Exotic Animal Park, Tigers in Need and Big Cat Rescue Entertainment are all the same. He claims he never intended to file Big Cat Rescue Entertainment as a separate company, it should have been a d/b/a. This is in spite of the fact that he first registered it as a d/b/a, then redrew that registration and filed it as a separate corporation.
Howard Baskin cub display video. Howard Baskin, husband of Carole Baskin from Big Cat Rescue, went undercover at a tiger cub exhibit to get video showing the cubs’ distress and the exhibitor’s lies. He then made a video explaining in detail why these exhibits are abusive and provided details about the particular exhibitor involved and the poor conditions at her facility. The video included the video clip at the top of this page showing Joe’s cubs with diarrhea. You can see the 6 minute video at http://www.bigcatrescue.org/
What did Joe do? He issued a “press release” on PRLog claiming that Carole does not know that “her husband has been going behind her back to either pet or play with a baby tiger cub.” He quoted the owner of the exhibit, someone who says Joe “donated” a cub to her, as saying “Maybe this is how he gets his kicks since he cant (sic) get them at home…” So, Joe, Howard Baskin goes behind his wife’s back to pet tiger cubs, then makes a video and has her post it on the Big Cat Rescue website. Pretty darn sneaky of him. Surely she will never know. Does a truthful person of character post a press release like this?
Joe claims he is no longer the one displaying the cubs. This one is a gem. Joe recently started saying that people concerned about the abuse in the cub exhibit should leave him alone and are lying if they associate him with it because the cub exhibit is under the USDA license of another person. In a Facebook post 11/4/10 Joe says “I DON’T USE CUBS (his caps) anylonger (sic), all I do is Magic shows.”
Let’s think about that one. The USDA licensee is now not Joe. It is Beth Corley. But her license is registered at the same address as his and she has historically travelled with the show. Her connections to his various entities are detailed above. The proceeds of the show are still advertised as going to Tigers In Need, basically just another made up name for Joe’s GW Exotics Animal Park as shown above. So the show still benefits Joe’s zoo. But since the cubs are technically registered under his co-worker’s license Joe has nothing to do with the cubs show? Sure, Joe.
Breeding “A Select Few”. Joe says he breeds “a select few.” Were the 23 cubs that died mid 2010 a select few? He is constantly breeding to supply his road show. He can be heard in the PeTA video yelling at the cats to breed because he needed cubs for the road show.
Laws restricting private ownership cause abandonment. The GW Exotic website “About” page claims the laws banning private exotic animal ownership are the cause of the abandonment of exotics that Joe has to rescue. This is utter nonsense. New bans typically grandfather in private owners. But more importantly, it is private ownership that causes the abandonment. If private ownership were banned nationwide, which it should be like it is in many states and many other nations, there would be NO abandonment because no private owners would have them!
The steady increase in legislation banning private ownership represents recognition by our society that private ownership leads to massive abuse. Social values evolve. It took decades to ban slavery in England and for women to win the right to vote in America. Those ideas started out as “radical”, held by a small minority. Gradually more and more people understood and agreed until they became a part of our value system that we take for granted today. The same trend is happening with private ownership of exotics. Gradually more and more people are realizing that this simply leads to widespread abuse of these animals. The best evidence of this is the accelerating trend in state laws. Just since 2005 eight more states have passed some level of ban.
GW Exotic is “Accredited”. Joe says he is “accredited”. He is accredited by United States Zoological Association. Tis is an organization Joe himself created in August 2008. The Registered Agent for USZA in the Oklahoma Secretary of State records is Joe Schreibogel. When he set up the USZA.us website, he used his email address, but listed the Registered Agent as Brian Rhyne, a man who Joe’s own website said died in 2001. In one fax Joe claims USZA has “nearly 2 million supporters,” another blatant lie.
What kind of organization is it? The USZA website has a page where people can list exotic animals they want to give away, sell or buy. On 11/7/10 the section listing cats for sale offered “baby white tigers” with the notation “great breed stock”. The sellers are only listed by a code. This code for this seller was “600 OK”. As in Oklahoma. Most likely Joe.
Joe refers to his park as a zoo. The recognized accrediting body in the zoo industry is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Joe is not accredited by AZA. Being accredited implies having been reviewed by some independent organization and found to have met certain standards. Forming your own entity to accredit yourself does not qualify as “accredited.”
People Magazine cover. On his Facebook page for “Joe Exotic” Joe shows “Cody Ryan” ( aka Joe) and Aaron Stone on the cover of People Magazine for “September 2010”, giving the impression they were actually on that cover. They were not.
Joe is Police Chief. On Examiner.com Joe says he “is a former police chief of the Colony Tx…”.
Since The Colony was formed, it has had 6 Chiefs of Police:
Jim Beltran August 1977 to May 1978
John Steinseck July 1978 to September 1979
Nick Ristagno Jan 1980 to April 1990
Ted Gibson December 1990 to February 1992
Bruce Stewart December 1992 to September 1995
Joe Clark April 1996 to Present
Other places Joe mentions being an officer, then Chief, of Eastvale, TX, a small town of about 500 people that years later merged into The Colony.
Disparagement of Big Cat Rescue. Joe has become almost obsessed with disparaging Carole Baskin and Big Cat Rescue. He set up a website for this purpose. The “About” section contains the obvious lie that the site is written by “a group of independent reporters.” Sure, Joe.
In March 2010 he visited Big Cat Rescue as a tour guest, took photos, then captioned them with ridiculous lies. In September 2010 he visited again, this time taking a video of the tour. He made nonsensical comments into the microphone during the tour, including childish insults about the hard working volunteers he saw, then added captions with false statements like he did with his photos. He then flew low over the sanctuary for an extended period of time in a helicopter stressing the cats (not the act of someone who loves animals.)
A few examples of his false statements:
1) He questions the guide’s reference to Big Cat Rescue being accredited with a caption asking by whom. As he knows, the accreditation is by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries whose board is composed of members to the largest animal protection organizations.
