and why can’t he be found under any of these names he uses in USDA’s records?
He is licensed in Florida to operate out of a Sarasota P.O. Box under ESA # 16769 which was issued on 10/2/11 with his location listed as P.O. Box 1418 Sarasota, FL 34230-1418 and a phone number of 941.938.2138. His Florida state license states that he and Georgina Donoho are at 14969 Beckett Road in Seagoville, TX 75159. His email address is listed as firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2004 he reportedly had a USDA license issued to Clyde Bros Johnson Circus Seagoville TX using that same email address above but there is no current USDA license number in that name or any of his other names listed here. He was said by USDA to have had 6 tigers back in 2004.
Despite having a traveling show that appears at second rate fairs there is no explanation for how he is displaying tigers legally. None of the reporters who have covered his appearances have done their homework to find out who he is, whether or not he is actually licensed to be taking tigers out in public and if so, under what name.
On a circus site I was able to discern that Georgina Donoho AKA Pom Pom Donoho was a circus performer and upon searching her name discovered this little old lady has a USDA license in her name 58-C-0788 and, low and behold, it is registered to the same P.O. Box 1418 Sarasota, FL 34230-1418.
In Nov 2011 Vincent Von Dukes AKA Georgina Donoho cited for an inadequate perimeter fence at their P.O. Box (no location given) and the report said they had just acquired new lion and tiger cubs and did not have vet care guidance for them. The report gave them until December 2011 to correct the dilapidated fence, but there was no follow up inspection or report. The inspection said that they should send in photos of their traveling act cage, but compliance is unknown.
In the following video you can see the cats shying away from him and skulking away in fear. How can anyone clap or call this entertainment?
This act features one male and one female African lion, two female tigers and one white female tiger.
Vince Von Duke’s wife, Pom Pom Donoho, can be seen to the left of the screen. She conducts various duties during the performance to include hooking up the 20 lb. propane tank for the FLAMING HOOP portion of the act. This was shot in Canton, Ohio on March 24, 2018 at the 7:30 show. This circus was produced by HAMID CIRCUS for TADMOR SHRINE of Canton. VINCENT VON DUKE performed in Dayton, Ohio in February, 2018 with a circus produced by TARZAN ZERBINI for Shriners. Please tell the Shriners that you won’t support them as long as they promote abuse in the name of family fun.
In Vincent Von Dukes April 2011 inspection report there was no adult available to allow an inspection and apparently no itinerary filed with USDA. Traveling acts are supposed to file an itinerary with USDA so that USDA can send an inspector to the location where the animals will be performing if there are complaints. Most traveling acts only send these right before traveling because they do not want animal protection groups to know where they will be exploiting animals.
A woman was killed by one of the lions that Kevin Richardson was walking. The lioness ran away from Richardson and two miles down the road came across a woman who was leaving an interview to get in her car and killed her. Some of the better articles on this tragedy:
Can we now stop hearing people talk about how he has a special bond with lions? Sheesh.
This article did a good job on the subject of how showing off with big cats is not conservation: https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/close-interaction-with-captive-lions-is-not-conservation-13980900
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Kevin Richardson says he loves his cats however, we feel that what he does is not only dangerous but is incredibly irresponsible and selfish. What he does sets a horrible example.
With his WORDS he says big cats are not pets but with his ACTIONS he makes people want to touch and play with big cats, and their babies. People pay more attention to actions than they do words.
When people see facilities or exhibits that pimp cubs out for petting and photo schemes they will pay to participate in those because people like Kevin Richardson make it look like so much fun. They want people to think they are a “Lion Whisperer” too.
Facilities in Africa that pimp cubs for petting and photos like that sell them to canned hunts when they are too big to be used that way. That means many of those cubs end up suffering the same fate that Cecil Lion did.
In America, and other countries, the bad guys breed a steady stream of big cat cubs to be pimped out for the public to pay to play with. When those cubs get too big to be used like that their futures are pretty bleak.
The cub pay to play and photo schemes are at the very root of so many big cats suffering. Learn more at CubTruth.com
Another point to consider is petting big cats and their babies can result in the cats’ death. A tragic story unfolded that is the perfect example of that:
In Springfield, Missouri a three week old bobcat kitten was found. The man took her to a rehabber there. The man who brought her to the rehabber ignorantly stuck his hand in her crate. The terrified little bobcat kitten bit him. Six days later, the Missouri Greene County Health Dept. stepped in, took the kitten, killed her, cut off her head, and sent her brain out to be rabies tested. The kitten did not have rabies.
Big Cat Rescue did everything they could to prevent it and many of their fans spoke out in an effort to save the healthy bobcat kitten. BCR offered to pay for the thousands of dollars in rabies shots, if the man would take them instead of having the kitten killed. Sadly in the end, the precious little kitten lost her life because a human just had to stick his hand in with her because the law stated that ANY time an exotic animal was involved in a bite, they must be killed and tested for rabies. There is no quarantine time, like in dogs and cats, because no one has ever studied the incubation time of rabies in exotics.
Big Cat Rescue will not risk the lives of the cats there for a selfish desire to touch them. They are also are committed to ending the suffering of big cats and their babies and believe firmly that setting an example by actions, not just by words is important to achieve that goal.
3/2/18 Magistrate Judge Amanda Sandone ruled; After a “calculated and deliberately deceptive” plot to evacuate tigers from their zoo in the middle of an animal welfare lawsuit, a federal judge on Friday ruled Dade City’s Wild Things should never be allowed to possess tigers again. The ruling confirms that Wild Things owner Kathy Stearns, her husband, Kenneth, and son, Randall, violated a court order in July by transporting 19 tigers to Oklahoma to avoid a site inspection by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a 1,200-mile haul where one female gave birth and all three cubs died.
Oct 5, 2017 Today, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced it has filed suit against Dade City’s Wild Things, a zoo in Dade City, and three of its corporate officers. The department seeks to shut down fundraising efforts by Dade City’s Wild Things based on the department’s investigation involving illicit fundraising and financial issues.
Based on the department’s investigation, Stearns Zoological Rescue and Rehab Center Inc. and Dade City’s Wild Things Inc. solicited contributions, purportedly for the purpose of caring for animals at the zoo and for broader, in-field conservation efforts. However, nonprofit funds were routinely transferred to the for-profit entity, Stearns Peat C Inc. A financial analysis of one year showed over $200,000 of nonprofit funds were transferred to the for-profit entity. Randall Stearns, Kathryn Stearns and Kenneth Stearns are corporate officers and/or directors of the listed entities and acted in concert to solicit contributions.
Based on the department’s investigation, the defendants allegedly violated Chapter 496, Florida Statutes, by:
Transferring large amounts of nonprofit funds to a for-profit entity to be used for for-profit and personal expenses;
Compensating corporate officers and directors after disclosing that such persons were uncompensated in their official filings with the department;
Soliciting contributions without being registered with the department (even after receiving a cease and desist order);
Falsely stating that contributions were tax deductible when their 501(c) status had been revoked years before;
Failing to apply contributions in a manner consistent with that indicated in solicitations;
Failing to provide documents requested by the department; submitting false information in response to an investigation; and
Allowing a disqualified individual to be involved in solicitation efforts and to handle contributions.
Despite direct court order forbidding Kathy Stearns from disposing of the 22 tigers, she apparently sends them to GW Zoo in Oklahoma on either the evening of July 14 or sometime on July 15, 2017. See the court order. Joe Schreibvogel admits during his Facebook LIVE broadcast that the 19 tigers who arrived on July 16, 2017 were from Kathy Stearns. He later took the video off Facebook.
(CN) – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has set its sights on a private Florida zoo that allows visitors personal interaction with cute and cuddly tiger cubs.
In a federal lawsuit filed in Tampa, PETA claims Dade City’s Wild Things and its owners are violating the Endangered Species Act.
The complaint, peppered with eyewitness accounts and references to previous federal violations, takes aim at the zoo’s programs that allow patrons to handle, pet and swim with tiger cubs. Read PeTA vs Dade City Wild Things
Dade City’s Wild Things holds more than 200 animals, including primates and reptiles, on 22 acres of land in Pasco County, Florida.
Among its draws are opportunities for up-close interactions with tiger cubs, baby alligators and monkeys, including a chance to swim with them.
Under Florida law, patrons can only have contact with tigers under 25 pounds.
The zoo’s owners — Kathryn Stearns and her son, Randall Stearns — are also named as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, Dade City’s Wild Things staff forced cubs to interact with patrons by forcibly grabbing the animals and not allowing them to escape.
PETA also claims the cubs are prematurely separated from their mothers and suffer under bad conditions.
“The Endangered Species Act prohibits harming and harassing tigers,” said Brittany Peet, PETA’s director of captive animal law enforcement. “They are putting profit over the animals’ lives.”
By separating the cubs from mothers — as early as three weeks, according to the complaint — the zoo is setting the tigers up for a “lifetime of cruelty,” Peet said.
Once the cubs are too large to play with, she added, they are relegated to tiny enclosures or sold to other “roadside attractions.”
“As a result there are untold thousands — some put the number at 10,000 — of grown tigers in the U.S. completely unregulated,” Peet said. “Meanwhile, tigers are endangered in the wild.”
Since 2010, the U.S. Agriculture Department has issued several official warnings to the zoo for alleged violations ranging from inadequate shelter and veterinary care to mishandling of the tigers.
In these warnings federal regulators detailed several instances of alleged mistreatment of the tiger cubs, including the painting of their fur. On one occasion, Stearns pulled a tiger’s tail and held him up by his neck, the department said.
After learning of this last incident, the Agriculture Department filed an administrative complaint against the zoo under the Animal Welfare Act, the complaint says.
“Despite having received multiple inspection reports identifying noncompliance with the regulations and failures to comply with the standards, and the receipt of an official warning, respondent has continued to mishandle animals, particularly infant and juvenile tigers, exposing these animals and the public to injury, disease, and harm,” the government says.
That litigation (see below) is still pending.
In addition to the extensive regulatory record, PETA also cites eyewitness accounts, including one from a former employee, of alleged abuse at the attraction.
End the abuse by ending private ownership of big cats at BigCatAct.com
“Over many months, witnesses observed Dade City’s Wild Things staff repeatedly holding onto and pulling the tiger cubs by the cubs’ tails; grabbing the cubs by the skin on the back of their necks; pulling them by the front feet; pinching their ears and nose; and even slamming their bodies to the ground,” the complaint says.
PASCO COUNTY, Fla. -A Pasco County man who helps run a popular zoo is facing sexual misconduct charges involving children. Randy Stearns calls himself “The Tiger Man.” He is listed on the web as President and Head Trainer for Dade City’s Wild Things. But now the Tampa native is facing disturbing charges in St. Charles County, Missouri. According to a grand jury indictment, Stearns exposed himself to three girls under the age of 15 on June 25th, 2016.
