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Posted on Aug 24, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Mark Schoebel Timbavati Wildlife Park fka R-Zoo

Mark Schoebel Timbavati Wildlife Park fka R-Zoo

Mark Schoebel Timbavati Wildlife Park fka R-Zoo

Legal Name (DBA):
Customer No: 2424
Certificate No: 35-B-0033
Certificate Status: ACTIVE
Status Date: Jan 2, 1960

2011 Census of Timbavati Wildlife Park aka R-Zoo


Mark Schoebel plead guilty to several wildlife trafficking offenses in 1986, the worst being trafficking bears for their gallbladders. He would apparently breed the bears, use them for petting/photos, then sell them to a friend who killed and dismembered them before shipping the carcasses to Korea, where the gallbaldder was used as a “medicinal” remedy. His plea agreement for that case starts on page 5 of this pdf.  wi-markschoebel2001

We believe he paid a fine and was put on probation as punishment for the charges.

He also sold tigers to Kapp and Lantz of Operation Snowplow infamy, but wasn’t charged in that investigation because he claimed that he didn’t know the buyers planned on killing the cats. Which may be true, but given his previous history, you have to wonder if he actually “didn’t know”, or if he would have even cared.

The following is an excerpt from Stewart Metz, M.D. on

Let’s look at the facts. Schoebel has been an animal “broker” for decades, trading or selling animals (some exotic, rare, and highly endangered) between individuals and between organizations including zoos. He has also provided animals for canned hunts. A “canned hunt” is essentially a cowardly form of animal assassination; animals are hunted not in the wild but in restricted areas where hunters can be virtually guaranteed a “kill”. No kill, no pay! Note that the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (with which the Irvine Park Zoo is, not surprisingly, unaffiliated) specifically states that “animals shall not be disposed of to organizations…that allow the hunting of these animals or their offspring” (AZA Acquistion/Disposition Policy). Yes, indeed, Mr. Schoebel “takes care” of his animals!

The rap sheet of alleged offences committed by Schoebel is as long as my arm. Much of it is documented in Alan Green’s highly acclaimed book Animal Underworld: Inside America’s Black Market in Rare and Exotic Species, winner (in 1999) of the award for best investigative book from the National Conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors. Astonishingly, Schoebel is mentioned at least 13 times in that book. More outrageous is the alleged “cozy” relationship between Schoebel and the Irvine Park Zoo! To quote Green (pp. xxii-xxiii):

“For as long as anyone can remember,the Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin has a curious relationship with Mark Schoebel…Babies are born at the small municipal zoo…No one but Schoebel seems to know where the animals go when he takes them away. For years city officials would not say….City officials have been reluctant to Discuss the matter publicly. Members of the local zoological society once requested documents that might have exposed the exact nature of the arrangement but the parks and recreation department [ie, Flaherty’s department] at first stonewalled and then imposed search and copying fees so high they put the documents out of reach. What’s more, the zookeepers were ordered to not discuss Schoebel’s
activities with anyone….Wisconsin zoos actually protect Schoebel, a state wildlife official says.”

The stench of a possible cover-up seems to be beginning to waft and may well help to explain why everyone involved in the case of these parrots is not talking–or explaining!

So what offences has Schoebel committed, or been alleged to commit, that are so repugnant? Well, among them is the following. In 1986, he was accused of using his infamous “R-Zoo” to illegally transport bears and other wildlife across state lines (Green, p. xv).

“Evidence gathered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed that Schoebel ad supplied bears to the owner of an Illinois game farm who was charged with shooting the animals, dismembering and decapitating them, packing the carcasses in dry ice and shipping them…to Korea, where the gall bladders are used…Federal agents uncovered evidence that two dozen bears had also been sent from R-Zoo to Korea via a California broker…and turned up receipts showing the sale of yet-more bears to an exotic-meat dealer. ..Schoebel pleaded guilty to four counts of wildlife infractions and in return received a fine and four years probation.”

Yet still, the Irvine Park Zoo continues to do business with this convicted animal trafficker. What ever happened to the mission of zoos to show dignity to animals, help to conserve them, in a selfless way? This zoo ought to be ashamed of dealing with a convicted, insensitive, self-promoting individual.

What else do we know about Schoebel? According to Green (p. 65), Schoebel supplied animals to Thomas Nichols, a Georgia dealer sentenced to a year in jail for illegal trafficking in animals. He also sells animals at auction (Green, p. 151), which shows no more concern about the animals’ special needs and their fate than does the transfer of the African Grey Parrots to Schoebel’s “care”. Once again, note that selling at auction violates the standards set by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association: “Animals shall not be disposed of at animal auctions.”

Worse still, epidemiologists traced infected prairie dogs to Schoebel. These rodents carried tularemia, a human disease which can cause paralysis or death. Even after he promised not to make any more shipments, Schoebel allegedly (Green, p. 190) sent shipments to Vanderbilt University and two animal dealers, thereby putting more human lives at risk.

But the alleged offenses do not stop there. In an article by Steve Barney (an animal advocacy group), on July 12, 1999, approximately 15 sooty mangabey monkeys died at Soebel’s R-Zoo in Neshkoro, WI, allegedly of electrocution. Mangabeys are protected as an endangered species under international law (including strict regulations on trade). Like African Grey parrots, mangabeys are very social animals.

Assuming that this story is true, how can the Irvine Park Zoo possibly justify doing “business” with such an unscrupulous broker who flaunts violations of the very protection of endangered species which zoos are supposed to vouchsafe? The answer appears to be that they can’t, and that may be why lips are sealed.

More about R-Zoo

  • R Zoo was owned by Mark Schoebel
  • Evidence was gathered by US Fish & Wiildlife that revealed Schoebel supplied bears to the owners of an IL game farm who were charged with shooting the animals, dismembering, and decapitating them. They would pack the carcasses in dry ice and shipped via NY to Korea.
  • Every year he would farm out the babies to Reston Animal Park which led to the Zoos (AZA and others) for their crowd pleasing babies for the visitors to see.
  • He had a relationship with the Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
  • Schoebel would arrive at the Irvine Park Zoo to pick up some of the babies of the adults that he had on loan to this Zoo.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife declared for a 2 yr period R Zoo bought 74 bears but sold 132. Where did the other 58 bears come from.
  • Schoebel also owned a fur farm.
  • Schoebel contributed to can shoots whereas the animals are put in a 5 acre pen, hunted and killed.
  • Schoebel took delivery of 1400 prairie dogs which he sent to pet stores and Medical research labs.
  • He claimed he had 8,000 baby animals for sale.
  • He worked with the Racine Zoo and Duluth’s Lake Superior Zoo which are both AZA Zoos.
  • The Wisconsin Zoo protected Schoebel because he would take their aging, unwanted surplus of animals.



Timbavati to replace Riverview Park.

The Timbavati Wildlife Park is moving from Storybook Gardens in Lake Delton to Riverview Park in Wisconsin Dells.

The park, run by Mark Schoebel, will take over some of the Riverview site, except the go-kart tracks and candy store. The Wisconsin Dells City Plan Commission, Wednesday, approved a conditional use permit for Schoebel, who is leasing about 25 acres of the 60-acre park to house animal displays. The motion to approve the conditional use permit passed unanimously, and it goes to council for its approval Monday.

The commission received an e-mail from Inna Larsen, who signed the e-mail, “volunteer with Dane Co Friends of Ferals and Dane Co Humane Society and domestic cat owner.” Larsen asked the commission not to approve the permit, accusing Schoebel of “various violations of animal import and care.” She also said in the e-mail, “We urge you to deny the expansion and pass a city ordinance that would prohibit Timbavati, Kalahari and Chula Vista in showing lion and tiger cubs.”

A letter from Jim Mattei, at Storybook Gardens, where the park has been located, praised Schoebel’s care of the animals and the site.

Schoebel, who participated in the meeting by telephone, said in response to a question by the commission that he had never been fined for violating the animal welfare regulations enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and had never lost his license.

Schoebel said only juvenile big cats would be at the wildlife park. Larsen had said in the e-mail that once the cats become adults Schoebel sells them for parts and hunting.

Commissioner Dan Anchor asked what happens to the juvenile cats when they get too big.

Schoebel said they are returned to his farm near Princeton.

Donald Kalberg of Sweetbriar Drive, asked to speak while the commission was discussing the wildlife park. He was given permission to do so by Mayor Helland, although he said Kalberg should have raised his questions during the public hearing.

“My main concern is the safety thing,” Kalberg said. “I don’t want to walk out and find a tiger on my deck.” Other concerns were about odor, the care of the animals, what would be done if an animal got loose and whether someone injured at the park could sue the city. Kalberg said he is not against the park, but is just concerned about safety and the animals. “I am an animal lover myself.”

The commission put six conditions on the permit, and one is providing the city with proof of insurance. Others are to hold a USDA license, be responsible for removing solid waste and ensure that the park has no odor or other nuisances, that it resolve any stormwater issues, that it resolves any unforeseen nuisance problems with neighboring properties and that it and Riverview address any parking issues. The permit approval also specifies that no development be done in a point on the river that is not in the 200 foot conservancy zone that protects the river front.

Schoebel said the animal enclosures would have double gates and comply with USDA regulations. His proposal presented to the commission said the entire area would be enclosed with an 8 foot high fence.

Commissioner Shaun Tofson asked whether the law enforcement has the ability to deal with any escaped animals and would officers receive training.

The Lake Delton Police know who they are and how to get in touch with them, Schoebel said, and Dells Police would be supplied with contacts for the park. “Nobody is more concerned with safety than we are.” He said he is not aware of any training for police and he and his staff have “an array of capture equipment. We would definitely be in the lead.”

As to concerns about odor, Schoebel said the pens are cleaned daily or more often if needed. In the past Veolia has provided a dumpster and disposal of waste.

Schoebel said he plans to remove the waterslides and in his first year will use that area and the area of park up to the wooded area.

In other action, the commission approved a site plan for an addition to the Trapper’s Turn Clubhouse, gave permission to allow a house to be remodeled rather than be torn down and consider changes in the city’s zoning map.

The addition would be 38 feet by 38 feet and would have another bar and addition restaurant seating.

Tanya and Eddie Krause, owners of Amber’s Hideaway at Broadway and Highway 16, received permission to not tear down a house on the motel property. The city had set as a condition on the permit for the remodeling of the motel that the house be torn down.