2) He claims Carole is getting rich from the sanctuary. Carole has worked for 17 years without any salary or other compensation. In fact she donated the land, some investment properties, and made substantial cash donations. After 9/11 when tourism stopped and donations diminished she was selling her car and personal household belongings to pay for food for the cats.
3) He makes sarcastic, ridiculous comments about cage sizes and cleanliness that anyone who visits would realize are total nonsense. For instance, he shows a small portion of a cage and presents it as the entire cage. Or, he shows a structure made of small logs we built just for the cat’s entertainment and claims it is the den and the cat does not have proper shelter, when in fact the real den is nearby and Joe knows it.
Joe, using his alias Aarron Alex, misused the Care2 Petition site to post his photos and start a petition. Martha Hoffman, a person who had visited Big Cat Rescue a number of times, took the time to write to Care2 documenting the false statements. The last sentence of her first paragraph pretty much says it all:
“I am writing in regard to the BCR sanctuary and the accusations lodged by Aarron Alex. My husband and I are residents of Florida, living on the east coast. We have on numerous occasions visited the BCR participating in the different tours offered. Therefore we have walked the premises at different hours and NEVER have we seen anything in the context of what Mr. Aarron Alex has presented. He purposely distorts every single picture.”
To read the full text of her post where she explains the distortions in detail click here.
Finally, one of Joe’s more absurd posts implies that USDA does not do anything about his bogus complaints because “word has it that she (Carole) has a USDA person living on her property.” Sure Joe – and do Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa share a house with the mysterious “USDA person?”
Joe clearly does not have the slightest concern about whether what he says or writes is true. He makes up whatever he thinks will serve his purpose. The strange part is that he makes statements that are so obviously and outrageously not true. He does not even TRY to keep within the bounds of something that would make sense and be believable, except perhaps to his exotic animal owner following.
LACK OF FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY
Credible nonprofits display their financials to proudly show that they are good shepherds of their donors’ contributions. At this writing, none of Joe’s related entities have financial information on their websites. Some of the entities were formed too recently to have filed the required nonprofit IRS form 990, and the G.W. Exotics 990 for 2009 does not yet appear on Guidestar, so the only financial information available is GW Exotic’s 2008 Form 990.
For revenue, the 2008 Form 990 shows $501k in donations and $9k in sales of inventory. Expenses were $447k, with only $3k in salaries and only $48k in animal feed. If food was donated, it is supposed to be recorded as a “noncash” donation and included in the contribution number. So they spent $34/year per animal for food. This is not possible. And salaries of only $3k? Something does not add up. Meantime, Beth Corley is quoted in the press as saying it takes $60k/month to care for their 156 tigers, or $720k/year. They may have had fewer tigers in 2008, but what about the 1200+ other animals?
The 990 shows G.W. Exotic owning about $400k in Land, Buildings, and Equipment. But, this does not include the 16 acres the park sits on. According to county records, Joe owns that personally.
Joe says he displays the cubs to make money to support the park. He recently reported making a record $23,697 in five days. Imagine how many people had to handle these poor cubs in those five days to generate that. Think about how you would feel if that were a human baby. Is it really so much different for a tiger cub that at that age should be spending long hours sleeping just like a human baby?
COMMENTS AND RESEARCH BY OTHERS
Others have either done homework on Joe or posted comments that provide additional information.
PeTA. PeTA’s webite is referenced above. It mentions documents in which Joe has made false statements. It also provides a list of the other disreputable exotic animal breeders, exhibitors, etc. with whom Joe deals in his rescuing and placing of animals. See http://www.peta.org/features/gw.aspx Joe repeatedly refers to this undercover work as “faked” or a “frame job,” which is absolutely absurd.
Joe Schreibvogel is one of the best examples in the nation of why private ownership of big cats should be banned. He has a history of abuse, breeds big cats adding to the number that live a miserable life in small cages, breeds and takes in more than he can financially support, and justifies the current abuse by saying he needs to do it to make money to support the other animals. He shows himself to be totally devoid of integrity and professionalism with his inappropriate photos depicting violence against his critics and by constantly posting material online that he knows is devoid of any semblance of truth.
Venues who host exhibits like this and the public who “pay to play” don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. We hope the information on this page helps. The best way to stop this form of abuse is to have venues and the public understand what really happens to these animals and choose not to support the misery Joe and those like him create.
Joe prefers to be a zoo rather than a sanctuary. Two individuals who say they know Joe say he has told them his goal is to be the “world’s largest” animal facility. But he could make a different choice. If Joe took all the time he spends online ranting untruths about those who object to his abuse of these cubs and devoted it to trying to learn the skills necessary to operate a real sanctuary, and if he focused on having a number of animals that he could reasonably support instead of being “the world’s largest”, he might be able to support his animals without having to abuse some to do it. No one who runs a real sanctuary will tell you it is easy, and Joe might not be able to do it. But that is not a reason to let him continue to breed and abuse generation after generation of innocent cubs.
PAGES REFERRED TO ABOVE
Marsha Hoffman letter to Care2 re Aarron Alex Petition disparaging Big Cat Rescue
I am writing in regard to the BCR sanctuary and the accusations lodged by Aarron Alex.My husband and I are residents of Florida, living on the east coast. We have on numerous occasions visited the BCR participating in the different tours offered. Therefore we have walked the premises at different hours and NEVER have we seen anything in the context of what Mr. Aarron Alex has presented. He purposely distorts every single picture.
First, I would like to address the various tours / money making claim. To the credit of the BCR their tours are considerably smaller than those of other sanctuaries we have visited. Total number of people for day tours is 20 people. This is done so as not to upset the animals. The price of their tours are very much in line with other sanctuaries .. in some cases less. Public is NOT permitted to wander around outside of the tour as in other sanctuaries. While the tours do provide income, that money is used for the benefit of the inhabitants and the wonderful education provided by BCR in regard to exotic animals. I don’t understand this complaint. Seems to me they are just reaching for something that isn’t there to try to discredit this sanctuary especially because they charge for their zoo. BCR, like every other sanctuary, need income to provide for the care of the animals. He complains that Carole Baskin did not do the tour – as they are done by volunteers. Ms. Baskin has a sanctuary to run that is why she has volunteers do the tours.