The indictment filed in September lists eight counts of sexual misconduct alleged to have happened at the Embassy Suites hotel where Stearns was staying for a convention. It says Stearns exposed himself as the girls got off the elevator and headed towards their room. According to investigators, the victims went back in the hallway 10 minutes later and Stearns was still there with his penis exposed through the zipper of his jeans.
The victims say he tired to get closer to them and kept talking to them. During the investigation, it was reported Stearns exposed himself in his room to someone only identified by initials. This incident allegedly happened earlier in the evening. Stearns has been in the public eye in recent years as Dade City Wild Things made headlines for its close encounter attraction with baby tigers. That includes the controversial practice of swimming with them.
Pasco County, Fla. – Below, please find a statement from PETA Foundation Director of Litigation Caitlin Hawks regarding the guilty plea by Randy Stearns, former president of Dade City’s Wild Things, to two counts of misdemeanor sexual misconduct for exposing his genitals “under circumstances in which he … [knew] that [such] conduct [was] likely to cause affront or alarm” stemming from a 2016 indictment in Missouri:
Legal woes are mounting for Randy Stearns and the notorious Dade City’s Wild Things operated by his parents. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is suing them over alleged fraudulent fundraising, the USDA has sued the roadside zoo over numerous animal-welfare violations, and a PETA lawsuit filed against Stearns, his mother, and the roadside zoo over alleged cruelty to endangered tigers has already prompted a motion to hold them in contempt for shipping 19 tigers across the country, during which time three newborn cubs died. PETA is calling on the Stearnses to end their cruel tiger cub “encounters” and retire the animals at the facility to reputable sanctuaries.
PETA’s motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment,” and more information about Dade City’s Wild Things is available here.
USDA Sues Dade City Wild Things
The complaint, linked below states:
The gravity of the violations alleged in this complaint is great, involving multiple failures to handle animals carefully and to provide access for inspection.
February 23, 2012 The Official Warning stated: “After providing you with an opportunity for a hearing, we may impose civil penalties of up to $10,000, or other sanctions, for each violation described in this Official Warning. Although we generally pursue penalties for this type of violation(s ), we have decided not to pursue penalties in this instance so long as you comply, in the future, with laws that APHIS enforces.”
5. Respondent has not shown good faith. Despite having received multiple inspection reports identifying noncompliance with the Regulations and failures to comply with the Standards, and the receipt of an Official Warning, respondent has continued to mishandle animals, particularly infant and juvenile tigers, exposing these animals and the public to injury, disease, and harm.
If you have first hand knowledge of abuse at Dade City Wild Things please contact:
COLLEEN A. CARROLL Attorney for Complainant Office of the General Counsel United States Department of Agriculture 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W. Room 2343 South Building Washington, D.C. 20250-1400 Telephone (202) 720-6430 Fax (202) 690-4299 email@example.com
The vet for Dade City’s Wild Things, who defended her at trial, is Dr. Don Woodman of Safety Harbor.
News Reports Based on USDA’s Lawsuit Against Kathy Stearns’ Dade City Wild Things
Kathy Stearns got international attention for her pay to play scheme whereby tiger cubs are pushed into water over their heads so that they will swim to the paying customer and cling for dear life. The only good to come of this is that it also drew international attention to the fact that USDA and the Florida Wildlife Commission have allowed this kind of cruel treatment. The outcry has been loud and fierce, and maybe now the government will do their jobs of enforcing animal welfare laws.
The most obvious problem with this activity is that exploiters have to have a constant supply of cubs that are small enough to use for petting, photo and swim with the tigers type commerce. So where do the cubs end up when they get too big to use?
Here is the story that the news should be researching: During an inspection in May 2012, the USDA counted 12 tigers. Four months later, in September 2012, the USDA counted 19 tigers. The cubs who were being used in the Good Morning America piece that aired 10/9/12 were Tony, the youngest tiger who was screaming for help during the interview, and Tarzan who was far too big to be used for this sort of activity, but on a leash, in the pool, none the less.
In late 2011 the cubs being used for pay to play and swim with the tigers were name Rauri and Rajha. On Oct 4, 2010 the 20 lb white tiger cub was named Diamond. Wondering where they are now? Probably in these barren, muddy cages at Dade City’s Wild Things:
End the abuse by ending private ownership of big cats at BigCatAct.com
This unsolicited letter reported conditions that we think are deplorable. What is most concerning is that USDA has been copied and has yet to do anything about it.
“Last month (June 2015) I went on a one-day group bus trip to WILD THINGS in Dade City, FL. We took their “Jungle Safari Ride” and what we saw was enough to make us sick! The place was nothing like your facility.
There was cage after cage of big cats, mostly Bengal tigers, kept in pathetic condition. A large Siberian tiger was kept in a cage with no shelter from the searing Florida sun or the torrential afternoon thunderstorms and recent flooding with not even a wooden deck He was laying in mud!
A surplus of other tigers were in cages on cement slabs with a barrel type shelter that could only hold one animal at a time. In a cage by itself, a young tiger had access to an in-ground kiddie pool filled with cloudy, green water.
In another area were ponies and a donkey. Although there was shade, all of these animal’s ribs were visible. Driving on, we saw a rectangular cage housing 4 coyotes. The cage was set up in the sun on a cement slab. The cage was divided by a closed fence. 2/3 of the area was occupied by 2 coyotes with no shelter and the other 1/3 was occupied by 2 coyotes and two “dog houses” taking up most of the area. These poor creatures were forced to run back and forth in their own urine and feces. The odor was horrific and they all seemed to be frantic.
NONE OF THE ANIMALS ABOVE HAD WATER IN THEIR CAGES!!!
As we moved along we saw two different species of foxes displayed in a cage on the back of a pickup truck. There was also no water and shelter for only one fox. The trolley then passed a large, fenced area and we were told that it was a sinkhole. The water in this sinkhole was stagnant with green stuff all over the top and probably breeding millions of mosquitos. Around the narrow edge of this sinkhole, were two llamas. Their drinking water was beneath the green stuff. With recent flooding, they probably already drowned. We saw cages of small monkeys and baboons with no enrichments or water. A lone zebra with an open neck wound was housed in a pen. Two ring tailed lemurs were kept in a small cage with shelter for only one at a time. We were told at the beginning of our tour that we were not allowed to take pictures. The guide emphasized
NO PHOTOS OR YOU WILL BE ASKED TO LEAVE!
Most of the animals were suffering from cage syndrome, mindlessly pacing back and forth. We didn’t go to the Petting Zoo so I don’t know what conditions prevailed in that area.
I emailed PETA and they replied that they contacted the USDA and advised me to do the same thing, which I did. I sent a letter to the I Team Investigators at ABC-TV Action News, the Dade City and Pasco County Humane Societies, The St Petersburg Times and the Humane Society of the United States, vets at both Lowry Park Zoo and Busch Gardens without any response to date. Enclosed is the reply from PETA.
I posted a blurb on Travel Advisor and it is there for all to see, along too many others who shared my experience. Can you direct me to somewhere or someone who can bring this blatant abuse to and end now?
I am a Florida resident also and this is happening in our back yard! Take a ride on the “Jungle Safari Ride” and see for yourself. This place must be shut down and the animals placed in a more humane setting. These regal and innocent animals are languishing in a living hell and if we don’t do something….who will?
Thank you for your time and I look forward to a favorable response.
Very truly yours, ******”
Note: We withheld the name and contact info of this person, but they revealed it to the authorities and have asked the authorities to contact them.
You can help!
Do you remember other names of cubs who were used at Dade City’s Wild Things? If so, please put the name, tiger or lion, and the year the animal was a cub in the comments section below.
Kathy Stearns Zoo Slapped with Official Warning Letter from USDA
Cited for improper fencing, inadequate veterinary care and improper cub handling among other things.
Despite warning Dade City’s Wild Things began hyping a new baby tiger and encouraging people to book their Swim with a Tiger exploit between august 30 through September 15. 2012 before the pool water gets too cold. If you know where she got this cub from, please post in the comments below.
On April 11, 2012 Dade City’s Wild Things was offering pay to play with three female tiger cubs who they said had been born three weeks prior.
On Aug 30, 2012 Dade City’s Wild Things was offering pay to play with a new tiger cub, saying that they could only do so until Sept 2012.
In an effort to catalog all of the cubs they have bred or bought for this purpose, please note in the comments section if you know dates when they had cubs for public contact.
We wouldn’t suggest eating there either
DCWT regularly purchases tiger and lion cubs and exploits them to make money. The cubs are taken from their mothers shortly after birth by the breeders. This is a torment to both mother and cub, like it would be to any mammal species. Then, once Stearns gets them, a former volunteer who was charged with walking them reports on what she was told to do as follows: “The cub was playful. It wanted to play bite, jump on my leg. I was told that if it did that I was to grab it by the scruff and toss it to the ground and hold it there. All training was by punishing physically.” Stearns makes money from the cubs numerous ways. She carts them out to fairs or other venues where the cubs are awakened repeatedly for anyone who will pay to pet them or take photos with them. At her “zoo”, she charges for “encounters”. One kind of encounter involves forcing the cub into a swimming pool so paying customers can swim with the cub. Cubs don’t like holding still for petting sessions and photo opportunities. The swimming solves that problem for Stearns because the cubs has to swim for dear life. And, Stearns can charge much more for this.
Stearns claims it is legal to use the cubs this way until they are 40 pounds. Under Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission rules, if the employee relinquishes control, i.e. let’s you hold the cub, the legal weight is 25 pounds. Meantime, Stearns blatantly violates the federal policies established by USDA that cubs cannot be used for petting under 8 weeks old because their immune systems are not sufficiently developed and over 12 weeks old because they are dangerous. Unfortunately, enforcement of these rules is almost nonexistent. Stearns was finally cited by USDA for causing stress to cubs during pay to play swimming sessions on p/14/12. This was a repeat violation for improper animal handling.
In addition to exploiting the animals to make money and then keeping them in miserable conditions, Stearns has consistently demonstrated a lack of financial integrity and responsibility. She has been arrested for passing bad checks (Sept 7, 2011 Kathy Stearns’ Worthless Check Case) and individuals formerly associated with the facility indicate this has been a recurring practice. We are told she owes back pay to at least one former employee. Tax deeds have been issued for her failure to pay tax on the property (Kathryn Stearns Tax Warrant May 2011. More importantly and significantly for the future of the animals, the zoo property has been in foreclosure for years, with the proceedings delayed by a series of bankruptcy filings by Stearns and other individuals and entities (April 27, 2010 Kathryn P Stearns Foreclosure).