Public Works Director Mike Horkan, a member of the commission, said he talked with Tanya Krause, pointing out to her that the house is currently not safe or sanitary. To fix it up the floors would have to come out and it would require a lot of work. “I went through it and it and she didn’t bat an eye,” he said.

Horkan said Tanya said she has fallen in love with the architecture of the house and the Krauses intend to remodel it, starting first with the exterior. Then in another year of remodeling would move here and live in the house. He said the couple has done a good job of remodeling the motel and have gone beyond the city’s expectations with their work there.

Helland said the couple has done what they said they were going to do and the city is happy to have them as part of the community.

Assistant Public Works Director Chris Tollaksen presented the commission with a revised zoning map showing the zoning classifications for six areas annexed into the city since 2007, when the current map was adopted. The map also shows the zoning classifications for three areas where zoning changes were made and corrections to two areas were mistakes were made in the making the current map.

One of those areas was around Sweetbriar Drive which was changed to commercial, and Tollaksen said it should be residential.

However, Adam Makowski, who lives on Sweetbriar said he though the area surround the northern part of the street should be commercial.

Tollaksen said he would look at the area again and check with residents there before bringing the map back to the commission at the April 13 meeting.

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Posted on Jul 6, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Jungle Safari AKA The Zoo Pat and Robert Engesser

Jungle Safari AKA The Zoo Pat and Robert Engesser

Jungle Safari AKA The Zoo

Owned by Pat and Robert Engesser

OldsmartigersMarcusCookWhiteTiger2A look at the Facebook pages of the Engessers and their employees reveals all sorts of recent photos of injured, inbred, and sick cubs being used as exhibits. Almost every single one has rubbed its nose raw and bloody, and photos of staff handling newborn cubs make it clear that Jungle Safari “pulls” babies from their mothers and sticks them in dog crates nearly immediately after birth. Because Engesser tries to breed white tigers, many of his cubs are clearly inbred (cross-eyed, etc.) but he still keeps some of the deformed female cats as “breeders,” resulting in generation after generation of damaged cubs.

The Engessers are the very definition of why cub-petting is bad. But, they aren’t your typical exploiters. The information I found suggests that the Engesser family may be the very founders of America’s private big cat industry.

The Engessers have been abusing big cats for a long, long time. It all started when Robert’s great, great grandfather, George Engesser, went to Africa and came back with a live lion. During the Great Depression, George was the owner and operator of the now-defunct Schell Bros. Circus, which featured big cat acts. He had several children who grew up raising and working with the exotic animals in his circus, and his youngest daughter, Roxy Engesser (Robert Engesser’s mother), decided to make a living breeding exotic cats for zoos. In 1968, Roxy founded “Engesser’s Exotic Felines”, the very same traveling cub-petting exhibit that’s called “Jungle Safari” today. They’ve been touring America’s parking lots every year since then, which has to make them the longest-running cub photo exhibit in the country. In fact, they probably created the idea!

We found an interesting article about Roxy Engesser in the 1984 Ocala Star-Banner. Back then, she was apparently planning on building a “retirement home” for her animals in a Levy County subdivision, much to the chagrin of local residents who didn’t want big cats in their backyards. There are some pretty shocking quotes in this article — apparently, when it was written, the Engessers had a whopping 286 “breeding big cats” on lease to other private exhibitors nationwide. And Mrs. Engesser told the reporter that the concerned neighbors “didn’t understand” her animals, claiming that “these aren’t wild cats, they’ve been hand raised. After about 10 generations in captivity, these animals even lose the instinct to kill their prey.” She also claimed that an escape would be unlikely because “these animals are like your dog.”  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a blatant lie in my life!

Roxy has since passed away, leaving the family business to her son, Robert, and his wife, Pat. Robert appears to be quite the character, to say the least. His Facebook feed is laden with Confederate flags, anti-Muslim/Obama memes, profanity, and crude sex jokes, and his “friends” list reads like a who’s-who in big cat exploitation, with names such as Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado, Vincent Von Duke, Kathy Stearns, Brian Staples, Josip Marcan, Doc Antle, Lynn Culver, and Felicia Frisco. It also reveals that Jungle Safari frequently buys/trades cats with the notorious “Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo“, a roadside menagerie in West Virginia that sells photo encounters with tiger cubs with little regard for federal regulations. And according to this article, in 2010, a python was stolen from Jungle Safari after the tent was closed for the night. Someone simply walked into the parking lot where the zoo was set up, cut the lock on the snake’s enclosure, and made off with the animal. What if the vandal had opened the big cat cages instead?

And as if his animal exploitation weren’t enough, apparently, during his exhibit’s recent stop at Ft. Myers, Mr. Engesser spent his time secretly snapping photos of young women’s backsides so that he could post them on Facebook with snide comments. Is this the kind of person that anyone wants to welcome into their town?!

Now, for the financials. In interviews, Mr. Engesser speaks as if he were visiting small towns out of the kindness of his heart — he claims that they make admission to their “zoo” free so that children who don’t live near a traditional zoo can have the experience of seeing exotic animals, and tells people that the money they make at the exhibit supports the “rescued animals” at his farm. But this business website estimates that “Engesser’s Exotics L.C.”, the parent company of Jungle Safari, rakes in over $1,000,000 per year off the backs of their cats. And once you do the math, that number makes sense.

According to their website, the Engessers estimate that 4-6000 people visit the Jungle Safari exhibit in an average week. Let’s say that 5,000 people visit. Now, if just one out of every four visitors pays the $15 fee to have their photo taken holding a cub, that’s nearly $19,000 in profit at a single location (and Jungle Safari typically “tours” six weeks at a time before returning to their property in Trenton to “rotate cats”, i.e. replace growing cubs with younger ones). That brings us to a low estimate of $114,000 per month just from cub photos, and Jungle Safari is on the road for at least six months of the year. That’s a lot of money made off of cub petting — before factoring in the $1 “admission fee” the Engessers charge to see their “rare” white tiger, which news videographers have recorded frantically pacing in circles and throwing itself against the walls of its tiny travel cage. Which brings me to my next point…

In interviews, Robert Engesser reassures concerned reporters that his animals “have larger enclosures” on his “27 acre farm” in Trenton, Florida (and, according to that last article, that he believes big cats “deserve a lot of respect” — strange words from someone in his business). Well, I used Google Maps satellite data to take a peek at this spacious “farm”, and I was pretty surprised — there appears to be little more than a pile of old semi trailers and a few tiny, trailer-sized chainlink enclosures in the backyard. And sure enough, recent photos from Mr. Engesser’s Facebook page show his cats living in small, concrete backyard cages, with rusty chain “leashes” around their necks (those photos are in the file).  Engesser was technically right — the home enclosures are “larger” than the pathetic cages he hauls the cats around the country in, and they are on his farm. I guess he forgot to tell the reporters that his cats only have access to a few square feet of the huge property he brags about.

It seems that the only way Engesser can get business is by deliberately conning small towns who don’t know what they’re supporting.

Legal Name (DBA):
Customer No: 3192
Certificate No: 58-C-0295
Certificate Status: ACTIVE
Status Date: Apr 11, 1990
PO BOX 2060


Two Cats Who Were Bred at Roxy Luce’s Backyard Zoo

snorklefaceSnorkel Tiger was born in 1996 to the same abuser who bred Nakoma the lion. She breeds lions and tigers and uses them to make money by selling you a photo of you holding a cute little cub. Typically these cubs are starved, deprived of bone building calcium and even poisoned to give them constant diarrhea so that they cannot gain weight. They do this because the cubs are only profitable while they are small. Once they reach 45 pounds they cannot be touched by the public, according to FL state law, and then they are discarded.

Snorkel was given to a small family operated circus when he exceeded 45 pounds at the age of 6 months but because he had been so deprived of nutrition he was very tiny and stands on little stunted legs. The other bigger circus tigers beat him up and one bit him across the nose so severely that when he chuffs it sounds like he is drowning, thus his name. He has never had soft grass to roll in nor a pool or mountain cave to call his own before going to Big Cat Rescue.

Nakoma Lion was purposely starved, deprived of vitamins and calcium, and kept in a small concrete space. Hardly conditions fit for a king.

That’s when Big Cat Rescue stepped in and purchased young Nakoma at a livestock auction. Imagine that, the “king of beasts” being auctioned off . Nakoma was so crippled in the hind legs and so malnourished that no one wanted him and he was sold for only $200.  (Big Cat Rescue stopped paying to rescue animals in the 90s)

nakomaOnly a year earlier this little lion cub was the picture of health and vitality. His owner made money by selling people the opportunity to have their photograph taken with the cute and cuddly lion cub. In the state of Florida, however, it is against the law to allow contact with a big cat over 45 pounds. So Nakoma’s former owner purposely starved him and deprived him of vitamins to keep him under the weight limit. As a result of this deficiency, Nakoma developed paralysis in his hind legs. Crippled, unwanted and abused, he was found with gaping gashes in his body that had become infested with maggots. Yet despite all this, he was still a very lovable, talkative cub.

Big Cat Rescue took Nakoma into their care. But after a year and a half of proper nutrition and supplements, he was still having an increasingly hard time moving his back legs. It took him two hours just to walk across his pen by dragging himself with his front paws. X-rays, a spinal tap and MRI all came out negative, meaning that Nakoma’s paralysis had most likely been caused by the thiamine deficiency he endured.

On July 12, 1998, during his MRI, Nakoma tragically stopped breathing and died. His quiet passing may have been a blessing in disguise since nothing could be done for his crippled body. In fact, the vets said his condition would have continued to deteriorate until he could not move at all.

Today, Nakoma rests in a grave on the site, adorned with his proud picture. This brave little king will never be forgotten and everybody can take solace in that Big Cat Rescue was at least able to make his last years a little better.