Further Ms.Baskin’s only concern/interest is that of the welfare of the animals. The BCR is a true sanctuary. Animals are not exploited, do not do tricks, are not handled by the public etc .. which is in complete contrast to the “sanctuary” zoo Mr. Aarron Alex is associated with. See -http://www.gwpark.org/e – BCR on the other hand, is a quiet, peaceful place for animals to live out their lives as close to their natural habitats as possible.
As far as the pictures go I am appalled at the distortions. Pictures were taken of the animals close up and do not show full enclosures. Yes, several of the enclosures are round, but what Alex neglected to say is how large they are .. ranging from actually one full acre to smaller ones for smaller cats. Pictures of cats resting on rocks, or sitting in a hut/cave are close ups and do not show the background.
Examples of distortion and lies ..
1 – Cat sitting in small cage with water dish … This is the feeding cage. Every animal has it’s own cage to go to when their food is distributed. As a matter of fact, if one is at the BCR a half hour or so, before feeding, due to the schedule one would see animals sitting patiently in their feeding cage waiting for the feeding. Animals are given any necessary medications and carefully observed while in these small cages. Also it is at this time that keepers clean out the enclosures.
2 – Wild feral cats roaming around. This is absolutely not true. The domestic cats are all friendly felines who come up to people during tours for belly rubs, ears to be scratched and the treats the various volunteers/staff carry with them. I have never seen a feral cat in the area. If you look at the cat Alex has taken a picture of, you will see a very healthy animal, well groomed and certainly well fed. All domestic cats are taken for their shots and cared for/loved every bit as well as the big cats.
3 – Dead trees …. each year different organizations/stores donate unsold Christmas trees – this is simply to add variety to the enclosures and make them more jungle like. These trees bring new smells for the animals and offer something new to investigate.
4 – Poop in enclosures. We have never ever seen unclean enclosures. The staff is constantly cleaning and maintaining the enclosures. Again a factor for the small feeding cages. These cages lock while the animal is feeding and gives the staff ample time to maintain healthy clean enclosures. See point #1.
5 – There is a picture of a tiger lying by the side of the enclosure, but if you look closely, you will see green grass in the background and a pond. This is the “round” enclosure Alex speaks about ………however, he neglects to say it is one acre in size and has a pond for the tigers to swim in.
6 – Black big cat on a rock …. this is where the animal goes to sun himself – the entire rest of the enclosure is conveniently cut out of the picture. There are trees to climb, grass to roll in and a den to hide in ……..not in the picture though.
7 – He portrays huts/dens as horrible small caves where the animals huddle in. These dens or huts are usually in the middle of an enclosure and true to natural habitats of cats where they sleep, have their cubs and spend a good deal of their time. Once again he has conveniently eliminated the large area that house these huts/dens.
8 – There is a tiger lying down on it’s back, with all four legs in the air and belly exposed. What Alex evidently does not understand is that cats, wild or domestic will only take this position if they are truly secure and content. This position makes a cat very vulnerable to attack from a predator. Obviously this tiger is full of trust and totally comfortable in its surroundings.
9 – Three legged Serval. Desiree was rescued from the side of a road in AZ that way. Aarron Alex tries to make the reader believe that this happened to the Serval while it was at BCR ……..a bold faced lie!
I would like to invite you to visit http://www.bigcatrescue.org/videos and view the various videos they have about their sanctuary. You will see how it disputes everything presented by this man. Then go to …http://www.911animalabuse.com/00abusers/GWExotics.htm. Quite a contrast. In Aarron Alex’s write up which accompanies the petition he has the audacity to accuse the BCR of exploiting animals for money when his so called “sanctuary” does exactly that. BCR is not a show place – instead it is a true sanctuary for animals to live out their lives in dignity and peace. Enclosures are not done in glittering, elaborate circus like manner – instead they are done in a calm, tranquil, soothing way to exemplify the natural habitat of each animal.
I respectfully request that you remove this petition due to the untruths, deceptions and blatant distortions. Mr. Aarron Alex obviously went to there for the sole purpose of causing trouble. He knew exactly what he was doing and wanted to accomplish. Please don’t be a party to this sort of dishonesty.
You can pretty much tell how much a person has to hide by how many names they operate under. Finding USDA reports on this facility and the Rosaire family has been one of the hardest because they keep changing names, changing locations and changing license numbers. To further exacerbate the situation Rosaire uses a P.O. Box for her USDA entity that houses the big cats making it hard for the average person to find anything on her without knowing her USDA license number. The following is just the beginning of an effort to bring all of their past into one time line to the best of our ability given the lack of government oversite and dismal record keeping.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this research has been how the public can pay to see her forcing the cats to perform and then believe her when she claims that her tigers were rescued. She rescues from herself. They are tigers bred by her for use as props who are then relegated to tiny, barren cages. Most of these only have a tarp for shade. In 2009 she claimed on her USDA renewal to have 18 tigers, 8 lions, 2 leopards, 1 cougar and 1 bobcat as well as an assortment of other exotic animals. If you go to her facility you will see that all of these animals are crammed into a very small patch of her property.
Her inspector is Richard Botehlo who rarely reports anything wrong at her facility. See the whistleblower report filed against USDA by Richard Botehlo below and you will begin to understand why inspectors do not report most of the violations they see.
Photos by Dee DeSantis
2009 March 19 Rosaire license 58-C-0908 cited for failure to properly identify the dogs and failure to provide proper storage of their food to keep it free of vermin. A dog was being housed in 4.8 square feet of space when the USDA minimum for a dog his size was 6.67 square feet. USDA regulations only require that the animal be able to stand up and turn around in their cages and Rosaire was not meeting even this barest of minimums.