What happens after the cubs are too old to pet? They end up spending the rest of their lives in misery living in tiny cages.
Below is a video showing the abusive treatment of the cubs and how they live after Stearns can no longer exploit them to make money.
Below is one visitor’s detailed description of the misery they saw at Dade City’s Wild Things
A friend and I recently visited Dade City’s Wild Things. What we saw was amazing, in this day and age, but certainly NOT in a good way. Maybe if I recount our trip there, you’ll understand why.
At the converted gift shop, Mr. Stearns loaded up about 20 guests onto their trolley car for transportation to their home and “zoo” a few miles away. Each guest paid $22.95 for the tour and the majority eagerly paid another $20 for an “animal encounter” with a white tiger cub or a baby snow monkey to be included after the tour. There are no cameras or video cameras or filming of any kind allowed on the tour. When asked why, we were told that it’s because of those PETA people. They said that they have to remain constantly vigilant because those animal activists can always make trouble for them. I was soon to find out why.
Arriving at their home and surrounding grounds, your first impression is of beautiful rolling hills, towering oak trees hundreds of year’s old, lush, green landscapes. Then you begin to notice the cages. Though roosters, chicks, and dogs roam freely throughout their land, the animals that were born to do so have miniscule amounts of territory to call their own.
Kathy Stearns, the proprietor, gave the tour. Having served as a Florida Fish and Wildlife Technical Advisory Committee member, she believes strongly in private ownership and is against all bans. As she says on her blog, “I am proud of standing up for all exotic owners’ rights. (Serving on this committee) It sparked a great desire to work in spreading legislature(sic) issues because I experienced firsthand on(sic) how quickly our rights can be removed in working with non human primate owners in various other states like Pennsylvania where there is a ban on private ownership of non human primates.”
For a woman with a lifelong passion for wild animals and a beautiful piece of Florida property, we were expecting to see a collection of animals benefitting from both. How shocking to see the size of the cages where these animals spend every day of their lives. The first Old World and New World monkeys she introduced us to, no matter their size, looked like they were living in approx. 10’x10’ cages that many shared with others. No vegetation, no trees, no heights to climb. A plastic hanging baby swing was all that 2 monkeys had to play with in their small cage. The 2 baboons we saw much later in the tour looked as if they were living in a cell like we used to see in old, rundown zoos decades ago. Their human- like faces definitely betrayed the sadness of their captivity.
The hills were dotted with small, minimum size chain link cages. Two servals were on display in a 6’x12’ cage, most of their space taken up with a makeshift pool. The roosters and chicks clucked their way happily through the ferns and plants outside the serval cage while the servals couldn’t even be coaxed out to view. Though we were told they could jump 12-14’ in the wild, these 2 were contained in a cage that couldn’t have been 6’ high. Again, the irony of seeing something so majestic with so much agility in the wilds of Africa yet here contained in one of the smallest cages I’ve seen….but there was more to come.
Ahead and up a hill, we saw a large metal building with many chain link cages attached to it. We thought that surely these animals must have it better? They must have indoor AND outdoor facilities? This is where the big cats are housed. But, we were told that it was a maintenance and equipment building with no access for the animals. On one side of the building, 2 full grown Florida panthers are housed together in a long, skinny, dirt floor cage that looked to be about 10’x30’ and was attached to the side of the metal building with a low roof. There is a mural painted on the side of the building depicting typical Florida life with alligators and marshes. How I wished that was what life really consisted of for this unfortunate duo.
Around the other side of the building is where the big cats live. An enormous male lion and a female lioness live in an open-top, chain link fenced cage that had a single hot wire running along top. When someone commented how huge the animals were, all we could think of was how could they not be with so little room for exercise? Again, just a dirt floor with little, if anything, to make life interesting for them. No wonder the lioness bared her teeth at Kathy when she came close to her. Someone asked if the animals were neutered and Kathy said no. We wondered, is this where the babies for the encounters come from then? But that’s another story.
Right next door to the lion cage is a duo of tigers. Kathy said one was a Bengal weighing 1000 lbs. As we stood so close, I wondered just how strong is that chain link fence between that enormous tiger and me? He ran around and around in circles while his cage mate chased him. I held my breath and hoped the cage held tight. Chain link fences vs. 1000 lb. carnivores, I didn’t want to be anywhere near that competition!
In the background, I couldn’t help but notice a small round cage. Imagine the shape of a tin can but this is about 12’ in diameter and is barren except in the middle, where 2 wooden boxes are stacked up as den boxes. This tiny cage also had 2 full grown inhabitants – 2 cougars who I imagine tire of going round and round and round their entire lives with nothing to do, nothing to explore. It looked like the definition of boredom.
Behind us was another sparse, small, low-roofed cage where 2 magnificent jaguars lived – one golden and another a luxurious, velvety black. What struck us the most about this cage was how ironic that these tall, majestic oaks towered all around and yet, these 2 jaguars were panting in the hot enclosure with so little shade for them. If we were drenched in sweat and Kathy was lingering under a water mister to cool off, how hot must that black fur coat be for that jaguar? Though we had heard that Cypress Gardens closed down and their jaguar Sheba was transferred here, we didn’t see her. We were told she wouldn’t be seen on the tour. Where is she? What has happened to her? That’s all we kept thinking.
We saw a herd of deer that, honestly, had the best enclosure on the property, though it borders the street fence line. Then we saw the cages that really broke our hearts. Two beautiful black leopards were caged in a barren, long, narrow cage that had a couple of shelves mounted inside. One of the leopards was bald around his/her eyes, laid on one of the shelves, never lifted its head or moved, and stared blankly at us. Another definition for us – misery. The cage mate stood up and stretched to try to interact with Mr. Stearns. What baffled us was why weren’t these guests asking many questions, why weren’t they seeing the things we were seeing, or was it just that they were simply anticipating their moments with the babies – that’s all they really came for?
On we went to the baboon “cell” I mentioned before. They looked so human like, I couldn’t help but identify with them. I thought about how incredibly sad life would be if I were relegated to a cage like that forever? My feelings really sunk to a new low when I saw the small cage, behind theirs, that housed 2 extremely large bears. They were very social bears, coming over to the cage wall, sitting, spending time there while visitors gawked at them. At this point, it was hard not to cry, not to shout out, “doesn’t anyone else see something wrong with all of this?” But, when a guest asked “What’s your schedule for giving all these animals their baths?” and “How hard is it to bathe them?” and “What kind of animal is this?” (It was a tiger), I realized how little this group of people knew about the life these animals should be living, the space they need, the enrichment they need to stimulate their minds in captivity. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is it still just all about the baby encounters coming up? Is that all they really care about? These other animals and the way they’re living don’t matter?”
For a minute, Kathy couldn’t remember the names of the next 2 tigers we walked over to see. I guess that was better than one of the other animals who, when asked what his name was, she said she doesn’t think he even has a name. I thought, “Not even worth naming?” At this point, everyone was hot, drained, and the 2 hours of looking at antiquated cages and sad looking animals was more than enough. But, everyone perked up when it was announced that it was now time for “Animal Encounters.”
The majority of the guests had paid and signed up for this but, even if you hadn’t, you could participate and settle up later at the conclusion of the tour. The first baby brought out was Jajay, the 7 week old baby snow monkey who was wheeled to us in a stroller wearing diapers. A very young girl had requested to play with JaJay so he was plunked down on the picnic table on a towel for her to cuddle with and play with and pose for pictures with. What if she had any respiratory illnesses or anything contagious? What a vulnerable age for this little monkey. When she was through with Jajay, and since no one else had booked time with him, he was put back in the stroller, zipped up, rolled behind the Tiki bar and left there alone while Kathy and all the other guests marched off to a small shed labeled “Nursery” for their time with Diamond, the white tiger cub caged inside. We started hearing squealing and squeaking and looked over to see JaJay very upset, looking abandoned and forgotten back there. Eventually, Kathy’s adult son came over and wheeled JaJay away. We wondered to where?
For close to half an hour, we waited while others were in the shed having their pictures taken and playing with the white tiger cub. If you didn’t pay, you didn’t play. Kathy had said Diamond was donated to them by an Oklahoma zoo. Donated? We wondered how true could that be? This was obviously the proverbial cash cow for “Wild Things.” In reality, it’s what everyone was here for. Mr. Stearns said that a couple drove all the way down from South Carolina the week before just for the chance to hold that little tiger since you couldn’t do it up there. How ridiculous that this is what Florida is famous for – allowing people to hold and handle something so small, so precious, a baby who should be spending this time with its mother, not manhandled by the public for profit.
We were so upset, at this point, all we wanted to do was leave but we were trapped there with no transportation of our own. We couldn’t believe our ears when one of the guests said he was a photographer with TBT (Tampa Bay Times) and he couldn’t wait to let everyone back at the newspaper know what a unique, fantastic place this is. Of course, he was also one of the guests who couldn’t wait to go hold a tiger cub, an animal whose life, at this point, is spent locked up in a small cage in a shed with people filing in and out twice a day to “play” with her.
When everyone was through with Diamond, they escorted us back to the trolley. I noticed a medium-sized cat off display pacing back and forth non-stop in what I thought was a transport type cage since it was so small. Mr. Stearns said that’s the 7 month old panther cub that you can still have interaction with, if you want. How could that be? If my housecat can inflict scratches and scars on me, what could a fully clawed panther the size of a small German Shepherd do to me? And, especially one that is so poorly caged and with nothing interesting to do but pace?
On the trolley back to the gift shop, one of the guests who went inside with Diamond said it was kind of hysterical watching Kathy grab the cub by the tail whenever Diamond tried to get away from the people. She’d yank her back and plop her back wherever she wanted her. She explained that it didn’t hurt the cub since her tail is attached to her spine and that’s how it’s done. I can’t remember ever seeing any wildlife shots of that method. Scruffing – yes, slinging a cub around by its tail – no.
The guest also mentioned that there were no pictures allowed. You had to pay for the CD they sell at the end of the tour if you want any pictures. The CD contains pictures taken by a photographer “Wild Things” has hired to photograph the animals. This guest was obviously disgruntled about that since she felt she had already paid enough to them for this experience, she wasn’t going to pay more for pictures. Yet, she never questioned why they don’t allow pictures. If everything’s on the up and up, why are they afraid of the photos guests will take and possibly share? Why must all the pictures be staged by them?
After being dropped off at the gift shop, we went to our car totally depressed thinking about how much more could be given to these animals by the Stearns since the property they have is so incredibly picturesque. There is just no excuse for the small, inadequate cages these animals are housed in. There is plenty of room to give them more space, a better quality of life. Instead, we heard that their plans are to start running a tram service on another part of the property so “the old people who start coming to Florida soon and who can’t walk” will be able to come out and pay to tour the facility. So, doesn’t that say it all? Is quality of life for the animals important or boosting attendance?