This is what one videographer had to say:

Published on Jul 4, 2012 by Sophiaz123

“Tigers need water to cool off in hot weather. This is a horrid Zoo Safari in Hamilton, Ohio in front of Big Lots on Rt. 4, july 4th, the temperature was 100 degrees and VERY humid. Taken at 5pm. Sorry only 9 seconds. Shot a second video but was shakier than this one. I was very upset and trying to hold it together. I am sure the fan on him feels like a hot blow dryers. Disgusting that this Robert Engesser guy calls himself a “traveling zoo” when it’s nothing but Animal Cruelty Galore. From Chiefland, Florida. Google him yourself. Disturbing. He has a camel, monkeys, goats and wild cats. He keeps his cats in cages like this for MINIMUM of 4 weeks. It can NEVER walk around!! Disgraceful. Tigers need to swim to cool off. I saw no water. The police did nothing when I called them. Powerless they said ????”

USDA License #58-C-0295
P.O. Box 2060,

Chiefland, FL 32644

Robert Engesser’s traveling exhibit, The Zoo, has repeatedly failed to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) has cited The Zoo numerous times for failing to provide proper food and water sources and adequate veterinary care, for failing to provide environmental enrichment to primates, for failing to maintain
enclosures and transport trailers, and for poor housekeeping. A leopard from The Zoo attacked a 5-year-old girl, causing injuries. The exhibit has traveled under the names Engesser’s Exotic Felines, Luce Enterprises, and Endangered Species, Inc., in the past.

January 24, 2005: A Hernando Today article about an exotic-animal auction in Florida described Pat Engessor as a big cat breeder who had been in business for “more than 30 years.” Engesser said that she attended the auction with the hope of selling lion cubs to other breeders. Animals sold at such auctions often end up at canned hunts, in the “pet” trade, or at poorly run roadside zoos.

March 1, 2002: The USDA cited The Zoo for allowing children to come into direct contact with animals without supervision during exhibition. For the third time, the USDA cited the facility for failing to develop and implement
an environment enrichment plan for primates. The baboon and a lemur were exhibiting stereotypic behavior.

August 22, 2001: During an inspection, the USDA noted that the baboon’s stereotypic behavior was still not being addressed.

May 24, 2001: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to provide environment enrichment to a baboon housed alone or to the ring-tailed lemurs. The baboon was seen pacing and head-rolling. A lion cub was being fed an inadequate diet of goat milk replacer. Water containers for the camel and llama were
covered in algae.

August 17, 2000: The Zoo was cited for failing to provide proper veterinary care to a tiger cub suffering from metabolic bone disease due to lack of proper diet and to a leopard with several areas of missing hair.

June 28, 2000: During a complaint- based inspection, the USDA cited The Zoo for failing to provide adequate food to animals.

November 4, 1999: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to store food to protect against deterioration, mold, or contamination by vermin.

April 30, 1999: The Zoo was cited for keeping a tiger cub in a cage in which he was unable to turn about freely and make normal postural adjustments. The exhibit was again cited for failing to maintain proper veterinary records to document that an underweight elephant was receiving proper medical attention.

January 28, 1999: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to provide an inclusive program of veterinary care, including measures to prevent zoonosis. A lion cub transmitted ringworm to other animals and a caretaker. The facility was also cited for failing to keep enclosures and food storage areas in good repair. A dead tiger cub was found in the freezer, having died of an unknown (“probably infectious”) respiratory illness.

July 24, 1998: During a complaint- based inspection, the USDA cited The Zoo for failing to maintain enclosures adequate to prevent animals from escaping. The exhibitor was also cited for lack of a proper program of
veterinary care.

August 15, 1996: A Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., official wrote to Engesser, instructing him to cease exhibiting animals at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations because this was a violation of their corporate policy.

April 24, 1996: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to maintain transport enclosures in good repair.

November 7, 1995: The Zoo was cited for improper storage of supplies, for failing to maintain enclosures in good repair, and for a lack of proper water sources for three leopards.

May 20, 1995: In a letter to the owners of The Zoo, the attending veterinarian noted observations that the big cats were overweight and stated that a leopard’s tail had to be amputated.

May 15, 1995: The Zoo was cited for failing to maintain enclosures in order to prevent injury to animals.

March 2, 1995: The USDA cited The Zoo for housing goats, sheep, and llamas in enclosures in which they could not make normal postural adjustments. It was again cited for failing to provide enrichment to a baboon who was constantly pacing and picking at her skin—a sign of zoochosis. There was also no record of veterinary care, and an elephant was observed to be thin.

October 12, 1994: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to store food in order to prevent contamination and to maintain transport containers in good repair.

June 10, 1994: The Zoo was cited for failing to store food properly to prevent contamination. The baboon was exhibiting stereotypic behavior indicative of zoochosis.

March 8-11, 1994: During this inspection, the USDA cited The Zoo for failing to maintain enclosures in good repair and for failing to store bedding to prevent contamination. A male tiger was noted as underweight and suffering from a lame paw. The Zoo staff was not able to provide records to account for the whereabouts of all animals. Enclosures and perimeter fencing were noted to be inadequate to safely contain animals. The camel’s water source was found to be filled with algae and silt.

February 11, 1994: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to implement an environment enrichment program for primates, and the lemurs did not have access to a den to which they could retreat from the public. Food was noted to be stored in a manner in which it could become contaminated, and enclosures were noted to be in disrepair.

May 11, 1993: The USDA cited The Zoo for housing lemurs, lions, and tigers in transport containers.

August 9, 1990: According to the Rapid City Journal, a leopard attacked and mauled a 5-year-old girl while on display at the Black Hills Motor Classic in South Dakota. Reportedly, the leopard, who was restrained with a small chain fastened to a box, leaped on the girl’s back as she walked past him.

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Posted on Jul 4, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Great Cats World Park Craig Wagner

Great Cats World Park Craig Wagner

Great Cats World Park

The bite that a tiger inflicted on an animal keeper at Great Cats World Park on June 16, 2016 was serious enough that it actually broke the keeper’s arm
according to Josephine County Animal Protection Officer David Pitts.

Pitts reported that the Great Cats general manager told him keeper Sara Romswinckel hadn’t noticed that the tiger’s “den” was unlocked when she pulled a cable opening a “guillotine” door, which in turn allowed the cat, a white tiger named Scooby, to enter the den.

When the tiger then rubbed his face against the gate, it opened, prompting Romswinckel to push her body against it an effort to close the gate. When the keeper then put her arm across the slightly open gate, to gain leverage, the tiger struck.

The manager, identified in the report only as “Sarah,” blamed another employee for leaving the tiger’s den unlocked, and blamed Romswinckel for not noticing it was unlocked. Romswinckel suffered fractures and extensive soft-tissue damage.

Pitts reported that the tiger, if it escaped the den, could have hopped a 6-foot wooden fence.

The biting incident is not the first for the park and its president, Craig Wagner, according to the USDA. Five years ago, during a “photo shoot,” a teenager allowed to handle a tiger and leopard was bitten by the leopard, according to a USDA complaint filed in 2013.

After that incident, a leopard was left loose and unattended inside an admission/gift shop building, whereupon an adult and toddler entered and were injured, according to a complaint filed by the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The complaint didn’t specify how they were injured.
The complaint alleges several other safety and animal care violations between 2008 and 2011, including lack of adequate barriers between the public and cats on stage. The complaint against the facility is still awaiting hearing, Espinosa said.

Since 2004, Wagner has been associated with the Great Cats World Park, a popular tourist attraction located at 27919 Redwood Highway.
The park is home to more than 40 cats, including lions, leopards and tigers.

The agency said Wagner was convicted in 1993 in Wisconsin of animal neglect and was warned in 2004 about failing to provide care for three leopards and other animals. In 2004, the park was found guilty in U.S. District Court of conspiring to violate the Endangered Species Act by agreeing to sell endangered ocelots.


The Center for Endangered Cats (previous name)


The Center for Endangered Cats was owned by Craig Wagner and Cynthia Lee Gamble.  Check for yourself to see if they meet the sanctuary standards for an accredited animal refuge.   Cindi Gamble was mauled to death by a 500 lb tiger at this USDA approved facility.  See why USDA permits do not ensure public safety nor do they enforce decent living conditions for the animals.  USDA is underfunded and under staffed and yet many states exempt facilities based upon the mistaken notion that USDA can properly regulate all of these backyard breeders and dealers.  Read more about their alleged past history.

Craig Wagner of Great Cats World Park, has been convicted on numerous counts of horrendous animal-cruelty charges including not feeding or watering animals for days at a time and, in one instance, beating a tiger with a two-by-four because the starving cat had killed a leopard to eat it. And those are just the charges in Wisconsin. After fleeing WI to avoid additional charges Craig Wagner set up the “Center for Endangered Cats” in Minnesota. In one report, a news correspondent in Minnesota detailed death and malnourishment at Craig’s business. Five cats were found dead and 14 were so severely malnourished that a volunteer called them fur-covered skeletons.

Sign a petition to revoke his permits:

tiger attackApril 6, 2006 Duxbury (15 Mi. E. of Sandstone) MN: Cindi Gamble was mauled to death by one of her tigers at the USDA inspected Center for Endangered Cats that she had co owned with Craig Wagner who was wanted for animal abuse in WI.  Wagner now runs Great Cats World Park in southern Oregon. The sheriff said one of the drop doors was apparently left open, leaving Gamble exposed to the tiger. Investigators said the tiger was so out of control that they had to kill the cat to get to the body.

More on this story

Tiger trainer was fearless, but one cat was a killer

Pine County mauling death is Minnesota’s first fatality in a string of animal attacks


Pioneer Press

Cynthia Lee Gamble was known for being fearless, friends say. But when the longtime animal handler went into the cages that housed her beloved tigers near Sandstone, Minn., something went tragically wrong.

On Friday, as investigators worked to understand how Gamble came to be fatally mauled by a 500-pound Bengal tiger — the first such death in the state, authorities said — friends and neighbors shook their heads in sadness and remembered the hard-working single parent who remained devoted to big cats despite recent adversity in her life.

For years, Gamble was widely known for exhibiting animals at civic events and schools, most recently from her base in Duxbury, Minn., about 90 miles north of the Twin Cities. She raised, trained, and filmed wolves, wolverines, coyotes, and foxes; produced several films about exotic animals; and wrote a children’s book on leopards.

“Cindy was a great person,” said Michael McCullen, a neighbor whose daughter is a friend of Gamble’s 14-year-old son Garrett. “My daughter was there quite a few times and saw the cats. What it basically comes down to was a horrible, tragic thing.”

Gamble, 52, was found dead shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday by a friend visiting the 80-acre site, said Pine County Sheriff Mark Mansavage.