2009 May 19 Pamela and Roger Zoppe have their USDA license 58-C-501 cancelled. Their DBA and address at the time was Rosaire-Zoppe Chimpanzees 5317 Fruitville Road #175 Sarasota, FL 34232
2009 June 22 Pamela and Roger Zoppe pop back up with a new USDA number at the same name and address 58-C-0936
2009 July 7 Rosaire license 58-C-0387 cited for three violations including a freezer that was not working properly where animal food was stored, bears being separated only by use of hot wire where they could reach through and harm each other and bears being kept in such small cages that they could not get out of their own excrement.
2009 October 13 Rosaire license 58-C-0387 cited that a young bear was being kept in a cage where he could not freely stand up and turn around, which is all that the USDA mandates.
2010 June 19 Rosaire license 58-C-0908 cited for one performing dog having an untreated cut above his eye, and 7 dogs being forced to perform in temperatures above 85 degrees (regulation restriction) where the heat index was 107 and one dog was being kept in a cage that only measured 9.69 sf of floor space with USDA regs require 12.25 sf of space. The dog was 3 feet long, so even the minimun requirement was only 3 feet by 4 feet. Rosaire wasn’t even providing the barest minimum of space.
2010 September 25 Rosaire license 58-C-908 cited for a repeat violation of not properly identifying dogs with license tags. The reason USDA regulates this sort of thing is to prevent “bunchers” from stealing dogs and selling them to labs for experimentation.
UniverSoul Circus does not possess an exhibitor license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The animals are leased from outside companies, including Tarzan Zerbini Circus, Carson & Barnes Circus, Kay Rosaire, Bucky Steele, Rosaire-Zoppe Chimps, and Mitchel Kalmanson, so that the pages and pages of cited violations they have incurred are obscured through multiple owners, names and entities.
Rosaire’s Known Licenses and Aliases
Florida 3092 58-C-0387 Rosaire, David David Rosaire’s Perky Pekes P.O. Box 50094 Sarasota 34232 license issued 6/1998
Florida 2998 58-C-0496 Rosaire, Ross Derrick & Kay Rosaires Bears Po Box 346 Myakka City 34251
Florida 9309 58-C-0769 Rosaire, Wayne Rosaires Royal Racers Po Box 338 Bostwick 32007 this is for 14 racing pigs
Florida 3121 58-C-0367 Rosaire-Mowrey, Kay Rosaire-Mowrey Family P O Box 50217 Sarasota 34232 license issued 10/1990
Florida 6648 58-C-0608 Zoppe, Andrea 3074 Myrtle Sarasota 34234 last inspection was in 2008 for 6 dogs
Florida 13162 58-C-0908 Zoppe, Dallas 3115 44th St Sarasota 34234
Florida 3175 58-C-0868 Arneberg, James Arnberg Super Dog Show 7101 Palmer Blvd Sarasota 34234 this is the physical address for the tigers
Florida 32030 58-C-0832 Dymek, Kazinerz Party Animals Petting Zoo Llc 901 East Rd Sarasota 34240 SunBiz registered to Rosaire no inspection since 2009
The following are USDA licensees in Sarasota that may or may not be affiliated with Rosaire. These are still being evaluated.
Florida 1874 58-C-0012 Zerbini, Alain Alain Zerbini Circus Production 3327 51st St. Sarasota 34235
Florida 40523 58-C-0886 Svensson, Carlos 7419 Prospect Rd Sarasota 34243
Florida 7398 58-C-0629 Castano, Raul Swap Shop 151 Verna Road Sarasota 34240
Florida 32762 58-C-0905 Creadon, Peggy Pony Parties Of Sarasota 7034 Westwood Dr Sarasota 34241
Florida 3883 58-C-0788 Donoho, Georgina P. O. Box 1418 Sarasota 34230
Florida 38355 58-C-0878 Esqueda, Alfonso Sulo Esqueda Brother Circus 935 N Beneva Rd S609 #43 Sarasota 34232
Florida 38122 58-C-0876 Fornasari, Tosca 3322 Oak Grove Dr Sarasota 34243
Florida 33721 58-C-0845 Garcia, Katherine Star Family Circus 2621 Ridge Ave Sarasota 34235
Florida 18946 58-C-0753 Juchno, James 745 N Pompano Ave Sarasota 34237
Florida 10034 58-C-0664 Klose, Hans & Adele Adeles Canine Review 4600 Sloan Ave Sarasota 34233
Florida 20089 58-C-0852 Markov, Andrey 5136 Indian Mound St Sarasota 34232
Florida 31471 58-C-0841 Maya Panfilova, Andriy Bilobrov & 2250 Gulf Gate Dr Suite A Sarasota 34231
More on Kay Rosaire http://reporter.911animalabuse.com/service/searchEverything.kickAction?keywords=rosaire&includeVideo=on&includeAudio=on&includePhoto=on&includeBlog=on&includeUser=on&includeGroups=on&includeMessages=on&includeSets=on&as=23072&sortType=relevance
Kay Rosaire and her son Clay Rosaire do not rescue cats, but rather are a part of the problem rather than the solution. They do not walk the talk and these pages will tell you more about them:
This is nothing more than an antiquated “carnie” circus.
Thankfully, in this more enlightened age of animal compassion, the market for these animal abusive displays is dwindling. Most people realize that there is nothing “educational” about seeing infant or adultwild animals caged, transported from venue to venue, “tamed” using abusive methods, existing solely as a profit center for a business.They watch Animal Planet, they visit truly accredited rescue sanctuaries, they are more aware of the reality of life for these imprisoned animals. In short, they are more educated and will look at anyone promoting them as irresponsible. (please note below the negative publicity that fairs have received as a result of displaying captive wildlife from leased organizations and the truth behind these displays)
Kay Rosaire ‘s organization is not accredited and has been cited by the government for the abusive conditions in which their animals are kept. At a USDA Big Cat Symposium in Fort Worth, Texas on March 26, 2003, Kay Rosaire made this statement on stage: “To keep a tiger off you, you just poke ’em real hard with a pitchfork a time or two and show ’em who’s boss. Then they’ll get the message.”