What’s also demoralizing is everything we saw is perfectly legal in Florida; tiny cages, no quality of life for these various species, “pay to play” operations using baby animals as a source of income, promotion of more and more breeding, a continuous flow of animals who will have no future quality of life, and teaching people by example that animals deserve nothing better than this. I’ll never get the images of these animals’ faces out of my mind. They, more than any others, are “poster children” for why there should be a ban on breeding and private exotic animal ownership.
After this visit, it’s obvious that the Stearns have basic philosophical differences with my friend and I. They see these animals as a treasure chest. Quite the opposite, we see these animals as something to be treasured. Sept. 2010
Despite all of their financial woes they continue to add to the problem by buying more and more lion and tiger cubs to use as photo props. On May 16th, 2012 they announced, “Dade City’s Wild Things has just added another tiger cub to the three that were born six weeks ago. We are doing the full encounter schedule with them…” Added from where? Sue Pearce’s Myrtle Island Ranch in Okeechobee or GW Exotic Animal Park perhaps?
Despite their name, DEW Haven is not a legitimate sanctuary. Although the heavily-edited Animal Planet reality show “Yankee Jungle” portrayed the Mount Vernon, Maine facility as a loving refuge for animals, DEW is a self-proclaimed exotic animal breeding farm and private zoo with a decades-long history of animal welfare violations, illegal wildlife trafficking, public safety issues, and deceptive behavior.
Over the past 15 years, DEW Haven has been cited for over 54 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.State investigators have described conditions there as “deplorable” and “untenable” and have seized several animals from the facility while recommending the revocation of its permits.
In 1998, Maine officials temporarily revoked DEW Haven’s exhibitor permit due to “failure to comply with state standards and regulations regarding the lawful and humane treatment of wildlife in captivity.” That year, federal authorities at the USDA fined them $4,500 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
An excerpt from a 1998 state investigator’s report. The investigation resulted in the temporary revocation of DEW’s exhibitor’s permit, and later that year, DEW was fined by the USDA for failing to comply with the Animal Welfare Act.
Although DEW Haven claims to be a sanctuary for rescued animals, most of their animals were born on-site or purchased from other private zoos. Unlike a true sanctuary, they routinely breed, buy, sell, and allow public contact with their animals, including newborn big cat cubs which are taken from their mothers immediately after birth for lucrative “encounters” with the public (an extremely inhumane practice which no legitimate facility would ever do).
At a 2016 public hearing on proposed revisions to Maine’s captive wildlife rules, DEW co-owner Julie Miner told those present that DEW is “a USDA licensed zoo” which has “bred and donated endangered species to other facilities for display.”At the hearing, Miner called proposed rules which would prevent private owners from breeding tigers “a big concern” because “they are one of the types of animals that attract visitors to facilities such as ours” and that banning private breeding “would affect our revenue and the ability to replace our own exhibit animals… …We also feel that listening to radical animal activists – who are pushing for no breeding, no zoos that aren’t accredited, etc. is a dangerous downward spiral – the fact is their only agenda is to have no animals in captivity.”
Former volunteers report that animals no longer wanted at DEW Haven are often “shot, sick, sold, traded, skinned and mounted, and some just disappear.” And although DEW claims to be run on a shoestring budget and begs for more donations to help their animals, the organization’s tax returns show significant annual profit going into the pockets of the owners, with very little of the public’s “donations” spent on animal care.
After reviewing 500 pages of government records, the investigative news outlet Mother Jones published a scathing indictment of DEW Haven, using it as an example of the “difficulties that state and federal wildlife officials have with effectively regulating the nation’s private zoos.”
DEW is owned and operated by Bob Miner, a convicted felon with a 14 page long criminal record.Miner has been found guilty of seven felonies and four misdemeanors since 1981, including multiple counts of felony burglary, receiving stolen property, theft by unauthorized taking, illegal ownership of firearms, and misdemeanor assault.
Bob and his wife Julie are not accredited by any legitimate organization, have no formal education in caring for exotic animals, and have admitted to the press that they consider their facility a “farm” and their exotic animals as nothing more than “alternative livestock.” As recently as April 2016, the Miners proudly told the Portland Press Herald that they consider themselves “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-type people” and refused to allow a reporter access to their property.
Bob Miner has a history of threatening and intimidating anyone who criticizes DEW. In 2002, he was arrested for harassment of a neighbor who criticized his operation, and in 2004, courts issued a temporary restraining order against him after he threatened former DEW volunteer Monica Hooper at a supermarket.
Hooper has stated that “these are not nice people running this facility. When you turn off the cameras and the public is off of the property, they drop the act.” She claims that she has been contacted by many other volunteers, neighbors, and DEW visitors who were disturbed by what they saw at the facility, but were afraid to speak up out of fear of retaliation. These whistleblowers write:
“I used to live next door to where he threw all the unused carcasses…acres of filthy rotting carcasses…not buried or burned …the smell was so bad we couldn’t even go outside…he is one crazy scary individual!…” “We called every agency we knew of but no one would do anything about it. They said it was illegal but I heard no one dares to cross him because he is so unstable…ended up digging a big hole and putting the carcasses in it..then it rained and all the swollen carcasses were floating in it. Then it would overflow and the runoff flowed down the ditches on the side of the road into Echo Lake…the locals couldnt let that happen so they buried as many carcasses as they could with an excavator..then Bob sold the property to a relative no less…and they drilled a well right next to the mass grave…he never told them the difference! What a vile human being!…” “You can certainly share whatever information I may have but I prefer to keep my name out of it as he is crazy and I have children and grandchildren in the area and I don’t trust him not to retaliate….”
“What I remember? Pigs and cows dying all up and down Ithiel Gordon Rd (adjacent to his property) with massive lacerations–blood everywhere. There is a little swampy area on I.G. road, just South of Walter Greene Rd where the bodies of numerous farm animals were found. A friend of mine also said he witnessed Miner’s step-son kill a dog with his bare hands when they were teenagers. There are some seriously messed up things happening there in my opinion. I’m normally the last person to play nanny–but really folks, if you are reading this, stay away from this place and this man.”
Animal Welfare Violations
DEW Haven has been fined multiple times by the USDA for chronic violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
In March 1998, DEW was fined $4,300 after inspectors witnessed injured animals, contaminated feed, and dangerous fencing. The USDA gave the Miners two options: they could pay the fine outright, or they could take that same money and use it to remedy the problems, with the condition that they show how the money was spent to improve the facility. DEW declined to improve their facility and chose to pay the fine directly.
In 2002, the USDA fined DEW $2,000 and cited the Miners for improper animal housing and unsanitary conditions, including a “drum of a liquid and bone mix” which left the USDA inspector “visibly upset.”
Recent USDA inspection records show that these violations continue. From 2004 to 2015 alone, DEW violated the Animal Welfare Act 54 times.Among the recent violations:
In 2012, three bears were euthanized “on an emergency basis” after fighting with each other and sustaining severe injuries. The inspector wrote:
“According to the licensees, the older male [bear] had been showing behavioral changes (including aggression) for the past year, however the licensees did not communicate this observation to the attending veterinarian. Had they communicated the observation in a timely fashion, this traumatic incident may have been avoided.”
Piles of garbage and feed waste with “waste odor” were found behind animal enclosures, and a fly infestation was reported near a cougar cub’s pen.
Tigers, sheep, deer, and goats had little or no shelter from the elements, and another tiger was housed in a poorly-drained, damp pen, “a condition that could cause harm to the animal.”
Perimeter fences to keep the public away from adult lions and bears were inadequate or non-existent.
Some animal feed was expired or contaminated with feces.
Visitors were allowed to interact with an 8 month old, 130 lb. tiger which was far too large and dangerous to legally come in contact with the public.
Shelters for tiger and lion cubs were inadequate and too small for the animals to have freedom of movement.
A shelf in the black leopard enclosure was poorly-maintained and “could cause injury” to the animal, and a crowbar was left on the ground in the bobcat enclosure.
There were “considerable unhygienic conditions” in the food preparation area.
A gap in the lion enclosure was ordered to be closed to “minimize the risk of escape.”
The public was allowed to interact with an adult tiger at distances “insufficient to assure safety,” and dangerous gaps were noted in the zebra enclosure.
Unused fencing, construction materials, and other trash was repeatedly found on the ground inside animal enclosures.
Three adult tigers were being kept in enclosures insufficient to ensure their containment.
A goat was observed with an “excessively long hoof” which could cause lameness.
A livestock trailer used to transport animals had rusted out in some areas.
A black bear was being displayed in a cage with dirty water. Inspectors noted that “this bear was obtained from an animal dealer in New Hampshire and was imported into Maine without an importation permit having been issued. This bear also has been recently injured and has not been seen by a veterinarian or other trained personnel. It appeared that the bear may have broken its left front leg. The bear has no use of this limb and drags it on the ground.”
A Bengal tiger was housed in a barren enclosure with no climbing or claw logs required by the state of Maine, and provided with “a bathtub containing 2 inches of dirty water for drinking purposes.”The roof of the enclosure “was not attached to the frame of the pen in such a manner so as to prevent escape.”
A female lion cub was housed in an enclosure with no water. This enclosure lacked the legally-required roof to prevent escapes, and a fallen tree over the side of the enclosure provided “a mechanism for the lion cub to get out of the pen.”
Two black leopards were kept in 12 by 12 foot cages that “had not been cleaned in some time.” Inspectors found an “excessive amount of feces” and maggot-infested meat in the cage. There was no water, and “both cages had barbed wire twists holding roof panels together and in such a manner so that the exposed ends of the barbed wire could cause injury to the cats.” An inadequate safety barrier was “close enough to the enclosure that a person could be in contact with one of the cats.”
Two adult lions were housed in an enclosure with no roof to prevent escapes and no provision for shade.
A male mountain lion was housed in an enclosure with dirty water and feces that were “more than a day old”, while the enclosure for the female mountain lion had no shade and water that was “inadequate and in a dirty receptacle.”
Primates were housed without water in cages that “do not meet minimum specifications.”
An illegally-imported black bear cub was found in a cage, and a crested macaque had also been imported without the required permits.
Many of the enclosures did not have adequate shelter for the animals to seek relief from the elements, and most animals had dirty water or no water at all.
Drinking water and food dishes were dirty, and rats were seen at the facility.
There was no written plan of action in the event of a disaster.
Two bobcats were housed in enclosures with dirty water and no perch as required by state law.