The tigers were housed in separate cages within a larger fenced enclosure. The individual cages were normally closed off from a “pass-through” area by drop doors, Mansavage said. The sheriff said one of the drop doors was apparently left open, leaving Gamble exposed to the tiger.

“It appears the cat took one leap and was on her,” Mansavage said.

McCullen, a longtime member of the local fire and rescue squad, responded to the scene.

“My first thought was, ‘Where’s Garrett?’ ” McCullen said. “When I left my driveway, all I was thinking about was Garrett.”

Friends said Gamble, a native of Ohio, was a longtime animal enthusiast. She and ex-husband Steve Kroschel, a cinematographer, began working with animals years ago in nature photography and commercial advertisements, said friend Lee Greenly. She had an animal exhibitor’s license from the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Gamble then began working with larger animals such as tigers, creating the Center for Endangered Cats with business partner Craig Wagner in 1992, at first in Hugo and then on 30 acres in Forest Lake Township.

In 1997, more than 30 neighbors signed a petition protesting the center, saying it endangered lives and lowered property values. Allegations were aired of unsafe conditions, according to court records, including cats escaping their cages and a bite that hospitalized one of Gamble’s colleagues.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said former township board member Dick Tschida of Thursday’s attack. Tschida said he once inspected the Forest Lake site and found safety hazards.

“People become pretty complacent about the animals,” he said. “I’d have expected it a lot sooner considering the conditions under which she operated in Forest Lake.”

Gamble moved to her 80 acres on Duxbury Road in Pine County, which has no zoning ordinance regulating ownership of wild animals.

Gamble was on the road nine months a year as the center’s 40 cats made television appearances including NBC’s “Today” show, according to a 2002 story in the weekly Pine County Courier. Gamble also had a hand in the 2000 movie “Vertical Limit,” providing two snow leopards for a brief sequence.

The center did not let the public onto its grounds, and colleagues said Gamble was a careful operator. It was not her practice to walk into the cages alone, Greenly said.

But Mike Janis, the former director of the Duluth Zoo who once visited the center, said that while impressed with how Gamble and Wagner ran it overall, he was concerned that they occasionally would enter the cages with the tigers.

“A single person never, ever works alone with a big carnivore. All you have to do is slip, or not make sure a gate is closed, and something can happen,” Janis said.

Friends said Gamble and Wagner split and Wagner moved to Oregon a few years ago with many of CEC’s best show animals. Gamble stayed in Minnesota with the remaining animals.

Wagner, who now runs Great Cats World Park in southern Oregon, declined to commentFriday.

“We’re all really devastated here,” said the woman who answered the phone at the park.

Gamble, deeply in debt, filed a bankruptcy petition in 2004. Among her possessions were two tigers and a caracal, similar to a lynx, worth $500 in all. She took a job at the Grand Casino in Hinckley and also worked in a local restaurant for a time.

Gamble’s death is the first in the state from a tiger attack, the sheriff and others said, but it is not the first mauling. There was a spate of attacks last year, including a 10-year-old boy critically injured by a lion and tiger.

A new law that took effect Jan. 1, 2005, banned private ownership of wild animals in Minnesota but allowed owners to keep animals they had before that date. Owners were required to register their animals with local authorities unless they met one of the law’s exceptions, for instance wildlife sanctuaries.

Mansavage, the Pine County sheriff, said Gamble had not registered with his office.

Interest groups on both sides weighed in Friday. PETA, the animal rights group, said it had sent letters to Minnesota legislators urging that only accredited zoos and sanctuaries be allowed to own big cats and exotic animals. The group said there had been 196 dangerous incidents in 39 states involving big cats, with a sharp increase in recent years.

Exotic animal enthusiasts fired back, saying most of the deaths involved owners or handlers who had accepted the risk, rather than members of the public.

Mansavage said the difficult recovery of Gamble’s body Thursday night made a powerful impression on him.

“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever come across,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you how many times (the tiger) kept running at the fences and just making that screeching roar. It’s something I’ll probably never, ever forget. I don’t know how these people get used to it and work with those animals.”

Alex Friedrich contributed to this report.


Carole Baskin Quoted on the Issue by Robin Washington:

Tiger tragedy turns spotlight on ethics of keeping big cats

If there was anyone who knew anything about big cats, it would have been Cynthia Lee Gamble, a woman who kept a menagerie of tigers, cougars and other wild felines on her 80-acre Pine County property. Yet that knowledge failed to protect her from an obvious fact of nature — that wild animals are wild — illustrated all too tragically last week when she was found dead, mauled by one of her tigers.

Gamble, who was 52, was not a novice at caring for and living with exotic, and dangerous, species. Her interest began as a nature photographer and eventually grew into her Center for Endangered Species, which she founded in Hugo, Minn., with a former partner before moving it to Pine County, near Sandstone.

Her work was well-publicized, the Pine County Courier reported in 2002, noting television appearances by 40 of the center’s cats, including on NBC’s “Today” show and in a Hollywood movie. Indeed, Gamble was hardly shy about marketing her ferocious cats, with the now-defunct CEC Web site saying, “Our feline ambassadors are trained to pose for the camera. They have appeared in books, calendars, on posters & postcards, as well as enhanced many magazine articles.”

Yet the Web page also included more troubling passages, such as “Our cats also specialize in stunt action and mock attacks, as well as snarling, leaping, jumping, running, and climbing. If you are looking for specific behaviors, call in advance so the trainers at The Center can prep each individual cat.”

Prep them? To snarl and make mock attacks? How exactly does that further the survival and well-being of endangered species?

With Gamble’s death coming after a rash of Minnesota big cat attacks — none before fatal — in recent years, other exotic species owners and sanctuaries wasted no time offering their spin on the tragedy.

“You have a better chance of winning the lottery jackpot (1 in 175,711,536), than being killed by a captive large cat (1 in 297,618,284),” Zuzana Kukol, a Las Vegas exotic animal owner and trainer, wrote in an e-mail to the News Tribune. By phone, she elaborated, saying media hysteria following big cat attacks unfairly taints owners as irresponsible.

“I didn’t know her,” she said of Gamble, adding, “I would say she knew what she was doing. She was inspected by the USDA.”

But another message, from Carol Baskin of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla., took the opposite approach.

“This facility was USDA inspected and illustrates why a USDA permit does not insure safety nor decent conditions for the animals,” she e-mailed, continuing: “A volunteer at the Center for Endangered Cats reported to the Wildcat Sanctuary in MN that cats were found dead due to starvation and dehydration.”

Baskin too confirmed by phone she did not know Gamble, but said no one has any reason to own big cats.

“I don’t believe these animals belong in private possession. We’re doing everything we can to change the law,” she said, adding her facility takes in abused and rejected big cats — about five a year — to spend the remainder of their days.

There are any number of self-proclaimed animal sanctuaries professing to operate in the best interest of their exotic charges. While Baskin sounds convincing — and so too, perhaps, did Gamble to many people — it is difficult to know which facility is true to that mission versus those that are little more than fronts for roadside carnivals.

Wherever Gamble’s center stood on that scale, statements on the Web site clearly weren’t written from the point of view of animals trying to live out their lives naturally in an unnatural environment. Tigers aren’t native to Minnesota, no matter how convincing the center’s claim (“The Center is in wild and scenic Minnesota, halfway between Minneapolis and Duluth. We have beautiful rivers, waterfalls, ponds, woods, and rocky cliffs and outcroppings. … We can match every cat to its natural habitat.”)

Perhaps Gamble loved her animals and died, albeit in a manner few would wish to endure, doing what she wanted to do. It’s doubtful, though, the same can be said of her cats.

…and who was watching the tigers?

Posted on Fri, Apr. 14, 2006

Details emerging from the tragic Pine County tiger attack that took the life of trainer Cynthia Gamble last week paint a more gruesome picture than previously imagined. The tiger, now euthanized, was examined and found to have had parts of the woman’s body in its stomach. The cat was at least 150 pounds underweight, no doubt a major factor in the killing.

Gamble, who held a USDA license for her bankrupt Center for Endangered Cats, was described by friends as an expert handler who “loved” her feline charges. That would have been tough love at best. No reasonable parent would starve a child out of love, and Gamble’s terrible fate offers the most compelling case yet against private ownership of big cats.

Not helping is the confusion of who’s really acting in the interest of the animals. Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla., denounces private ownership of menageries such as Gamble’s. Las Vegas tiger trainer Zuzana Kukol expressed support of Gamble but accuses Baskin of breeding cats rather than rescuing them from abusive owners. Baskin calls that “old news,” saying her past actions are what make her so adamant against the practice.

Whatever. The whole scat fight is reason, as expressed in a letter on this page, for restricting big cats to their natural habitats or zoos — and accredited ones at that.

Veterinary report says tiger was starving when it killed owner

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS – The Bengal tiger that attacked and killed its owner last week was starving and only weighed about half as much as it should have, according to a report from a University of Minnesota veterinarian.

The male tiger killed Cynthia Gamble, 52, inside its cage at her property east of Sandstone last Thursday. The tiger was euthanized and taken to the university’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for examination.

The report said the tiger was “cachetic,” meaning it was emaciated, and that it weighed 118 kilograms – the equivalent of 260 pounds and about half of what a 10-year-old tiger’s normal weight would typically be.

The report said the tiger had no significant injuries, and tests for rabies were negative.

The report also said the tiger’s teeth “were markedly worn or had been intentionally trimmed down.”

Gamble held an exhibitor’s license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which permitted her to show animals at public venues.

Her services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at St. John Lutheran Church in Kroschel, west of Hinckley. The family asks that memorials be sent to the Columbus Zoo, 9990 Riverside Dr., Columbus, OH 43065.

Information from: Star Tribune,

April 8, 2006

Dead woman’s tigers to be taken to sanctuary

Controversial nonprofit recently relocated to site near home of victim


Pioneer Press

Pine County authorities will seize two Bengal tigers left at a former animal breeding business where a third tiger mauled and killed its owner this past week, the sheriff said Saturday.

The decision to take the big cats was made after Cynthia Lee Gamble was killed Thursday by one of her tigers after a cage was apparently left open. The animals will live — at least temporarily — at the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn., which relocated within five miles of Gamble’s rural Duxbury property a few weeks ago.