These two articles will give you background on what the Rosaire ‘s are really about.
The animals have no voice, but you do, and you can still do so much to put an end to their abuse.
USDA Whistle Blower Report
January 5, 2005
Richard Botelho Jr, Animal Care Inspector for the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Heath Inspection Service, Animal Care agency, has filed a whistle blower complaint against USDA with the US government “Office of Special Counsel,” dated January 4, 2005.
As an animal care inspector and citizen of the United States, Richard Botelho Jr, believes the public needs to be aware of the prohibited practices by the Animal Care’s management at the eastern regional office. The OSC whistle blower complaint alleges multiple violations of federal regulations and law, gross mismanagement and waste of funds at Animal Care’s eastern regional office in Raleigh, NC.
The Animal Care agency is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which is federal legislation that ensures the humane care and treatment of certain warm blooded and exotic/wild animals. Animal Care conducts routine inspections at facilities that use regulated animals in research, exhibited to the public, sold wholesale and retail and transported. Licensed facilities would include but are not limited to zoos, circuses, wholesale dog / cat breeders, exhibitors, exotic / wild animal dealers and exhibitors to include transporters. Animal Care’s Mission Statement: AC provides leadership in establishing acceptable standards of humane animal care and treatment and to monitor and achieve compliance with the Animal Welfare Act through inspections, education, and cooperative efforts. Unfortunately, records show in the last several years Animal Care in the eastern region has failed to use enforcement to achieve compliance.
This lack of enforcement has caused more prolonged health and welfare problems for animals that AC is required to protect by the federal Animal Welfare Act. The lack of enforcement has also caused more incidents with potentially dangerous animals and the public. Animal Care in the eastern region is failing to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, which is endangering the animals we are responsible to protect to ensure adequate care and treatment. Failing to enforce the minimum standards and regulations of the AWA, has harmful risks to the animals and to the public. Potentially dangerous animal are being allowed to be exhibited to the public without direct control of a handler(s), sufficient distance or barrier between the animals and the public.
The OSC complaint states the Eastern Regional Office allows licensee’s with a history of repeat noncompliance’s to operate without any legal action against such licensees. Evidence shows that Animal Care paid consultation fees to a licensee to consult with a facility which had a history of repeat noncompliance’s. Repeat violators of the AWA are seldom given warnings. When legal action is taken against violators, only a fraction of the proposed fine is given by a stipulation agreement. The licensee does not have to admit to the history of repeated violations when they accept a stipulation agreement.. Even when the investigation shows the licensee has repeatedly violated the AWA, which affected the health and welfare of the animals and or public, Animal Care issues a warning or small stipulation. Facilities often accept these stipulations and continue to violate the AWA minimum standards and regulations year after year, stating it’s just the cost of doing business. Even after facilities pay multiple stipulations they continue to violate the AWA without any further action by Animal Care. USDA licenses are rarely revoked and commonly renewed, even when facilities have a history multiple repeat violations and not in compliance. Research facilities pay thousands of dollars in stipulations which usually cost the taxpayers, because the research with animals is mainly funded by the US government.
Inspectors request warning letters and investigations for repeat violators of the AWA from Animal Care management, never toreceive such requests, and without any reply to the inspector. There are several lawsuits against Animal Care from animal welfare groups for allegedly failing to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, which may cost the taxpayers thousand of dollars in attorney and settlement fees. The eastern regional office has issued far less warning letters and stipulations than the western regional office. Recently there was an audit by USDA, Office of Inspector General of the eastern regional office, due to the lack of enforcement issued to facilities. This audit should now be available by FOIA.
The whistle blower complaint states the eastern regional office superiors hire inspectors in areas which are fully staffed. Inspectors with a lack of facilities and work are often sent to other inspectors facilities and paid for travel and lodging. Yet, other inspectors,with over a hundred facilities more than other inspectors, which have not inspected facilities for several years, are not given additional inspectors for their territories.
The OSC complaint states Inspectors are often approved to visit other cities and states, just to visit relatives or site see, as long as they conduct inspections in that requested territory. These visits are paid by Animal Care, the taxpayers dollars. In most circumstances the inspector assigned to that territory has never requested any additional help from his or her superior.
The whistle blower complaint states the eastern regional office of Animal Care purchases laptop computers, digital cameras, and other equipment when the current inventory are in excellent working condition. Unnecessary purchases are made before the end of the fiscal year to spend what monies are left in Animal Care’s budget.
The OSC complaint states inspectors were verbally reprimanded and their complaints not heard by Animal Care management when they refused to join coworkers at a training course at Plum Island, New York, where animals were given a variety of diseases without pain management before their death. Animal Care enforces pain management at research facilities, however USDA fails to follow such standards during its own training programs.
The whistle blower complaint states an inspector alleges that Animal Care management gave direct orders to an inspector to expunge files which were FOIA from a federal agency due to an investigation of a human death at a research facility. Other requested records from USDA, FOIA, have taken over 2 years and requesters still have not received the FOIA nor the reason for the delay.
Inspector Botelho has been inspecting facilities for nearly 5 years in SW Florida. He has conducted an astounding number of inspection, nearly 1000 inspections which have uncovered over 200 persons operating without a USDA license, some for many years. He has been given all successful evaluations each year, has no prior discipline, and has an exceptional sick leave record.
Unfortunately, since Animal Care inspector Botelho has complained about the gross mismanagement in the last several years and filed numerous complaints against his supervisor and Director of the eastern regional office, he has been retaliated against recently to include one 14 day suspension unpaid for alleged improper conduct.