As a result of this investigation, the state of Maine suspended DEW’s exhibitor permit for 90 days. The Miners cleaned up their facility and were allowed to resume operations, but quickly reverted to their old ways as soon as the permit was reinstated.
In May 2002, federal and state officials confiscated three illegally-imported cougars and a ringtailed lemur from DEW Haven. One of the cougars, Zach, had been left with bloody, abscessed paws after authorities suspect Bob Miner attempted to declaw the cat himself. The state’s report on a veterinarian’s assessment referred to the declaw as a “butcher job” which left Zach “crippled” and unable to walk.
A volunteer’s photo of a cougar’s abscessed paws before he was seized by the state.
One month after the 2002 confiscation, DEW was subject to an announced inspection by USDA veterinarian Clem Dussault, Maine Warden Investigator Phil Dugas, and state wildlife biologist Keel Kemper. Kemper later relayed his observations in an internal memo:
Many of the animals being held do not have access to water. This is required by law, and no excuse no matter how dramatic can ameliorate this transgression. In each instance that water was not provided, a ready excuse was forthcoming, as to why this particular animal’s behavior (i.e. he knocks over his dish) prevented it from having access to water. I indicated to the Miners that this was unacceptable from the state’s point of view and steps must be taken to ensure that all animals have water available to them whenever they want it.
Dead, decaying carcasses continue to be a problem. The current condition at DEW is unacceptable to any reasonable person. One cage contained two carcasses of what appeared to be geese. According to Julie Miner, these geese were killed by a Great Horned Owl this past winter. It appears that no one thought to remove these carcasses to an appropriate disposal facility. They were allowed to decay within the pen, in plain sight of the public. I observed bones, heads, hides, cast randomly about the property. A dead, bloated calf with approximately 1 billion flies was observed, just south of the Camel pen.
In looking at the paper work associated with many of these animals, it appears that there is a tremendous amount of “donating” being made between animal propagators. These animals are changing hands yet, they are almost always “donated” from one propagator to the other. A normal circumstance would necessitate some payments and exchange of money. This is the only industry I know where everybody seems to donate to each other, “on paper.” I believe all of these “donations” are to cover the illegal trade of wildlife. This is sheer opinion on my part.
Mr. Clem Dussault informed me that in 1998, DEW Animal Kingdom had to resolve a complaint of similar violations with [the USDA]. DEW was offered two options. They could pay an outright fine of approximately $4300.00 or in lieu of the fine, they could take that same money and put it into the facility to remedy the problems identified by the complaint. If the second option was chosen they would have to show how the money was spent to improve the facility. DEW chose to pay the fine outright as opposed to putting the money into their facility to solve the problems identified in the complaint.
I cannot recommend that DEW permits be reinstated at this time. I cannot recommend that DEW be allowed to have back those animals that were seized from them in May. (Federal Vet. Dussault concurs with this recommendation). It appears that DEW is not capable of compliance with the State of Maine Laws with regards to animals in captivity.”
“I am very surprised that DEW Animal Kingdom was not more prepared for this inspection,” he writes. “Watering of animals kept in captivity has been an issue at this facility in the past and continues to be an issue. It is unacceptable that several exhibits didn’t have water in the cages and no attempt was made at the time to correct the deficiency. The dead and decaying animals lying around the facility is unsanitary, unsightly, and unhealthy. This has also been a chronic condition at this facility. It is apparent to me that neither the watering nor the dead decaying condition is going to change. Based on the results of an announced inspection with notice I cannot recommend that the Department grant DEW Animal Kingdom a license to display wildlife.”
Shortly after this inspection, the Mount Vernon Code Office notified the Miners that their property was in violation of the town’s Junkyard Ordinance, while the local Health Officer, responding to a complaint, ordered that the dead carcasses be removed from the property as an “offense to public health” and noted that “this is not the first complaint about dead animals on this lot.”
After this inspection, the Kennebec State-Journal reported that Maine’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife “was not going to renew [DEW’s] license” for 2002 because the facility “failed to comply with state standards and regulations regarding the lawful and humane treatment of wildlife in captivity.” However, after the Miners negotiated with state officials and made some improvements to their facility, the department suddenly changed its mind and decided to renew DEW’s permit against the recommendations of state and federal inspectors.
“Lion cubs are a dime a dozen.” – Julie Miner
Julie Miner with a newborn lion cub. A former DEW volunteer alleges that Julie Miner has been seen taunting the cubs’ distraught mothers after taking them, saying “I got your baby!”
Unlike a true sanctuary, DEW Haven buys, breeds, and sells big cats, and takes cubs from their mothers at just hours old in order to handraise them and sell $50 “encounters” to the public. Many of the cubs used in these programs are far too young to be legally handled under USDA regulations. In 2014, state and federal officials ordered DEW to immediately stop selling tickets for the public to hold and bottlefeed newborn tiger cubs because cubs that small are not able to regulate their body temperatures and have an underdeveloped immune system, placing them at risk of disease and infection. According to Mother Jones, DEW complied, but “complained to the department that banning the shows meant lost revenue.”
The Miners have admitted to local newspapers that their cubs are fed goat’s milk, an entirely inappropriate diet for a growing big cat which can cause malnourishment. This report also notes that a lion cub’s mother remained visibly agitated after having her baby stolen from her.
This tiny lion cub at DEW is very skinny and appears to be malnourished on a diet of goat’s milk.
If the cubs survive this abuse, they are kept by the Miners to breed more cubs or sold to anyone who will pay for them. DEW refuses to reveal the buyers of their cubs and has stated that once they have sold a cub, they are “not responsible for the lifetime of the animal.”
Bob Miner has bragged to tour groups about selling his cubs to circuses, and several of their cubs have ended up at Bear Path Acres, a notoriously abusive roadside zoo which had its license suspended in 2016 for severe and repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Born at DEW, this tiny black leopard cub was put on display at a local fair, after he was allegedly sold for $2,500 to Bear Path Acres.
A former DEW volunteer writes:
“Makeena was a white [tiger] cub brought in to DEW Haven in 2011 for breeding. She was stolen from her mother and used for shameless promotion from the get-go. She was put into a crate and carted around the property for viewing opportunities. Here is a picture of Makeena after she was pulled out of a crate and put out for photo ops. Please look at her hurt paw. Despite the injury there is no mention of a vet or even a thought for her own welfare, as Julie Miner shamelessly uses her for media attention in dozens of pictures.”
In 2014, Makeena gave birth to two litters of cubs, both of which were immediately taken from her to be handled and fed by paying customers. The Miners told the press and the public the common cub-petting lies: that the mother wasn’t caring for the cubs, that the cubs needed to “bond with people,” and that “they’ll go to nonprofit facilities focused on education and breeding programs because they are [an] endangered species.”Of the three cubs in one of Makeena’s litters, one white cub was euthanized due to birth defects caused by inbreeding, another white cub was “shipped out” to an undisclosed facility at just four weeks old, and the third, an orange cub named Aurora, “had trouble finding a buyer” and remained at the facility until the fall. A volunteer was told the cub went to a facility that had advertised online looking for a tiger and was given away online in response to a Craigslist ad.
One of Makeena’s 4 week old cubs, before being euthanized due to claims of a congenital neurological condition.
This cub is being fed illegally by a member of the public with dirty fingernails.
Aurora, as a tiny cub before being given away on Craigslist.
This newborn cub will never see his mother.
A cub being used for petting screams at DEW.
Newborn cubs are displayed in playpens at DEW. This exhausted cub wants to sleep.
DEW also purchases cubs from substandard private zoos and tells the public that they were “rescued.” This tiger cub was purchased by the Miners from Robert Engesser’s notoriously abusive Jungle Safari traveling exhibit and kept in the Miner’s living room in violation of Maine law.
Animal Escapes & Safety Issues
A protest sign by a former DEW volunteer details recent escapes.
Former DEW volunteers report that there have been multiple escapes of dangerous animals at the facility, including at least one during a public tour. None of these incidents were ever reported to local, state, or federal authorities as required by law. A whistleblower warns:
“The important thing to remember is that nothing has changed to prevent future escapes. There is no heightened preventive practices happening. If you are planning to take your loved ones there, there is a risk everyday.”
In 2003, an adult male lion named Baghwa escaped from his enclosure at night and ate the domestic fowl roaming the property. He was witnessed by a family member who was driving into the facility at the time and saw Baghwa’s eyes in the headlights of her van. The Miners reportedly spent the whole night trying to get Baghwa back into his enclosure.
Sometime within the last 10 years, a black leopard named Gabrielle allegedly escaped her enclosure during a public tour and was safely re-captured.
In 2012, a wolf named Cherokee escaped his enclosure and was shot. Although DEW denies ever having a wolf named Cherokee, a former volunteer writes:
“One day [Cherokee] climbed up and over the fence of his enclosure and was loose on the path. Fortunately the public was not there. Cherokee encountered several geese in his path and killed one and threw it down. He moved on to the next, killed it and threw it down. He continued down the path repeating this over and over. Unable to contain him, the Miners shot and killed him. How do I know this? This is the story Julie told me herself when I went there and noticed he was missing. I haven’t heard him spoken of again. I believe in an episode of Yankee Jungle, Julie says they only had 2 wolves. No, Cherokee did exist and he was beautiful.”
Around 2012, Bob Miner deliberately provoked a tiger in an unsafe enclosure with a large group of children present. The incident so disturbed one visitor that she filed a formal complaint with the state. It reads:
“The crowd was gathering around [Bob Miner]. There were probably 50 people total, mostly kids (maybe ages 7-10) from some organization, as they all had the same red t-shirt on. Miner threw a piece of meat over the fence into the tiger pen, and onto a 3 or 4 foot raised platform, that the tiger jumped up on to eat this meat. Miner was in-between the short barrier fence and the tiger’s enclosures chain link one.
This fence was about 12 to 14 feet tall but, with the subtraction of the platform’s 3-4 feet the tiger only had maybe 8-11 feet separating us from it. Miner then hit the fence near the tiger’s face, and the tiger would agro and start roaring and showing its teeth. Over and over Miner aggro’d the tiger while yelling to the crowd about the tiger’s behavior. All the children and adults were enthralled. The tiger was pissed. He was constantly showing his teeth, then roaring, slashing his tail against the fence, and crouching and flexing, over this piece of meat. I did the math on the fence level, where the tiger knows the meat flies over, and the tiger was at least 10 feet long, adding up to a disaster for all the people there. I told my friend and her kids that we were leaving. They were just like the crowd, enthralled and oblivious to the potential danger. I explained briefly that this was dangerous and as I pulled one of the children through the crowd with my friend and the other child following, Miner started yelling some rhetoric about the fences being electric and that the tigers could not get out. Not for nothing but, I had just seen this same man hitting the fence with his bare hand to agro the tiger. …This is a time bomb waiting to happen.”