The tigers will be removed from Gamble’s land in the next few days, Sheriff Mark Mansavage said.

“In the meantime, they are being cared for by someone with experience,” he said. “We’re not just walking away from this.”

The nonprofit Wildcat Sanctuary, a 40-acre expanse that houses some 20 abandoned captive wildcats, is accustomed to finding refuge for tigers.

Executive director Tammy Quist said her organization has removed 33 tigers from Minnesota homes and back yards in the past year. She also fields an average of 30 calls every month from big-cat owners seeking to get rid of their “pets,” she said.

The sanctuary typically does not keep tigers and works to permanently place them in other accredited facilities across the United States.

Bengal tigers, native to India and other areas of southern Asia, are a critically endangered species, according to the World Wildlife Fund. India is home to most of the world’s tigers, with fewer than 5,000.

“People from all over the state unfortunately keep these animals. We’ve taken calls from Minnetonka, Burnsville and Edina,” she said. “People take cute and cuddly cubs and don’t think down the road of what the animals will be like when they grow up.”

A man who worked on the property found Gamble, 52, dead Thursday in an area connected by a small open gate to a 500-pound tiger’s cage.

The Ramsey County medical examiner’s office is expected to release autopsy results Monday, but Mansavage said there was little doubt the tiger killed her. Authorities euthanized the big cat and sent its body to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Hospital to be examined.

Gamble was not a private tiger owner in the typical sense, Quist said, pointing out that Gamble had an animal exhibitor’s license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gamble was widely known for showing her animals at civic events and schools, and had appeared on NBC’s “Today” show. She raised, trained and filmed exotic animals and wrote a children’s book on leopards.

“She definitely had a different philosophy than our organization does about these animals,” said Quist, whom authorities called to the scene to tranquilize the tiger. Her nonprofit does not show or breed its animals, but instead serves as a haven for abused or unwanted big cats.

“It appears that this was a tragic accident. A protocol was missed somewhere, but we just don’t know more than that,” she said. “We do know that this animal didn’t pose a public danger. It was not off exhibit.”

Despite Gamble’s federal license, she failed to register her animals with the county as required under a 2005 state law. Because of that, Mansavage said, the county is posting notice of the seizure in case there is another owner.

“We don’t expect anyone to come forward, however, and are lucky the sanctuary is so close,” the sheriff said.

Sanctuary workers hope others in Pine County share that sentiment. Quist is braced for local resistance to her organization, the only accredited big-cat sanctuary in the Upper Midwest.

The sanctuary moved from Athens Township in Isanti County after a protracted battle with officials there over a tiger Quist cared for that recently died of cancer. The sanctuary’s permit in that county did not allow lions or tigers to be housed.

“This incident illustrates why there’s a need for sanctuaries like ours,” she said. “Local authorities are not equipped to handle something like this.”

Meggen Lindsay can be reached at mlindsay@pioneerpress.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 651-228-5260.


SANDSTONE, Minn. — A Bengal tiger attacked and killed its owner at a former animal breeding business, the latest in a series of recent maulings involving captive exotic animals in the state.

Cynthia Lee Gamble, 52, was found in an area connected to the 500-pound tiger’s cage by a small, open gate, Pine County Sheriff Mark Mansavage said Friday. He said a man who had gone to work on the property Thursday found the woman’s body.

The tiger was euthanized and taken to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Hospital for testing.

Two other Bengal tigers on the property were being cared for by Gamble’s friends, Mansavage said.

Sandstone is about 85 miles north of St. Paul. Unlike many other counties in the state, Pine County does not have an ordinance restricting ownership of exotic animals.

Exotic animals kept at private homes have attacked several people in Minnesota in the past 12 months. A 10-year-old boy was left partially paralyzed last summer after being attacked by a lion and tiger at a Little Falls residence. Last April, four tigers attacked and wounded a 37-year-old woman in southeastern Minnesota.

Tiger Mauls Woman To Death

(WCCO) Duxbury, Minn. A Bengal tiger attacked and killed a woman in rural Duxbury, Minn. Thursday night, police said.

The woman, Cynthia Lee Gamble, 52, kept the tiger on her property and the attack happened at her residence. She had several other “large” animals and exotic pets on her property, police said.

The attack happened around 5:15 p.m. A man who was going to do a controlled burn on the property made the call to police.

The man said when he got to the house, he found a woman lying in one of the tiger pens who appeared to be dead.

Pine County Sheriff Mark Mansavage said there was “no doubt” the tiger was responsible for the death.

Investigators said the tiger responsible for the mauling was so out of control, they had to euthanize it to get to the woman. The man also said the tiger would not allow him to get to the victim.

The woman’s parents and son were home at the time of the attack.

The nearby Wildcat Sanctuary was called in to help with the incident, but authorities said they were not needed once they arrived.

“In the last year alone, we’ve removed 33 tigers from Minnesota’s backyards,” said Tammy Quist with the Sanctuary. “It’s very unfortunate, but this happens. We’re hoping to get more information but it shows why these animals shouldn’t be kept in private entities.”

The woman was licensed to keep tigers on her property, investigators said. She was also a breeder of wild cats at one time.

It is unknown how many tigers were kept on the property, or what lead to the mauling, police said.

The tiger weighed about 500 pounds and was taken to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Hospital for testing. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner will perform an autopsy on the woman.

Duxbury is 90 miles north of the Twin Cities and about 15 miles east of Sandstone, Minn.

The first version:

The woman kept the tiger on her property and the attack happened at her residence. The woman, who was in her mid-40s, had several other “large” animals and exotic pets on her property, police said.

The attack happened around 5:15 p.m. A man who was going to do a controlled burn on the property made the call to police.

The man said when he got to the house, he found a woman lying in one of the tiger pens who appeared to be dead.

Investigators said the tiger responsible for the mauling was so out of control, they had to euthanize it to get to the woman. The man also said the tiger would not allow him to get to the victim.

The woman’s parents and son were home at the time of the attack.

The nearby Wildcat Sanctuary was called in to help with the incident, but authorities said they were not needed once they arrived.

“In the last year alone, we’ve removed 33 tigers from Minnesota’s backyards,” said Tammy Quist with the Sanctuary. “It’s very unfortunate, but this happens. We’re hoping to get more information but it shows why these animals shouldn’t be kept in private entities.”

The woman was licensed to keep tigers on her property, investigators said. She was also a breeder of wild cats at one time.

It is unknown how many tigers were kept on the property, or what lead to the mauling, police said.

The tiger weighed about 500 pounds and was taken to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Hospital for testing. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner will perform an autopsy on the woman.

Duxbury is 90 miles north of the Twin Cities and about 15 miles east of Sandstone, Minn.

Watch the News Story Video story from

Just two days before

in the County where this happened on 4/6/06:  Pine County has no zoning ordinance governing wildcats, and county board vice chairman Roger Nelson doesn’t believe the board will consider one, unless a problem arises.

Past History on Woman Mauled to Death By Tiger

We keep files on those who have reportedly bred and abused big cats and the following has been sent to us over the years, but is not our own personal knowledge. The statements should not be considered fact, but should be investigated. This facility was USDA inspected and illustrates why a USDA permit does not insure safety nor decent conditions for the animals.

A volunteer at the facility stated that cats were found dead due to starvation and dehydration at this MN facility. She said Center for Endangered Cats contracted for an exhibit in Oregon and hired only one person to care for the cats in MN with no back up staffing. It turns out the individual hired to do so, failed to feed and water the cats for approximately 1 week.

Craig Wagner & Cyndi Gamble
Center for Endangered Cats
RR#2, Box 115
Sandstone, MN 55072
USDA Licensed

Alleged Animals Dead:
Kayla, Female Snow Leopard
Clyde, Male Breeding Amur Leopard
Nala, Female Breeding Amur Leopard
Kwai, Male Caracal
Nadia, Female Siberian Lynx
One Paw, Wolverine
CEC currently has a license and cats in Sandstone, MN but are also contracted at Wildlife Safari, (P.O. Box 1600, Winston Oregon 97496 Or call (541) 679-6761) for “The Great Cats of the Wild Show”, and also has an inventory of cats there.

Past History:

Source: Animal Underworld
Craig Wagner was cited as far back as 1990 for a Leopard and Tiger being changed outside in yard once again with no food or water. This was Wagner’s fifth citation from WI DNR. Nothing changed and the starving tiger killed the black leopard and ate it. In return, Wagner allegedly beat the cat with a two-by-four.

Wagner was found guilty in March 1993 and received a nine month jail sentence, which was stayed by the judge. He was placed on probation for 2 years and ordered to pay more than $45,000 in restitution. Because Wagner failed to comply with the restitution order, a warrant for his arrest was issued in 1997.

Wagner then moved part of his organization to MN where he traveled and did cat shows for Renaissance Festivals until PETA protested that he housed cats inhumanely and he lost most of that work. There have been several incidences in MN that forced Wagner to move around the state three times. (check Hugo and Forest Lake, Mn. records)

Within the last two years, he started moving cats to OR and doing the shows at Wildlife Safari.

There were several cats that are endangered species (snow leopard and 2 breeding pair of Amur Leopards – less than 300 remain in the wild) that were given to CEC by other organizations. The local Sheriff’s department said that had talked to Cyndi and felt it was under control.

Witnesses claim that there are several more cats in poor condition at the Sandstone property including 2 orange tigers, 1 white tiger, cougar, black leopard, snow leopard, 2 caracals, lioness, and North American lynx.

Words from a volunteer – “All of the cats looked like skeletons with a piece of fur draped over them.”

Sources claim the Center for Endangered Cats currently have the following cats in OR.
1 yr old Amur Leopard Male
2yr old black leopard female
2 3yr old Amur Leopards
1 Amur leopard cub
5 yr old Ocelot male
6yr old Ocelot male
1-1/2 yr old female Geoffreys cat
1yr old tiger
3 yr old Siberian female
5yr old Fishing cat
1 Snow leopard featured in the movie Vertical Limit.
3yr old black leopard
5 or 6 and is a very nice male cougar

In Animal Underworld, Alan Green tells the story of Craig Wagner, a man from Minnesota who passed by a cougars for sale sign one day and became a self-declared big cat lover from then on. Wagner’s neighbors became unhappy when Wagner moved his cats into the neighborhood, and attempted to push him out. Others took Wagner’s side. Dozens of volunteers helped build and maintain a shelter for the cats. Others provided support.
Local schools asked Wagner to inform children about protecting the environment.
Wagner even founded The Center for Endangered Cats. What they didn’t know was that Wagner was located in Minnesota for a reason. Wagner ran to Minnesota because there was a warrant for his arrest in nearby Wisconsin for horrid animal cruelty acts. Because these issues are state jurisdiction, Wisconsin could do nothing but wait for Wagner to return.