Five days after serving his first suspension, he was issued a proposed 14 day suspension unpaid for alleged improper conduct. The improper conduct Director for investigations division for RMSES, stated inspector Botelho used profanity during a telephone conversation. The telephone conversation was a complaint by inspector Botelho due to RMSES investigators calling his home during late hours, harassing his family and waking his children.. Inspector Botelho’s first suspension states that he had 5 complaints against him for alleged inappropriate conduct from USDA licensees who have repeatedly violated the Animal Welfare Act and was issued either warning or stipulations. It appears that 5 complaints, which were here say, out of 1000 inspections is a very high percentage by Animal Care standards.
The eastern regional office Director has not disciplined inspectors with greater number of complaints initiated against them, to include Ethics violations (conflict of interest accepting gifts from licensees) AC management does not support their inspectors, but supports high profile licensees when complaints are initiated against them, especially if such facilities threaten lawsuits against the agency. There is a complaint procedure for licensees, however none for inspectors who often learn of complaints during an internal investigations or suspensions.
Management has unlimited funds for legal fees. Yes, their USDA attorney is provided free of charge for their gross mismanagement at the cost of the tax payers. There is seldom any accountability when government superiors are found guilty of discrimination or retaliation, except for future promotions. There is a free in-house grievance procedure for Animal Care employees, but it is evident that the decision would not be UN-bias, due to being made by the USDA administrator. Inspector Botleho has hired an out of state employment attorney in the last several months, which he has since paid over thousands of dollars in legal funds. It has been over two years since inspector Botelho filed initial complaints against USDA, APHIS, Animal Care. The US government being back logged with complaints and lack of staff has yet to set a hearing with a federal judge at the EEOC.
Congress needs to help federal employees do their job with dignity and respect, allowing them to file complaints in a timely and cost effective manner. Help is greatly needed for employees who file complaints against their superiors, due to the cost and time it takes for employees to receive their justice. Federal managers are allowed to issue discipline without pay and state that employees are guilty before employees can prove their innocence, costing thousands of dollars to them and their families. Most employees in inspector Botelho’s situation give into management and drop their complaint because of retaliation and the lack of funds for legal representation. Since inspectors fear complaints against them and do not get support from the management, most end up picking their battles at certain facilities, turning their heads from citing enforcement resulting in poor work ethics. Other federal employees are given ultimatums to resign or be fired. Federal managers need to be accountable for their gross mismanagement. History shows that employees who file whistle blowers eventually will be wrongfully terminated, hopefully history don’t repeat itself for inspector Botelho and congress will make some serious much needed changes in current federal regulations and laws.
Before Inspector Botelho filed this whistle blower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, he has recently forwarded such similar complaints to his chain of command to include: Deputy Administrator, Dr. Chester Gipson, APHIS Administrator, Dr. Ron Dehaven, Ann Venneman, USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Agriculture Committee, Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush and President George Bush.
Hopefully his concerns and complaints will be heard by all animal lovers worldwide for the health and welfare of the animals regulated by USDA, APHIS, Animal Care. Animal Care inspectors need to be supported to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. Repeat violators of the AWA need to be issued the appropriate legal action by Animal Care management.
Inspector Botelho can be reached by e-mail at: email@example.com .
Kay Rosaire takes her circus act to Bermuda and the cats on barges
Animals from non-profit sanctuary (read pseudo sanctuary)
By Ruth O Kelly-Lynch
Tigers and bears from a non-profit sanctuary will arrive on the Island for the Animal Extravaganza shows which begin on May 26.
The animals are coming from Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Florida. DNA Entertainment spokesman Ray Hollis said the company would be bringing six tigers and five bears. The sanctuary, run by Kay Rosaire, has been rescuing exotic animals from unhealthy environments since 1987.
Approximately 57 large cats call the sanctuary home at the moment. They live on three large indoor/outdoor complexes with swimming pools, toys and trees. The brochure says the activities provide emotional enrichment that maintains optimal mental and physical health.
Ms Rosaire and her son hold educational shows and demonstrations in order to raise funds for the habitat. Their brochure touts them as gentle caregivers:
Their unique style of gentle handling, praise and treats encourage the natural behaviours of big cats on cue and in a sequence of their choice. Clayton is one of the few men in the world who can put his head in a lions mouth. Semi-retired from the entertainment industry, Kay dedicates herself full time to the rescue of big cats and other animals in need of a safe, permanent home, and continues to the educate visitors at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary as to the plight of these magnificent animals in the wild, addressing subjects such as conservation and habitat preservation. Kay has spoken at two big cat symposiums for the United States Department of Agriculture and is a recognised expert in animal husbandry pertaining to lions and tigers.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is currently investigating the group to ensure that it treats the animals well. Teresa Ince, Shelter Manager, said the Society still has concerns about the event.
We are still not endorsing the event because we are concerned about the transport of the animals, the veterinary care and the housing of the animals while they are in Bermuda and their safety, she said.
Mr. Hollis said he was aware that the SPCA would probably not be endorsing his event, though he said he has not made any contact with them recently. Even if you have the best trainers and safety in place it will not change their stance, he said. They do not want them in cages so what can you do? That is their opinion.
He said that the SPCAs concerns have not hurt ticket sales to the event, they have already sold out of all $25 tickets to the four shows. There are still $35 and $40 tickets to the shows which will be held May 26-28.
The public seems to realise that with any animal you have to transport them in a cage, he said.
The animals will arrive on the Island on May 21 via a freight ship. He is currently in discussions over where to keep them while they are on the Island. A spokesman from the Environment Ministry said it had not granted DNA Entertainment permission to import the animals and the Ministry is still actively reviewing the case.
Mr. Hollis said it is not customary to apply for permission until ten days before the event and added that he is in constant touch with the Ministry. He also said his company has not been affected by North Rock Communications pulling its sponsorship from the event.
I respect their decision, he said.
He added that he is looking to include local animal acts into the Animal Extravaganza as well as the big cats from the sanctuary.
Fund for Animals Condemns Agricultural Fair for Hosting Big Cat Encounter
SILVER SPRING, MD (August 14, 2003)
The Fund for Animals is condemning the organizers of the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair for allowing the exhibit of lions and tigers by Rosaires Big Cat Encounter. Five lions and three tigers confined to small cages are on display at the fair this week.