On June 25, 2016, a volunteer witnessed a cougar nearly escape in front of a tour group. The enclosure was not designed to contain an animal the size of a full-grown cougar and had a gap between the walls and the roof almost large enough to allow the cat to slip through.
DEW has been cited numerous times for housing dangerous animals in enclosures deemed “insufficient to contain” them. These photos were taken as recently as 2015, and show a tiger cub being held in his cage by nothing more than a scrap of wood, an old dog leash being used to keep the public out of a lion enclosure, and fencing that is falling apart. The Miners refer to these enclosures as “rustic” and “recycled.”
Bob Miner has continually disregarded laws which prohibit the public from having direct contact with large carnivores. He has been cited by the USDA twice for allowing the public to enter the barrier fence to pose with and touch adult tigers, and famously encouraged the public to feed candy to his black bear from their mouths. Facebook posts and other photos show that this dangerous behavior continues despite USDA citations.
In April 2016, the Miners would not allow a reporter onto their property under the excuse that because it was the offseason, “not all safety measures are in place.” Safety measures must legally be in place at all times, not just when the public is present.
In the late 1990s, Bob Miner often drove around with large big cat cubs in the back of his truck for the public to pet and admire, including this young tiger, photographed at a convenience store:
In 1997, a report sent to Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife records an incident where Bob and Julie brought a leashed 8-month old leopard to the state agriculture department office for employees to pat and play with. The report states that the large cub was “too rough with his teeth and claws” and that he “lunged and grabbed” an employee walking down the hallway, who claims that the cat’s “head and paws were around my midsection.” The employee was startled but unhurt.
Multiple animals at DEW have died due to neglect, and some have been shot by the Miners in their cages. Animal deaths are rarely, if ever, reported to the public, and former volunteers report that when an animal dies, the Miners simply replace it with a new animal of the same name. The following information was provided to us by whistleblowers who witnessed these incidents while volunteering:
In 2000, a 4-month-old lion cub named Boonyea died of neglect. He spent most of his short life illegally chained to the floor in the Miner’s home with no water receptacle and only scraps of meat to eat. On March 31, volunteers noticed that the cub was not eating, drinking or defecating, and was lethargic and weak. Instead of seeking veterinary help for the cub, Bob and Julie Miner left him chained to the floor for three days while they displayed animals at the Augusta, Maine Sportsman Show. While they were away, Boonyea died. According to a volunteer:
“[Boonyea] was in obvious distress during the weekend. I thought it was possibly an internal blockage since he was not ingesting fluids or food and not defecating. I witnessed this lion cub’s physical health deteriorate over the course of Friday March 31, 2000 to the evening of April 2, 2000, when the show was over and I went home. I returned the following day, Monday April 3, 2000 and Julie Miner told me that Boonyea had died during the night. Her facial expression and the tone of her voice was stone cold. I was told by Julie Miner that the lion cub had an internal digestive obstruction that he could not pass. If he had received proper veterinary care during his time of pain and distress on that Friday before, the blockage would have been removed and the lion would have lived. Julie Miner’s response:
“Lion cubs are a dime a dozen.”
Boonyhea on a short chain in the Miner’s home. Although the Miners were aware that the cub was in distress, they left him to die in pain, with no medical treatment.
According to a volunteer who witnessed the incident: “In April 2000, I witnessed Bob Miner yell at and chase Seren,a female cougar, with a long pole to get her in a section of the enclosure so his devoted wife Julie Miner could shut her out. So Bob could show off for a tour crowd with Zach, a male cougar who authorities suspect Bob had attempted to de-claw himself and his efforts left Zach crippled and he limped instead of walking naturally for the rest of his life. Watching a wild cougar react as a wild cougar should against this type of handling was an image I shall never forget. I would also like to point out that not one of the spectators even so much as winced at this display. This illustrates how ignorant the general public are concerning the laws and proper care and handling of these animals.”
Because Seren did not produce offspring, and she was not crippled and could retaliate against Bob Miner’s regular abuse for spectators, she attacked Miner. Miner escaped with injuries to his shoulder, and soon after, Seren was shot to death in her cage in the late summer of 2001, at the will of Bob Miner himself. A convicted felon who is not legally allowed to posses firearms, who admits mental instability and illness to his patrons every tour he gives.
Seren was stuffed and sold by Miner. Her carcass is now in a local museum with a $1500 price tag.
Seren, shot and sold by DEW.
In 2005, a male lion named Baghwa was shot in his cage by Julie Miner. There are conflicting accounts about what led up to the incident, but they all agree that Bob Miner was in the cage with Baghwa during feeding time and had forgotten to lock a gate separating him from the lion. When Baghwa felt that his food was threatened (possibly because Bob had been trying to steal his food in order to tease him), he retaliated and started to bite Miner’s face. Miner then bit Baghwa and managed to escape the enclosure with injuries. Julie Miner returned to the lion’s pen and shot him while Bob brought a backhoe to dispose of the carcass. Then, Julie drove Bob to the hospital.
When asked by a tour group why Bob didn’t call 911, he replied, “Because then it would have been public knowledge and they probably would have shut me down.” Baghwa’s body was given to a local trapper’s club and skinned.
Baghwa, before and after his death.
Does DEW Need Donations?
Like most pseudo-sanctuaries, the Miners have DEW Haven registered as a nonprofit organization and tug on the public’s heartstrings by claiming that they operate on a shoestring budget and can’t afford to improve their ramshackle enclosures unless more people donate. This story doesn’t match up with DEW’s 2015 tax returns, which reveal that the zoo had over $200,000 in assets (including over $120,000 in cash) and raked in nearly $90,000 of profit during that year alone.
In 2015, $60,000 was spent on salaries for the Miners and their staff, while just $9,050 went to food and veterinary care for all 200+ animals living at DEW. By comparison, a legitimate facility will typically spend roughly $10,000 each year to care for a single adult tiger.
An expense report from DEW’s 2015 tax returns.
What happens to the rest of the public’s donations? Recent Facebook posts reveal DEW’s owners buying luxury cars and trucks while their animals live in conditions that they just “can’t afford” to improve:
Tax returns also show that DEW only attributed 11.4% of its 2015 income to public donations. The rest of the income, totaling almost $280,000, was obtained through “unrelated business activities,” defined as commercial activity not substantially related to furthering the exempt purpose of the organization — in DEW’s case,animal protection and welfare.
For every animal welfare violation that inspectors can catch, there is often more abuse going on “behind the scenes.” Former volunteers and interns report seeing the following while working at DEW:
“I personally witnessed Bob attach a chain to a living cow in the back of his truck, attach the other end of the chain to a tree and drive away to get the cow out of his truck. The cow suffered with broken hips for days, but Bob would not put it out of its misery. A long as the cow was breathing the meat would stay fresh.”
“One time, they received a cow with broken back leg tendons, so it needed to be put down and couldn’t walk. It was going to be used for cat feed, which is normal for DEW and other zoos. They chained the cow to the back hoe and dragged it out to the pasture, by its back legs as it was in SEVERE pain. They left this female cow next to the pile of rotting animal carcasses in the sun, without shade or water, for over 3 days before they finally killed it. They told interns to “just not look at it” if we had to go into the cow pasture (everyone was visibly upset when they saw it). This cow suffered for many days, they didn’t want to ‘waste’ food and water on it since they were going to feed it out later that week.”
“The rabbits had been purchased in bulk to be killed off for serval food, as the servals prefer to eat smaller animals instead of large pieces of carcass. These rabbits were put in a large cage outside in the back where guests couldn’t see them. The cage was in the sun, in the middle of the summer. It looked like a multi-level ferret cage. These rabbits had no food or water for the first two days they were there, as they didn’t want to waste resources on feeding and watering animals that were meant to be food. The Miners eventually killed them to be put in the freezer with the rest of the rotting meat to be fed out at a later date.”
“A deer (that they did not know was pregnant) was found with the baby half way hanging out of the mother and it was dead. Then they decided the best thing to do was tranquilize it. It got many cuts and was bleeding due to trying to get away from Bob and the team. He got one dart in it and it didnt go down. He got a second dart in it and it didnt go down. Finally he tried to lasso it. He ended up getting the wrong deer and it was trying so hard to get away and it flopped onto a sharp tree trunk which looked like it hurt it and then it was making choking sounds because it was twisting its neck in the lasso. They finally got the pregnant mom and pulled the baby out which was dead. Total process took probably a little over 2 hours of stress for the poor deer that was already probably in pain from the failed birth. And a dead baby at the Miners farm due to lack of veterinary care. But also, Bob was becoming very angry and stressed during the process and at one point he told us all to get out of the enclosure and as I began to follow the man in front of me, he grabbed my arm hard enough to hurt and screamed at me to go the other way. I did not like that he grabbed me like that when I don’t even know the man. He not much as even said hi to me or any of the other interns I saw since my week of working there. I also had one experience when the cow got out when Julie Miner was telling us to close the DEW gate. As there were two gates open, one intern began to ask which of the two gates to clarify. Julie spat at her, “Dont you EVER talk when I’m talking” and drove off. They are just not the nice people that everyone thinks.”
“The entire property reeked of rotting carcasses and feces. Many enclosures were substandard, not large enough, filthy and muddy. A serval cat was being kept in a large dog kennel and I was told it was temporary but I went back months later and it was still there. They have too many animals to care for properly.”
Visitors to DEW Haven report seeing animals being deliberately teased by Bob Miner for the enjoyment of the audience:
“There was a large rock outside the hyena’s enclosure that was right next to the fence. Bob had a bucket of road kill meat sitting there, while he was sitting on the rock. He teased that hyena with a piece of meat until the animal was so frustrated that it lunged at his shoulder, mouth wide open, but hit the fence. We were totally appalled by Bob’s behavior. It was disgusting to see him tease that animal like that. From what I saw at my last visit, I do believe they should be closed. From the sound of it, things have gotten even worse for the animals living there than they were years ago.”
“As Bob came to the Binturong [a nocturnal animal] that was sleeping on a raised up platform… …Bob had what looked like a metal sheet pan, and slammed the sheet pan on the fencing where the Binturong was sleeping, yelling, “Get UP!!”, and something about how they sleep a lot, playing to the crowd. For the Binturong, when the sheet pan hit the fence, it made a huge metal on metal noise and he jumped up scrambling for a second and looked frightened back and forth. It then slumped back down, like this happens all the time. It looked broken and depressed to me, not tired and sleepy.
I’m so disturbed by what I saw. It has taken a long time for me to get the distance I need from this horrible situation. I feel bad and the sick feeling isn’t leaving me. I get how people are fascinated by these places. It was like all these people are hypnotized by the exotic animals and can’t see the abuse and danger. Maybe they don’t care. I’ve cried about what happened there that day. Some of the parrots had more secure and roomy pens than some of the larger animals… …It makes me sick.”