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Posted on Jun 29, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Dade City Wild Things – Kathy Stearns

Dade City Wild Things – Kathy Stearns

USDA Sues Dade City Wild Things

The complaint, linked below states:

DCWTSwimmingCubUkIndependent-tigerswimThe 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.

2015-07-17_USDA AWA Complaint_Stearns Zoological_AWA Docket

2015 August citations against Dade City’s Wild Things for filthy conditions, inadequate shelter, poor vet care, dangerous caging and more.

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

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

Cast your vote!

Tampa Bay Times

Creative Loafing

My Fox Tampa Bay

ABC Action News

The Mirror

WFLA Channel 8 News

UK Independent


Where do those cute cubs end up?


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:



You can help put a stop to this with a quick and easy letter to lawmakers here:


What Animal Lovers Think About Dade City’s Wild Things

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 9.08.14 AM

Clearly, the public is opposed to this sort of cruel activity.

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.


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


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.

USDA Official Warning_Stearns Zoo 2012-05-31

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.


Stearns Zoo


We wouldn't suggest eating there either

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?
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Posted on Jun 29, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name, Most Wanted | 0 comments

Wildlife Rescue and Rehab Vernon Yates

Wildlife Rescue and Rehab Vernon Yates

Vernon Yates Wildlife Rescue and Rehab

Because Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc., is located in Seminole, FL and its owner, Vernon Yates is often set up in parking lots with his tigers in circus wagons for people to gawk at, we get a lot of angry mail from people asking us if this was our display. Big Cat Rescue does NOT take exotic cats offsite and we do not condone it. There is no way to insure the cat’s safety, nor the public’s safety in such situations and it shows disrespect for the animals to treat them like props. If you see people using animals this way, please take photos, videos and document when, where and what the conditions were. Send it to us at and we will use it to try and get laws passed so that animals cannot be abused this way.

The vet for Vernon Yates is Dr. Don Woodman of Safety Harbor.


Check for yourself to see if Vernon Yates of Wildlife Rescue and Rehab meets the sanctuary standards for an accredited animal refuge. Vernon will argue that he is a shelter and not a sanctuary to overcome that shortcoming, but what does that really mean? There is no good place for these cats to go as the accredited sanctuaries are full so where do his cats go if he is just a temporary shelter as he claims?


At the following link is a story that ran on CNN about 5 tigers and a lion who were being starved and were more than 100lbs underweight. The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) was reported to have been investigating the owner for two years and believed the cats were starving but couldn’t prove it. The owner, Susan MacKay, was said to have a tiger in her freezer that she was feeding to these cats, and still the FWC did nothing. When the FWC did finally take action they called Yates because he will pick up anything they ask him to take. He already has 200 exotic animals on 2.5 acres in a residential neighborhood next door to an elementary school.


In the clip you can see Yates yelling at the obviously stressed cats who were being kept, two to a cage, in circus wagons. If Yates cannot control his temper in front of a CNN camera crew, it is depressing to think how he must behave when no one is looking, which is most of the time.


One tiger appears to have lost half of her tail and the cats are roaring at each other, baring their teeth and threatening violence. In the video Vernon claims that if he gets the cats he will “find a new home for them,” but legitimate zoos don’t want castoffs from the pet trade, so the only buyers will likely be similar or worse situations than where the cats came from.


In person and in video interviews, his lack of intelligence, compassion or patience is abundantly clear, so why does the FWC call him? It is most likely because he will make their immediate problem go away. No one wants to be the bad guy and euthanize an animal, but there are not nearly enough true sanctuaries to take in the exploding population of lions and tigers. If the FWC were to tighten up the rules on who could possess these cats, Vernon Yates wouldn’t have a market for them and wouldn’t have any way to bail out the FWC.


This link is to a County Commission meeting where Vernon Yates accuses a County Commissioner and others of lying and demands that they apologize to him and the tiger that he carries all over town in the back of his pick up truck.

In the photos at right you can see the awful concrete and steel prisons that are jammed together on less than 2.5 acres in a residential neighborhood, near a school. Big cats are not designed to live on concrete and need far more space than is provided at places that just meet minimum state requirements. Vernon Yates started Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in 1980 and is reported to have more than *40 big cats in the back yard of his residential home located in Seminole, FL.


*an article from 1998 said he had 40 big cats, Vernon Yates has claimed to have 48 big cats, but as of 11/11/07 he only has 14 tigers and a lion in his collection of 200 exotics. Where did all of the other exotic cats go?


Nov 10, 2011:  A complaint was filed with USDA and the Florida Wildlife Commission based on Vernon Yates’ flagrant disregard for the law that requires a barrier between the public and tigers.  As of 2011 Vernon Yates Wildlife Rescue has failed to post the required $10,000 liability bond which became law in FL in 2007.  Despite that the FWC continues to renew his permits each year and Yates continues to behave in the reckless manner described by witnesses below:


“On Saturday, November 5th, 2011 around 2:30pm on Park Blvd. in Pinellas County (close to Starkey and Seminole Blvds), my son and I were driving west and spotted something odd being pulled by a truck. As we approached the vehicle, we were amazed to see two large tigers in a single cage. The cage was on a flat, open trailer. The two cats were moving around on a bed of what appeared to be a fresh bed of hay. The cage had bars so, the tigers were able to stretch their legs through. The trailer was pulled by a very nice, white pick up truck. On the door read “Shelter for Wild Life and Exotic Pets and Rehabilitation” with a tag number on the trailer: X76863.”


If the USDA and FWC do not take action on these violations, it makes us wonder what else is not being enforced.



Vernon Yates figured his Siberian tiger, Tai, was owed an apology.

February 27, 2005
Page: 6



CLEARWATER — Vernon Yates figured his Siberian tiger, Tai, was owed an apology.

Yates characterized the big cat as a victim of circumstance when the outspoken wildlife trapper had an altercation with county Commissioner Ken Welch last year. Welch saw Yates driving the golden, white and black tiger in the back of a pickup truck in the commissioner’s south St. Petersburg neighborhood one morning in September. He called the number on the truck and talked to Yates, who was behind the wheel. What happened next depends on which version you believe.


Welch told his colleagues at a meeting in January that Yates and Tai apparently had been visiting in the neighborhood overnight, as he spotted them at 7:30 a.m. while taking his daughter to school. On Tuesday night, with county commissioners set to act on setback requirements for outdoor wildlife cages,

Yates showed up and angrily confronted Welch about the phone call and comments the commissioner made in January. Yates said the incident happened at 9 a.m., that he wasn’t in Welch’s neighborhood all night and that he was there picking up animals, not visiting. He said the commissioner told him over the phone several times, “Do you know who I am?” “I don’t think it’s right for any government person to scream at anybody, “Do you know who I am?’ ” Yates said.

Yates also took issue with Pinellas animal services director Kenny Mitchell, who told commissioners he saw children coming up to Yates‘ truck at Bardmoor Shopping Center in Seminole and putting their hands on Tai‘s steel cage. Yates said no children touched his tiger‘s cage. He said Mitchell should have reported the incident to the state if he believed the public was in danger.

“My tiger was totally within his legal rights to be where it was,” Yates said. “I think some people here owe me and my tiger an apology.” Welch denied asking Yates whether he knew who he was. The commissioner said he did identify himself and asked Yates why he had a tiger in the back of his truck. “At no point did I say, “Do you know who I am?’ ” Welch said. “Most of your statements are patently false.” As for an apology, Welch said, “You won’t get it from me.” Reporter Carlos Moncada can be reached at (727) 823-3412.

Cutline: Vernon Yates Confronted county Commissioner Ken Welch at meeting Tuesday Tribune photo by MARK GUSS This caged Siberian tiger caught the attention of county Commissioner Ken Welch one morning as it rode in the back of Vernon Yates‘ Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation truck.

Vernon Yates’ tiger breaks off her teeth on chain link cage:

Re: “The Tiger and My Dentist” (aka My Dentist, Animal Hero), this issue. I received the following email from Dr. Craddock’s chief nurse and significant other….

SONG is a 200 lb. Siberian tiger who lives at the Seminole Wildlife Rescue and Preserve. Vernon Yates is the owner of Wildlife Rescue and also happens to be one of our dental patients.

Several months back, Vernon Yates approached Dr. Craddock and explained that he had a problem with one of his Siberian Tigers. The tiger, 11-year-old SONG, had tried to get into a male tiger’s cage by chewing through a chain link fence. In the process of doing so, she broke her canine teeth, and they consequently became abscessed. Thus, she stopped eating and was rapidly losing weight.

The dilemma!

Normal procedure would be to extract infected broken teeth on an animal such a a tiger. However, due to the structure of a tiger’s skull (their roots being so close to their sinuses) removing their teeth can create future sinus problems. Not to mention also making it extremely difficult for them to chew up meat.

In any case, after Vernon Yates explained the problem to Dr. Craddock and myself, we decided to go to work and create instruments long enough that would allow us to do a root canal on her 2.5-inch long canine teeth. We volunteered our time and expertise to do this with the hopes of getting her to eat again. If the root canal was a success, we could then prepare her teeth for crowns.

The first of two precedures was done several months back in May. SONG was placed under general anesthesia at the Bayshore Animal Clinic. Dr. Craddock and I prepared for the 3-hour long surgical root canal procedure. Lo and behold, the root canal was successfully completed and impressions were taken for her new white gold crowns.

Our dental lab, Fox Dental, located in Tampa , donated the white gold for her crowns. They even went so far as to engrave Dr. Craddock’s initials (JEC) into the white gold crowns.

On 9/23/02, SONG was again placed under general anesthesia and prepared for the installation of her new crowned canines.

After 5 long hours, the surgery was another success!!!! Her new white gold crowns were in place!

Last reports from her owner, Mr. Yates: She was once again eating and smiling and very pretty with her four (4) new shiny teeth.