The fair is taking a huge risk by promoting captive wild animal shows such as this, said Andi Bernat, Program Coordinator for The Fund for Animals. People unfortunately trust that these exotic animals can be domesticated when in fact, the animals often retain their wild instincts. According to the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, captive wild cats exhibited to the public have been responsible for 8 deaths and over 60 injuries. Bernat also pointed out that people who are in the business of displaying captive wild animals often end up selling or trading their animals to circuses, roadside petting zoos, and trophy hunting ranches.
In fact, Kay Rosaire , one of the Big Cat Encounter owners, was an exhibitor for UniverSoul Circus, which has been cited for a number of infractions including Animal Welfare Act violations, said Bernat. In 1999, the Big Cat Encounter was cited by the USDA for failure to provide proper veterinary care and for cages that did not meet minimal size requirements.
Captive wild animals deserve to be treated as animals, not as stage props, said Bernat. Having lions and tigers at a county fair is not only inhumane to the animals, but also poses a danger to citizens and could make the county and the fair organizers liable for injuries ordeaths.
In March of 2012 the Rosaire Circus dragged their cats up to the IX Indoor Amusement Park in Cleveland, OH for the third year in a row.
FACTS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE ALLOWING WILD ANIMAL DISPLAYS
In an attempt to clean up the sleazy image long associated with roadside zoos, operators of these facilities now declare themselves “conservationists.” They in fact do nothing to protect wildlife or preserve habitat, and they breed animals indiscriminately, without regard for genetic diversity and with nowhere suitable for them to go. What people learn from these exhibitors is how animals act in captivity and that it is acceptable to cause wild animals to be bored, cramped, lonely, and kept far from their natural homes.
Profit-hungry operators perpetually breed animals so that they will have an endless supply of “cute babies” in order to draw crowds. The older, unmanageable animals are left to languish in small cages or disposed of when they have exhausted their “usefulness.” Exotic animal auctions, frequented by unscrupulous dealers, are a popular method of discarding unwanted “display” animals, who ultimately end up in the pet trade, on breeding farms, killed for their skins and other organs, or used for canned hunts. Some animals, such as tigers, lions, and bears—both cubs and adults—are worth more dead than alive. Hides alone can fetch $2,000 to $20,000 or more. Entire families are slaughtered and stuffed for mounts that sell for $10,000. To avoid damaging pelts, animals are killed by the most gruesome methods imaginable, such as shoving ice picks through their ears and into their brains, suffocating them by wrapping plastic bags around their heads, and drowning.
Wildlife exhibitors mislead the public with impressive-sounding but meaningless credentials, such as “federally licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of the Interior.” Federal permits to exhibit, breed, or sell regulated animals are required and issued to nearly anyone who fills out an application and sends in a fee. The USDA exhibitor application is a 3/4-page-long form that asks for a person’s name, address, and animal inventory but nothing that pertains to qualifications. The Animal Welfare Act, which the USDA enforces, sets only minimum standards of care and rarely addresses an animal’s psychological needs. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), the branch of the Department of the Interior that issues permits to buy and sell threatened and endangered species, considers non-native wildlife a low priority. Breeding mills have so saturated the market with “generic tigers” of unknown lineage that USFWS exempts these animals from full regulation. Some exhibitors even retain their licenses despite incidents of deadly animal attacks, dangerous animal escapes, serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and illegal wildlife trafficking.
Circuses: Clean Family Fun Or Havens Of Cruelty?
This video is 23 minutes long, so it takes a few minutes to load.
If this video makes you mad, then DO SOMETHING about it!
Send a letter to your legislator with our quick & easy form at www.CatLaws.com
The Best Response to Circuses Ever Written
By Kerry Ashmore , The Northeaster
Numerous thorny issues cloud the debate over how humans treat animals. One issue coming quickly to Minneapolis, however, has a clear and easy correct answer. We urge Minneapolis City Council members to ban wild animal circus performances in the city.
This will not require all of us to become vegetarians. It won’t ban laboratory research. It won’t be a death sentence for any animal that bites a human. Minneapolis taxpayers would simply be refusing to allow people to make money in the city through capturing and training wild animals, and would be foregoing any money the city and local businesses might make if the circus came to town.
This issue is similar to some other thorny issues, however, in that many people will oppose the ban because they don’t want to believe that circuses are necessarily cruel to animals. To support the ban, they would have to admit that the whole concept of capturing and
training wild animals for human entertainment and enrichment is, and always has been, wrong; and that they have been wrong for not doing everything they could to ban the practice decades ago. Who wants to admit to something like that?
Our advice to them: Deal with it.
Yes, we humans have been wrong all along, and this is a baby step toward making things right.
Those who don’t want the ban will be quick to point to violent and illegal acts people have committed in the name of ending animal cruelty, and suggest that seeking to end animal cruelty somehow indicates that one condones such acts. That simply doesn’t pass the common sense test, and those who bring such incidents into the discussion are essentially admitting that they can’t come up with a reasonable defense for the way animals are treated in a circus setting. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because there is no reasonable defense for it.
Some local people will lose some money if the ban is passed. Circus people stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants and spend money in local stores. Our wise and resourceful officials can replace the circus with other events that don’t cause us to support unconscionable acts toward beings who, because of human intervention, are no longer able to defend themselves.
Humans, with complete freedom of movement and superior reasoning capability, grow weary of “life on the road,” and with good reason. Circus animals are caged and moved from town to town, forced to perform unnatural acts and then caged and moved to yet another town for yet another performance. The best efforts of the most kind- hearted people in the world cannot make this process humane. It is
cruel by its nature.
It’s unlikely that the circus people think that what they’re doing is inhumane. It’s only when city after city after city closes its doors that they will ask, “Why?” and perhaps begin to have second thoughts about the way animals have to be treated if they are to provide money- making entertainment to humans.
When and if our society becomes truly civilized, such entertainment will be banned entirely. Those animal-protection laws don’t exist now, and there isn’t a legal way to stop circus use of animals.