2/14/18 The United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted a preliminary injunction request against roadside zoo Wildlife in Need. The injunction prevents Wildlife in Need from declawing big cats (tigers), separating cubs from their mothers unless medically necessary and from using cubs in public encounters.
The court highlighted some of the case’s background which affected the decision. The judge cited lack of response by the defendants, both in discovery requests and court orders. Both Timothy and Melisa stark refused to sit for depositions, court document said, noting that “the court had very little, if any, evidence to consider on behalf of Defendants.” PETA filed a complaint against Wildlife in Need in, owned by Charlestown residents Timothy L. Start and Melisa D. Stark, in September 2017 for violations of the Endangered Species Act.
A temporary restraining order was issued by the court on October 4, 2017, preventing the defendants from declawing any of their captive lions, tigers and hybrids (“Big Cats”). The roadside zoo has been in the news frequently over the past several years.
In October of 2017, Wildlife in Need was connected with an FBI wildlife trafficking sweep. In July 2016, the USDA cited Wildlife in Need for 118 animal welfare violations. The 24-page complaint meant the Charlestown business faced up to more than $1 million in fines and possible closure. The US Department of Agriculture tried three times to terminate the owner’s operating license between 2015 and September 2016. PeTA vs Tim Stark Wildlife In Need.
Tim Stark insisted that both of his leopards were dead. Records show he got the cats from Living Treasures Animal Park in New Castle, Pa. They seemed healthy, he recalled, at four months old, but they were “mean as hell.”
Stark said he remembered the day he found one lying on its side, barely breathing. By the time he got to the leopard, it was allegedly dead.
He grabbed its back leg, and it snapped, Stark recalled. That’s when he came to the conclusion that metabolic bone disease had been what made them so mean. But no veterinarian ever examined the animals, USDA records show.
Three or four days after the first leopard died, Stark recalled, was when the second leopard squalled and screamed and darted at him. Stark said he hit it with a baseball bat.
“I hit it numerous times, over and over and over,” he said. “The last time I seen that cat it was (expletive) dead. I hit it with a ball bat numerous freaking times and hit it plenty hard enough to damn kill a full-grown leopard let alone a damn little leopard.”
So unless the leopard came back to life, he said, he doesn’t see how it could have landed in Doris Armstrong’s yard.
PETA called Stark’s property a “roadside zoo.” In addition to potential injuries, PETA believes Stark exposes the public to infectious diseases by allowing anyone to hold and pet wild animals.
“Encouraging the public to handle vulnerable cubs roughly and to hit them when they resist is cruel,” PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders said in a statement.
PETA notes Stark pleaded guilty to illegally trafficking an ocelot and has been cited repeatedly by the USDA for animal welfare violations, including keeping a lion and tigers in cages from which they can easily escape, providing bears and tigers with water containing “floating clumps of algae,” and failing to provide animals with any shelter from the heat.
Last year — PETA said citing a USDA inspection report — the zoo had no attending veterinarian and two sick leopards died without receiving any veterinary treatment.
Note: Golden Tabby tigers are merely inbred and crossbred tigers and not a subspecies that serves any conservation program.
WILDLIFE IN PERIL?:
Former employee, volunteers express concern over animal operation
By KRISTINA GOETZ Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting | Posted Nov. 23, 2014
CHARLESTOWN — In the wake of a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting investigation that found a history of problems at an Indiana exotic animal refuge, current and former members of the organization have come forward to talk about their experiences at the facility.
Meanwhile, legislators who’ve received recent complaints about Wildlife in Need Inc. are looking at potential changes in Indiana law.
KyCIR’s investigation showed Tim Stark’s exotic animal facility in Charlestown has been cited by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors for a variety of problems over the past several years, including having enclosures that are not adequate to prevent big cats from escaping, and allowing cubs that are too old and too aggressive to interact with the public.
Former Wildlife in Need employee Travis Ellis, as well as a current volunteer and a former volunteer, portrayed the organization as in distress and disarray. They allege Stark is dismissive of authority, has contempt for veterinarians and uses volunteers who have good intentions but little to no background in animal care.
The volunteers — who provided evidence of their work there — spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Ellis does not have a degree in animal science but said he grew up around exotic animals and is a licensed falconer in Tennessee. Officials there say Ellis is in compliance with state regulations and has a good track record.
Ellis met Stark when he was animal curator for Kentucky Down Under, he said, and then the two started doing business together. Ellis grew concerned while working for Stark this summer.
“On my side of the tent, we gave people a pretty safe experience with the exception of using that tiger and that bear,” he said of the exotic animal encounter show.
Ellis believes people should be able to interact with exotic animals. He just doesn’t think Stark’s operation is a safe place to do it.
Ellis said he was bitten and clawed by a large tiger this summer. He has photos of the encounter as well.
During the last show of the evening one August night, Ellis told a crowd of about a dozen visitors to get ready for the finale.
“Remain in your seats,” he remembered saying. “Please don’t make loud noises. Don’t attempt to touch her.”
For a moment, he disappeared behind a door but returned with a 250-pound tiger on a woven-knot leash with a leather loop. Just feet away — with no barrier in between — visitors watched the year-old tiger put her paws on two volunteers sitting on the ground, Ellis recalled. He said he tugged the leash to lead the tiger in a circle in order to show off her stripes.
“Once I pulled her away from these girls, she reared up on top of me, grabbed me in my armpit with her teeth and stuck her claws in my back,” he said. “I played it off. The public had no clue what was going on.”
Still feeling the sting of the cat’s teeth, Ellis walked backward out the side door to the tiger’s holding pen.
“She was chewing on me, and she was growling,” he said. “I was still up. I knew if I ever got down it would be bad.”
The tiger hung on, Ellis said, until one of the volunteers smacked her in the nose with a plastic bat.
Ellis scrambled out of the cage, bleeding from four puncture wounds, and slammed the door. He walked back in the tent.
“The public was still sitting there so I had to suck it up and finish the show,” he said.
Ellis claims Stark had little to say after the incident and seemed more upset about what visitors had seen.
“When the cat incident happened, and he wouldn’t take responsibility … that was the final straw,” Ellis said.
He never worked there again. He did not file a complaint with any agency.
Stark did not return an email or a phone message left on Wildlife in Need’s voicemail requesting comment.
In a previous report, Stark said interaction with wild animals is a big part of his operation.
“But the way I look at it, if you’re going to have these animals, they thrive on that interaction. They deserve it, and it’s supposed to be that way,” he said.
One former volunteer said she quit after she found herself crying every day about the animals.
Other volunteers have forged bonds with the animals and don’t want to jeopardize their ability to spend time with them, according to a current volunteer. She questions what she saw there, from dirty cages to overcrowding.
This volunteer was asked over the summer to help with a Tiger Baby Playtime fundraiser event during which patrons paid $25 to play with tiger cubs in a group.
“I was told, ‘If they’re staring, and their ears go up, and they lock onto someone, especially a kid, keep your eye out for that and get in the middle.’ I did not feel comfortable doing that. What you’re telling me is that I’ve got to watch for the tiger to attack someone and stop it? Are you kidding me?”
KyCIR’s investigation of the facility also has caught the attention of several legislators who’ve fielded calls from constituents about Wildlife in Need. A spokesman for Rep. Todd Young, D-Ind., said his office has received letters and phone calls from three constituents who were concerned about both the animals’ welfare and public safety.
“We have been working with the USDA to identify an appropriate point of contact for concerned citizens to reach out to,” spokesman Trevor Foughty said.
On the state level, state Sen. Michael Crider, a Republican who represents District 28 in suburban Indianapolis, said in a phone interview this week that he plans to introduce legislation for the third year in a row that would require a permit for everyone in the state who has certain types of exotic animals.
Currently, a permit is required for people who own these animals as pets. But those like Stark who have United States Department of Agriculture permits to be animal exhibitors are exempt from state regulations. Crider wants dual jurisdiction so Indiana officials have the authority to inspect the property along with the feds. He’s also looking at restrictions other states have implemented.
“This issue is not going away,” said Crider, who retired after 30 years as an Indiana conservation officer. “In fact, in some cases it’s gotten a little bit worse since I first started talking about it. Hopefully we can come up with something that we can get passed, and it will provide for adequate oversight.”
State Rep. Steven Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, said he has been aware of people’s concerns about the facility for some time and would support Crider’s proposed bill. Several constituents called his office last year when they heard a leopard was shot and killed by a neighbor near Stark’s property. USDA officials have yet to definitively determine whether the animal belonged to Stark.
“Personally I think our responsibility is to provide public safety for citizens,” Stemler said. “And whenever there is a question of public safety that is possibly compromised — and in this case with exotic animals — then there should be oversight that is allowed to ensure that safety.”
Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, has received calls from constituents about Wildlife in Need and knows that neighbors have concerns about the facility.
“As I’ve spoken with folks they became frustrated probably with me because I had to tell them openly, hey, the state has no jurisdiction over the facility so there’s nothing really that I can do other than try to work on policy as we move forward.”
Goodin said USDA specs are minimum standards, and he believes the state should build on those. He supports the dual certification Crider is proposing.
The documentary-maker talks about his encounters with a volatile chimp and an amorous baboon
Written By David Brown 30 October 2011
You’d have thought that Louis Theroux would have had enough of cells. Last time we spoke, he’d recently been visiting the high-security inmates at Miami’s mega-jail who stood accused of murder and rape. And now he’s back among cages and pens – only ones that hold tigers, bears and primates. Which experience did he find the most daunting?“I’d much rather be behind bars with a dangerous rapist or a man who’s killed three people than with a chimpanzee,” he admits. “At least I can communicate with the rapist, but I don’t speak chimp. And you just don’t know what they’re going to do.
“I’m afraid that whatever reputation I have for being intrepid will be shattered. I behave like a total wimp around these wild animals.”
In America’s Most Dangerous Pets (airing tonight on BBC2 at 9pm), the non-humans are, thanks to their unpredictable nature, very much the stars of the show. Theroux is once again stateside, this time meeting the owners of animals that you’d normally expect to find in the wilds of Africa. One such encounter involves Cooper, a 120lb chimpanzee who’s on the cusp of sexual maturity at the volatile age of seven.
When Cooper’s owners, Jill and Brad James, guide their pet into the garden, Theroux and his crew observe from indoors. It’s a smart move as Cooper immediately bounds over and smashes a window with his paws: “I don’t think he was trying to attack,” says Theroux. “He also spat at me and the cameraman and threw a barrel at us. But I believe he was trying to say, ‘look, this is my territory. I’m the king here.’