Vernon Yates Calls Commissioner a Liar

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This link is to the entire County Commission meeting where Vernon Yates accuses a County Commissioner and others of lying and demands that they appologize to him and the tiger that he carries all over town in the back of his pick up truck.

Vernon Yates Attacks Big Cat Rescue Volunteers

Vernon Yates of Wildlife Rescue and Rehab in Seminole, Florida was barred from exhibiting at Get Rescued in Gulfport after attacking volunteers from Big Cat Rescue.

Later, at a meeting of the Florida Wildlife Commissioners he followed Big Cat Rescue Founder, Carole Baskin, into a meeting screaming obscenities and her and waiving his arms so wildly as he burst into the room that two officers jumped up and headed toward him, causing him to trot off to the parking lot.

At another Florida Wildlife Commission workgroup Vernon Yates slipped up behind a demure female volunteer and began threatening and screaming obscenities at her so loudly that a circus owner (typically not an industry friend to Big Cat Rescue) interceded in what ended up being a knock down, drag out fight on the lawn of the civic center, in order to protect the woman from Yates’ bullying.

To see him fly into a rage, at the drop of a hat, just ask him what he thinks of Big Cat Rescue’s work to end the breeding, buying and selling of exotic cats.

Family dispute turns deadly

After deputies shot the husband with a Taser, he pulls a gun. The deputies shoot, killing him.

Published January 13, 2006

A Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy investigates the scene of Thursday’s shooting at 1438 Chesterfield Drive in Clearwater . An apparent domestic dispute turned deadly when deputies shot a man who pulled a gun.

Deborah K. Yates and her husband were fighting when deputies responded to a 911 call.

DUNEDIN – Sheriff’s deputies trying to break up a struggle between a husband and wife Thursday shot and killed the man and apparently wounded his wife by accident, authorities said.

Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies heard screams from the couple’s home at 1438 Chesterfield Drive as they responded to a 10:31 a.m. 911 hangup call.

Borrowing a neighbor’s ladder, four deputies climbed over the home’s fence where they found Donald R. Yates, 45, and Deborah K. Yates, 42, fighting in the corner of a screened room at the back of their home.

Mrs. Yates was behind her husband during the struggle, sheriff’s spokesman Mac McMullen said, and the couple did not respond to commands from the deputies. Standing 3 to 4 feet away, Deputy Jason Stibbard hit Donald Yates with a Taser.

The Taser forced Donald Yates away from his wife. That’s when he pointed a .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic handgun at deputies, McMullen said.

From 6 feet away, Deputy Christine Smith and Deputy Christopher White saw the gun pointed at them and feared for their lives, McMullen said.

They fired eight rounds from their .45-caliber handguns. Donald Yates was struck several times in the legs and torso. Mrs. Yates was struck in the left leg.

McMullen said Donald Yates did not fire his weapon. It appeared that two of the deputies’ rounds struck Mrs. Yates, he said.

The shooting took place in a quiet middle class neighborhood of well-kept, well-landscaped ranch homes near the Toronto Blue Jay’s spring training complex. The Yates’ home has wind chimes and a little windmill in the front yard and firewood stacked in front of the garage.

Neighbors said they heard the shots about 10:45 a.m.

“I opened the door, and there was an army out here,” said Marcia Patton, 52. “I heard Debbie screaming. Then I heard pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.”

The couple was flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg where Donald Yates died and Deborah Yates was listed in serious condition late Thursday, McMullen said.

McMullen said it appears Deborah Yates was trying to prevent her husband from killing himself.

Both deputies who fired their weapons were placed on nondisciplinary paid administrative leave, McMullen said. A fourth deputy, Cpl. John Davis, was injured climbing over the fence.

None of the deputies have been involved in a shooting before, according to McMullen.

In the past six months, deputies have responded to three calls at the Yates residence. In July, they responded for a report of family trouble. In October, they responded to a reported battery. Information on a third incident in November wasn’t released.

Vernon Yates allows petting of tigerDonald Yates is one of nine children who grew up in St. Petersburg and Gulfport , according to his older brother, local wildlife trapper Vernon Yates. He liked to play the tough guy but would give you the shirt off his back if he liked you. Or he could be your worst nightmare if he didn’t.

“If you look at the family tree it’s a Jerry Springer show,” Vernon Yates said.

Deborah Yates entered the family in 1980 when she married another of Yates’ brothers, Richard Lee Yates. She was 16, he was 17. They divorced three years later but were remarried in 1992. The marriage ended for good in November 1998.

The couple has two sons, Richard Lee Yates Jr. 24, and Alfred Michael Yates, 11.

In February 2004, Deborah Yates married Donald Yates, her former husband’s brother. It was Donald Yates’ third marriage. He has a son and two daughters from his first two marriages.

Donald Yates worked at a dental lab in Oldsmar. After a heart attack about 10 years ago, Vernon Yates said Donald Yates decided to live for today because there may not be a tomorrow.

He bought a couple of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and had his girls decked out in leather Harley garb while they were still toddlers.

His other joy was his 1970 Monte Carlo .

Still, trouble found its way to 1438 Chesterfield Drive . The call deputies responded to Oct. 25 was to arrest Deborah Yates after she hit her son Richard with a fist and plastic telephone, according to records. She pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear in court on that charge March 15.

Vernon Yates doesn’t believe his brother was suicidal. All the Yates boys have gun collections in their homes, he said. Donald Yates seemed fine when they spoke just before Christmas, Vernon Yates said, and his brother loved his kids and his motorcycles.

He said his sympathies went out to his nieces and the sheriff’s deputies who fired.

“Donald, I’m sure, had the option to put the gun down and he didn’t,” he said.

Mrs. Yates skates with the family’s grade school-aged daughters, neighbors said. The family has four dogs, including two bloodhounds, three birds and two ferrets.

“They loved their animals, they were very good to their animals and their children; the kids got everything they wanted,” said neighbor Sherri Pauline, 59. “And if you needed anything, Don was there to help you.”

Times staff writer Jacob H. Fries and researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

2005 Vernon Yates has tigers in 90 degree heat in parking lot exhibit:

Tiger cub found along Florida interstate

WTVT’s Stan Jason reports on this unusual find

December 28, 1998

Web posted at: 10:36 p.m. EST (0336 GMT)

LARGO, Florida (CNN) — A Siberian tiger cub spent the weekend recuperating in a sanctuary for rescued animals after the rare feline was discovered by a couple driving on a Florida interstate.

The motorists spotted the cat walking alongside U.S. 275 in Pasco County about three miles north of a rest stop on Friday. Fearing a car might hit the cub, they caught it and called the Florida Fresh Water Fish and Game Commission.

A Chiefland family reported the cub missing several hours later. They told authorities the tiger was being transported by a relative when it apparently escaped a cage inside a horse trailer and then fell or jumped.

The 50-pound (23-kilogram), 5-month-old tiger was en route from Gibsonton, 25 miles south of Tampa , to Chiefland in Levy County .

Tiger will get vet checkup

A wildlife officer alerted Vernon Yates of the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Largo , which has about 40 big cats. Yates, who cares for animals that have been abused or abandoned, took in the cub, named “Jimmy.”

On Monday, wildlife officers planned to send the tiger to a veterinarian, saying it had sores that didn’t appear to be from a fall onto the roadway.

“There’s no real injuries like you expect if it dropped out the back of a trailer,” said Yates. There were some small sores and some bigger sores that had already formed a scab, he said. Otherwise the cat appeared to be healthy.

The Fresh Water Fish and Game Commission is investigating. Authorities say the driver faces charges related to the improper transport of an animal resulting in escape.

Carole Baskin

Buzz on Hunter’s Green panther turns to roar

Though a trapper finds no evidence of a Florida panther or escaped cougar, more residents say they have seen it and parents continue to keep their children inside.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2000

HUNTER’S GREEN — The legend of the Hunter’s Green panther continues to grow, but the trapper charged with snaring the elusive beast remains a skeptic.

Vernon Yates 2007While at least two more sightings of a large cat roaming near the community’s golf course have stirred residents anew this week, no one has come up with any clear evidence that the animal is a wild Florida panther or escaped cougar.

There are no tracks and no photographic evidence, said Vernon Yates, a Seminole-based trapper who agreed to try to catch the phantom cat at no charge to the community.

A rooster Yates put in a trap out in the woods more than a week ago to lure the big cat is still crowing away every morning. If a panther were lose, Yates thinks the bird would be in its stomach by now.

“If he was a wild cat, he would shred that trap,” Yates said. “There’s just no hard-core evidence right now.”

A lack of proof hasn’t stopped the panther buzz running through Hunter’s Green.

Many residents are still keeping their children indoors as new sightings get traded from community to community.

Saturday, another resident of tony Heritage Oaks saw a large cat near a pond on the Hunter’s Green golf course. Later in the week, another sighting allegedly occurred at the Vinings apartment complex.

Every time the cat is seen, Yates said, it grows in size and menace. One resident swore the animal topped out at 180 pounds.

“It’s getting bigger,” said Yates, who runs Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation. “But so far, we’ve only caught a possum.”

Ann Johnson, manager of the Hunter’s Green Community Association, said all the people who reported seeing the animal are credible witnesses. The association has told all its residents to stay alert, she said.

“Some people think it’s a panther, some people think it’s a cougar,” Johnson said. “For the most part, people are anxious for us to get the cat contained.”

The Florida panther, or Felis concolor, is one of the most endangered large cats in the world. It is a relative of the western mountain lion.

Panthers, also known as cougars, mountain lions or pumas, usually don’t roam north of Highlands County .

State wildlife officials have visited Hunter’s Green several times in the last few weeks to look for traces of the big beast.

“We still haven’t verified what it is,” said Mike Cundiff, a wildlife officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Yates believes the animal is either a bobcat or a jaguarundi, a south American cat introduced to Florida in the 1940s. He plans to pull up his traps by the end of the weekend if the animal doesn’t appear again.

“If someone had a picture of it today, it would be a different story,” Yates said.

* * *

— David Pedreira can be reached at (813) 226-3463 or

Rising from the bait, rooster now a pet

After the bird languishes in a panther trap for a month, pitying subdivision neighbors bring about its removal.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2000

TAMPA — The white-feathered rooster was living in a cage in New Tampa, bait for a phantom panther.