Minneapolis, however, has a chance to take one simple, straightforward action, and become the 29th American city to close its doors to wild animal circuses. It’s an action Minneapolis council members should take without delay, without regret and without dissent.
Posted: Wed, 08/01/2007
For the love of animals, avoid the circus
By DUNCAN STRAUSS
Special to The Post
Sunday, December 23, 2007
On Wednesday, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus lumbers into the South Florida Fairgrounds Expo Center in Palm Beach County for 12 performances. To those considering stepping into the big top to attend one of these shows, I offer this polite request:
Who am I – some animal-hating killjoy out to spoil your fun? Far from it. I’m a father, a pretty passionate animal lover and, not coincidentally, I host a radio program about animals that airs on Tampa National Public Radio affiliate WMNF.
I do not claim to be a renowned animal expert. But over the years, I’ve done a great deal of research into an array of animal matters. In hosting the show, I’ve had the good fortune to interview a number of renowned animal experts, experiences that have yielded one indisputable conclusion:
Animals in circuses endure a relentlessly awful life, marked by constant travel in cramped quarters, where access to food and water and proper veterinary care can’t always be counted on, but punishment, pain, cruelty and, sometimes, premature death can be.
Hyperbole? Hardly. Any unit of Ringling Bros. is on the road for six to 11 months at a time, typically traveling in small train cars or trucks that are often poorly ventilated and/or lack basic creature comforts.
But the travails of transportation practically seem glorious alongside the covert and overt cruelty of the training that prepares – if that’s the right word – these animals to perform in “the greatest show on Earth.” Allow me to pose two related rhetorical questions:
Do you think that tigers – who, like most animals, are deathly afraid of fire – would be naturally inclined to jump through a ring of fire?
Do you think that elephants would be naturally inclined to balance on a colorful perch, stand on their hind legs or heads, or dance?
The answer, of course, is a resounding “No.” So, to achieve the sort of unnatural and physically challenging behaviors described above and others, the training is fear-driven, revolving around punishing and hurting the animals: whipping them, beating them with rods, etc.
Elephants often are restrained, then beaten until they understand not to fight back. The chief tool of the elephant training trade is the bull hook, or ankus, which is heavy and clublike and has a pointy, sharp tip. Imagine a heavy and sharp fireplace poker. The trainers hit the elephants with the bull hook in various parts of their body, so that they comply – “learn.”
Sounds too horrendous to believe, doesn’t it? But there is plenty of testimony by former Ringling employees that says as much, and lots of video that shows as much – some of it as new as this year. To see an extensive array of germane video footage in less than eight minutes, you could hardly do better than watching the award-winning piece on Ringling and its abuse of Asian elephants by television journalist Leslie Griffith, who has won nine local Emmys and two Edward R. Murrow Awards, It’s at www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3rQzLOLR4M.
Keen observers of Ms. Griffith’s work will notice that it’s from 2004, and might reasonably wonder whether Ringling has improved its treatment of animals. Nope. In October 2006, Robert Tom, a former animal keeper who worked for Ringling for nearly two years (his wife, Margaret, also was employed by the circus) issued a notarized declaration – six pages of hair-raising accounts of animal neglect, abuse and cruelty in and around the big top.
Mr. Tom’s experiences echo those of Archele Faye Hundley, a young mother of five, who worked as part of the animal crew. Her lengthy September 2006 notarized declaration, notes: “I quit the circus because the animal abuse was too upsetting. The abuse was not once in awhile, it occurred every day.”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, along with three other not-for-profit animal welfare organizations – The Fund For Animals, Animal Welfare Institute and Animal Protection Institute – are in the midst of litigation, under the Federal Endangered Species Act, against Ringling. The allegations detail the routine abuse and neglect of Asian elephants. The groups are joined in the lawsuit by a former Ringling employee, Tom Rider, who worked as a barn man for the elephants for 21/2 years, and is featured in the Griffith piece.
I digress here briefly for a prediction: Ringling owner Kenneth Feld surely will dispatch someone to respond to this piece – could be an official employee or maybe someone in the guise of a Ringling fan writing a letter to the editor – to dismiss these contentions as the ravings of a misinformed loon.
There will be rosy scenarios offered about their training, about their “conservation efforts” (their Center for Elephant Conservation is little more than a facility to restock the touring units with fresh pachyderms), about how great their animals are treated, etc. There are millions of dollars at stake, and elephants are the prime drawing cards, so when someone is critical of the operation, Mr. Feld and his fellow Ringling panjandrums typically mobilize quickly. And they’ll say anything
Nonetheless, let’s just say, for the sake of ludicrous argument, that nothing untoward is visited on elephants in the course of their big top training. They’re still forced to travel in those train cars or trucks to perform up to three shows a day and to spend most of their non-performance time anchored by leg chains.
Let me hasten to add that I’m not at all universally opposed to circuses, just those that use animals. There are numerous animal-free circuses – perhaps the most famous is Cirque du Soleil, but the last list I saw featured more than 20 such outfits.
If your family has a hankering to see a circus, go to one of those. But attending a Ringling performance is tantamount to endorsing animal abuse.
Read it online HERE
Nov 18, 2011 News Reports Woman Posing and Petting Over Age Cub at Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota owned by Kay Rosaire:
September 13, 2011: Wonderful but sad … my last hugs and kisses with Ghandi today. She’s now 4 months old and weighs about 30 pounds; her teeth and claws are razor sharp, and now that she’s at the Habitat, her natural instincts will take over and she’ll learn to get along with the “big cats” and become one herself. In a year’s time she’ll weigh about 400 pounds. My consolation – she’ll have a wonderful life thanks to YOU and your donations to the Habitat. Ghandi and the rest of the cats, bears, lions, ligers, wallabies, monkeys and emus need you to visit them and help Kay Rosaire and her staff take care of them. So thanks for the kisses today, Ghandi … and here’s to the next cub I get to cuddle!