“I felt a bit bad for Cooper, really. I think if you caught him on a good day, he’d be very sweet. We just weren’t willing to take the risk. On the one hand, we could have got a really good sequence if we’d been outside. On the other, he might have bitten off my testicles. So I thought we’d skip it.”
Up close and personal
But is the documentary-maker in danger of downplaying his pluck? After all, on another occasion, Theroux’s suburban safari leads him into the arms of Tatiana, a three-year-old baboon housed at Indiana’s Wildlife In Need & In Deed preserve. “We got along well,” he says.
‘Getting along’ in this case means being pawed, sniffed and screeched at in quite a disconcerting manner, but Theroux has his reasons for thinking that he and Tatiana hit it off:
“Tim Stark, who runs the business, had introduced her as his baboon daughter, so he’d established her in my mind as being a very feminine creature. When she was hugging me quite close and grooming me, it almost felt like a primate-to-primate interaction. The feeling of being understood up to a point was very odd. Having said that, the boom microphone made her go nuts and she’d freak out and climb on it. That was one of my more nerve-racking moments.”
There is, of course, a reason for all this monkeying around. In shedding light on the eccentricities of the country’s private zookeepers and owners of exotic pets, Theroux learns that there are, for example, more tigers in captivity in the US than can be found roaming wild in the whole of Asia.
I wonder what this says about the mentality of people who choose to keep animals that are too volatile and powerful to ever leave their cages for long periods.
“It’s a generalisation, but the men are looking for large, dangerous animals that represent raw physical power and aggression. Controlling and disciplining something ferocious like a tiger gives them a status. With women – and again it’s a generalisation – you notice that they’ve got the chimps and capuchin monkeys, who’re like surrogate children.”Animal instincts
The problem is that all children mature and owners often reach the conclusion that they don’t have the necessary skills to deal with their fast-growing playmates.
“No one is going out there thinking, ‘what I want is a fully-grown chimp that I can only feed through the bars’. They’re after ones like Bubbles that they can cuddle and fool around with. And then six or seven years later, when they aren’t as frisky and fun, people realise that they’ve taken on more than they can handle.”
These unmanageable pets often end up at self-styled “sanctuaries” like the one Theroux spends time at in Oklahoma or at the home of Connie Casey, a breeder and dealer with a colony of 20 chimpanzees. Theroux visits her compound in Missouri after learning that one former resident, a male chimp named Travis, earned notoriety following a 2009 attack on his owner’s friend that left the victim with a lacerated face and severed nose.
“Those accounts really stick in your head and the primates do seem like they’d be happier in larger cages. That’s just my personal view because the atmosphere in Connie’s basement pens was quite prison-like. In fact, one of the strange things is that some of the traits of caged-up chimpanzees are exactly the same as those of caged-up humans.
“At San Quentin [Theroux spent time at the notorious prison for a documentary in 2008], I’d hear a lot about ‘gassing’, which is when prisoners take faeces and urine and fling them at the guards they don’t like. And on one of the last days at the GW Animal Park in Oklahoma, we saw a monkey that had learned to hide faeces in his mouth and if a keeper he didn’t like went near him, he’d spit poop at him.”
Incidents such as these raise an obvious question about whether a “wild” animal can ever truly settle to a life in captivity and it’s one that Theroux asks with his usual quiet tenacity. But, of course, the obvious attraction for the viewer is witnessing how he handles the more physical confrontations.
Whether he’s dodging excretions (human or otherwise) or fending off the advances of amorous baboons, it seems that these days Theroux is now constantly in search of increasingly perilous situations. Is he trying to up the ante with each outing?
“Well, it’s always been a case of pursuing stories that I’m interested in. Here, I actually wanted to reintroduce a humour and lightness that has been absent from some of my more recent projects.” And then he adds finally, “I really don’t consider myself to be a danger freak.”
Tatiana and Cooper, however, may well have a different opinion on the matter.
This video by one of Stark’s relatives shows that two years before the BBC documentary he was still beating up on the bobcat named Tuck. It also showed a number of tigers and lions who did not appear to still be there two years later even though they were obviously youngsters at the time he was having interaction with them.
According to this USDA report, Tim Stark lied about having a veterinarian, had two young leopards die without seeing a vet, failed to keep acquisition and disposition records, among other things.
FESTIVAL CO-CHAIRWOMAN SAYS CUBS SHOULDN’T BE EXHIBITED
By Karen Roby/WLKY
BETHLEHEM, Ind. — Thousands of people are expected to flock to Bethlehem this weekend for the annual Autumn on the River festival.
This year, a new exhibit is raising some eyebrows days before the event even starts.A pair of 10 pound, 10-week-old tiger cubs are at the center of this discussion.
Click Here: View Images
The debate is whether the cubs should be allowed at the festival.Event committee members say absolutely, while one woman emphatically says no.Trish Roehm is a longtime resident of Bethlehem. She runs an animal rescue organization out of her home.For years, she has helped organize the Autumn on the River event, but this year, she’s sitting out.”I don’t think it’s a safe environment for children and, as for education, it’s sending the wrong message to the public that these are cute, cuddly animals. They aren’t. They are wild animals,” Roehm said.Roehm doesn’t want the tigers at the annual gathering.
Wildlife in Need, Wildlife in Deed
Tim Stark owns an animal refuge in Charlestown. He applied for booth space at the Autumn on the River festival.Stark’s plan is to give people the opportunity to take pictures with the Bengal tiger cubs.”I control the kittens. I control it. Its nails are clipped so they don’t scratch anybody. I am on the spot in case anything happens. They are just babies, 10-week-old babies,” Stark said.
Stark’s house is home to the Wildlife in Need, Wildlife in Deed sanctuary. His nonprofit organization works solely on donations.”All these guys were raised here, they went through the photo shoot program, that’s how we fundraise. I have someone that is protesting that? I am in no way shape or form going to endanger anybody,” said Stark.Roehm said that despite her concern, the festival co-chairman told Stark it would be fine for him to set up his photo booth at the event.Stark said as an American, it is his right.”I carry a USDA license to do what I do, to raise, breed and exhibit them,” Stark said.David Abbott, the co-chairman of the event, said that as long as Stark produces his certificate of insurance and information about the cubs’ immunizations, then he is fine to set up his booth at the event.Stark said he has been doing this for years.Last weekend, more than 700 pictures were taken with the cubs at the Harvest Homecoming Festival in New Albany.Stark said that he has never had a problem with the tiger babies in public.
The Autumn on the River Festival is Saturday and Sunday in Bethlehem.
Go to the link to see video of Tim Stark being stupid with big cats. Notice he is carrying what looks like a golf club inside the cage with the cats. You can be sure he isn’t teaching them to swing.
May 18, 2017 – Another clip shows the tigers in a ring during a training session. One glances over at the trainer and, seeing the whip in his hand, hurries away, terrified. These scenes appear to be business as usual for ShowMe Tigers, a traveling tiger act run by Ryan Easley that performs with the Carden Circus. Read more: https://www.thedodo.com/in-the-wild/circus-tiger-whipped-31-times
But because tigers and lions in circus acts must perform specific acts at precise times and “the show must go on,” positive reinforcement is not the only method used by circus trainers or night club magicians. Read more: https://bigcatrescue.org/abuse-issues/issues/circus/
A new HSUS undercover investigation reveals the mistreatment of eight tigers featured in Ryan Easley’s ShowMe Tigers act – a traveling circus gig that is contracted out to branded circuses. It’s painful to watch a grown man whipping a majestic tiger as the world’s most powerful predator flinches and cowers in fear. It’s a coercive training technique used to force tigers to perform demeaning and often difficult tricks.
This is the backstory that animal-based circuses don’t want you to see. It’s the reality for tigers and other wild animals trapped in these operations. Our investigator spent three weeks working for Easley, including nine days on the road with the act that has toured with Carden Circus and performed for several Shrine circuses.
As you can see in our undercover video, the tigers endure a great deal of trauma. Even a layperson can recognize the signs of stress, including cringing and bolting from Easley (who uses the stage name Ryan Holder) when he raises his whip and stick. The tigers squint and flatten their ears back, because they’ve felt the lash before. Their shoulders are hunched, defeated. It is simply unethical to force one of the world’s most powerful and extraordinary predators to hop around on her hind legs as a Michael Jackson tune blares over the loudspeakers.
The HSUS has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which prohibits the kind of abuse witnessed by our investigator, and is urging the agency to investigate ShowMe Tigers and to take swift enforcement action for violations of federal law.
Increasingly, circuses are recognizing that they have a broken business model that, because of its inherent cruelty, is operating on borrowed time. This week Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – the political protector of the industry — will perform for the last time. Ringling attributed its decision to declining attendance and stronger regulations that safeguard captive wildlife. But it also recognized how difficult it is to fool the public about what goes on behind the scenes. Abusive circus acts teach nothing about the normal behaviors of these exceptional animals. What they do teach children and others is that cruelty is acceptable, and wild animals can be bullied into doing stunts that are silly and confusing.
At the ShowMe Tigers act, the trainer holds back on obvious abuses during the live performance. It’s out of the circus ring that the more intense punishment occurs. Our investigator videotaped a practice session that showed, among other things, a traumatized tiger being whipped at 31 times in less than two minutes because she refused to get off a pedestal. Whip marks would suddenly appear on a tiger’s fur during both the practice session and live performances, confirming that the whip was making physical contact and not just being used as a threat.
What’s particularly stark for me is the difference between how circuses treat tigers and how legitimate sanctuaries treat captive cats. At The Fund for Animals’ Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, and other sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, tigers rescued from captive situations love to swim and rest on elevated platforms and lie on cool grass. They chase and tear apart enrichment items provided by dedicated caretakers. Staff specialists go to great lengths to ensure that the sanctuary’s tigers stay physically active and mentally stimulated. In contrast, Easley’s tigers go through the same mind-numbing cycle each day: eating, sleeping, pacing, urinating, defecating in the approximately 13 square feet of floor space for each tiger kept in transport cages, and suffering through eight-minute performances up to three times each day. Once the act hits the road, the tigers live exclusively in tiny, barren transport cages. Our investigator observed other forms of neglect, too, such as lack of protection from bitterly cold weather, a nutritionally deficient diet, and failure to provide veterinary care to a tiger with a raw, open wound near her eye.
We’re seeing states as well as small and large communities taking steps to protect wild animals from abuse and suffering at the circus. In some cases, legislators are banning cruel training tools while others are passing outright bans on the use of various species in traveling shows. We are leading efforts in states and cities across the country to end the era of captive wild animal acts. We’re ready to work with anyone interested in pursuing a circus ordinance in their community. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request a circus toolkit.