But it was the trapper who got caught.

Someone felt the rooster wasn’t living the good life of his neighbors in the Hunter’s Green subdivision. There was an anonymous complaint, officials came to take away the bird and the trapper ended up accused of neglect.

“We have no problem with trappers leaving their bait,” said Sgt. Lois Wimsett, investigations supervisor with Hillsborough County Animal Services. “But they can’t leave them to emaciate and suffer while they’re waiting to be eaten by a panther. That’s inhumane.”

On Friday, the rooster, unnamed but described as “friendly” in an animal control report, sat in an air-conditioned pen alongside barking stray dogs at the county pound. He was waiting to go to his new home, a farm with a roomy chicken coop with plenty of sawdust and hand-mixed feed.

And trapper Vernon Yates of Seminole was fuming.

Yates said he did not mistreat the rooster and wants to know why it was seized after he left it in the care of two Hunter’s Green residents.

2011 Vernon Yates Tiger In Cage Open Jeep

2011 Vernon Yates Tiger In Cage Open Jeep

“I don’t think they ought to make the statement that I was neglecting it,” Yates said.

The saga of the rooster began in April.

A Hunter’s Green resident saw what she thought was a panther frolicking in her back yard. Weeks later, a neighbor saw a similar large cat as she pulled into her driveway. Another neighbor saw it drinking from a golf course pond.

It has been seen several other times, as recently as last weekend near the Vinings apartment complex.

While no one had seen tracks or photographed the elusive beast, a skeptical Yates agreed to take the case.

“I told them I’d bring the trap and wouldn’t charge them if they agreed to feed” the rooster, he said. “They agreed to do it.”

Yates said he told one of the Hunter’s Green women that the rooster could “eat just about anything”: corn, bread or meat.

For about a month, the rooster waited at one end of the trap, about 4 feet long. He was separated from the main trapping chamber by wire mesh. He had a feed and water bowl.

The rooster attracted two opossums and a raccoon, but no panther.

Wimsett, the animal services supervisor, said her department received an anonymous report May 15 about a confined chicken “without sufficient food, water or exercise.” Animal services left a note on the trap.

A day passed, and Wimsett said she heard nothing from the rooster’s owner. So an officer took the rooster, in good condition but a little hot and underweight, to the animal shelter on Falkenburg Road .

After 10 days without word from the rooster’s owner, Wimsett let Hillsborough County Animal Services employee Linda Smith adopt the rooster. Wimsett said she may cite Yates for abandonment or neglect.

When Yates finally learned his rooster was gone, he drove to Hunter’s Green and collected his trap.

“The game commission, everybody, knew that chicken was there,” he said. “If they had a problem, they knew how to get ahold of me.”

Yates is not going to try to get his rooster back.

“To hell with them,” he said. “As long as the chicken’s being cared for, I don’t care.”

Friday afternoon, Smith prepared to take home the rooster, whom she calls “sweetie” and “pretty boy.” He will be cock of the walk on her 2.5-acre Wimauma farm with 16 chickens, six goats, two cats, three dogs, one guinea pig and one quarter horse.

“I just couldn’t stand to see him euthanized,” said Smith. “I thought, “Hey, I’ve got room for one more animal.’ ”

— Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3473 or .

This pictured appeared in today’s St. Petersburg Times.

For vehicle security, get The Cub

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]

Nen-Nen, a 200-pound, 14-month-old Siberian tiger, waits in the truck of her owner, Vernon Yates, who was attending to another matter. Yates, the director of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, was called to Atlantic Auto Repair in St. Petersburg to assist in the removal of a 6-foot snake from a car. Nen-Nen provided nothing but moral support.

I would have given anything to see the look on the poor Parking Enforcement Officer’s face when they passed this vehicle on their rounds!

Phil Oropesa

One 4th Street North
St. Petersburg , FL 33713

on his boat.

An unnatural fate

St. Petersburg Times; St. Petersburg , Fla. ; May 27, 2001; LINDA GIBSON;


[Janie], a white Siberian tiger; Taking a cruise last weekend on Lake Seminole are, cubs Teddy and Emily, 5 months and about 75 pounds, and Nini, 11 months and 150 pounds, with owner [Vernon Yates], and his girlfriend Tina Pennington.; This tiger cub,; one of a litter of three – she yellow, the other two white males – was born in December at Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours and Wildlife Sanctuary in Inverness.; [Susan MacKay] of Inverness holds a Siberian tiger cub; Photo: PHOTO, JILL SAGERS, (2); PHOTO, STEVE HASEL, (2)

On Jan. 6, the St. Petersburg Times ran a picture of an Inverness woman bottle-feeding a couple of 4-week-old tiger cubs, who at that age were cute enough to soften the hardest heart.

The photo featured Susan MacKay, who along with her husband, Bill, runs Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours and Wildlife Sanctuary in Citrus County , where they breed tigers.

Readers probably assumed cubs at the sanctuary would stay there for a safe, comfortable life. In reality, they are for sale. And their futures, particularly those of the distinctive-looking white tiger cubs, are fraught with hazard.

Until a few years ago, white tiger cubs were one of the hottest commodities in the wildlife trade. People who work with captive wildlife say a blue-eyed white cub could fetch a price of $50,000 or more.

High prices encouraged frenzied breeding. Females can give birth to litters of two to three cubs up to three times a year. The result is a glut of tiger cubs, both white and yellow. Predictably, prices have plunged. Below is white tiger at Wild Bill’s.

“They were rare. Now everybody’s got them,” said Mitchel Kalmanson, an insurance broker in Maitland who specializes in animal and entertainment coverage. “Values have dropped so drastically on white tigers they’re not worth insuring anymore.”

Now that their dollar value has plummeted, their prospects are gloomy.

Exact numbers are impossible to obtain, but owners of wildlife sanctuaries say there are far more cubs available than suitable places for them to live. Some are bought by people who think they can make pets of them. Sellers often encourage this misperception.

“They get sold to somebody who may be buying them with some degree of innocence,” said Lynn Cuny , founder of Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Boerne , Texas . “They’ll be given a false bill of goods about how these animals will behave. People really believe that in 10 generations you can breed out millions of years of being an elusive carnivore.”

Cuny says she knows of one dealer who tells potential buyers the animals will remain tame if they’re not fed red meat.

The quest for valuable cubs led to inbreeding of mothers with sons, brothers with sisters. As a result, many white tiger cubs are born with deformities of the eyes, organs, skeletons or digestive tracts. Because of those conditions, “They have absolutely no conservation value whatsoever,” said Ronald Tilson, a Minnesota Zoo executive who coordinates the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s species survival plan for tigers.

In nature, white tigers are rare. Both parents must carry a recessive gene for that color. Normal tiger behavior in the the wild prevents the kind of inbreeding necessary to produce white cubs.

Once captive-bred cubs are grown and become problems for private owners, they face even bleaker prospects. Most zoos and circuses breed their own cats. Sanctuaries already are full of castoffs and routinely turn down people who offer to donate the tigers they bought as cubs.

“We had to turn away 311 cats last year, mostly lions and tigers,” said Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary for big cats in north Hillsborough County .

So what happens when the owners can no longer handle them?

“They end up in roadside zoos where they’ll probably live a wretched life,” Tilson said.

“If they’re lucky, people might call a vet and arrange a humane death,” Cuny said.

Janie’s story is an example of what can happen to a white tiger cub.

When she arrived in 1997 at Vernon Yates’ of Seminole, she was 4 years old and should have weighed about 400 pounds.

She weighed 100 pounds.

“Janie could hardly hold her head up,” Yates said. “You know what a greyhound looks like? You could see her ribs. We didn’t even have to hold her down to put an IV in her.”

Janie’s owner, Bruce Eisenmann, sent her to Yates on orders from an inspector with the state Wildlife Commission. She was one of three tigers in Eisenmann’s possession in Alva, near Fort Myers . The inspector found the cats after a neighbor complained. All were emaciated, with hairless patches of skin and open sores, according to wildlife commission records.

Through his company, Tiger Rescue Foundation, Eisenmann got the tigers to display at schools, churches, nursing homes and civic associations. In June 1997, he pleaded no contest to a charge of animal cruelty and was put on probation.

Yates said Eisenmann told him the tigers had been ill.

“We could never find anything wrong except not enough food,” Yates said.

Eisenmann has moved from Florida , according to his mother in South Carolina . Contacted there, Louise Eisenmann said her son was too ill to discuss the matter. She did not elaborate.

Eisenmann’s Tiger Rescue Foundation no longer exists. Because nobody ever paid Janie’s boarding bill, Yates says, the tiger still lives with him.

So do Nikita and Natasha, whose Jacksonville owner gave up on them as pets; Sunny, the pet of a Fort Lauderdale man who got scared of her; Roslyn, another ex-pet; Calvin, a pet who was going to be euthanized because of medical problems; and Hobbes, who was given to Yates in a shoebox a few hours after his birth; and a number of cubs.

Kalmanson said at least a dozen people in Florida breed white tigers for sale.

The MacKays advertise their cubs in a trade magazine called Animal Finders Guide. Among listings for elk calves, albino groundhogs, wolf cubs and wallabies is theirs:

Two male white and one natural color female tiger babies. Raised in our home on bottles with lots of love, they are real sweet. White tiger babies have blue eyes. Another litter due April 1.

McKay said he hopes to sell the white cubs for $10,000 each.

When the cubs are small, they’re so cute and playful that some people find them irresistible.

But, says Baskin, “After a year or so, people realize they make horrible pets.”

As sexual maturity nears, tigers experience a growth spurt and a change in behavior that can stun unwary owners.

“Suddenly, this person has a several-hundred-pound carnivorous animal in their home,” Cuny said. “It’s not uncommon for people to have dogs, cats and children in the same home.”

Even Yates, who runs the wildlife sanctuary, has had difficulty managing his tigers. Twice in a year, they have had litters of cubs unexpectedly, which he acknowledges shouldn’t have happened. He said he plans to castrate the males or get contraceptive implants for the females. He plans to keep the cubs, not sell them.

There’s one other issue. If tigers aren’t suitable pets, what message does Yates send by taking them for rides on his boat?

“It is a problem,” he said. “When people see that, they see the good side. But I tell them, ‘You’re not seeing the other side. These are large animals, and they can hurt you.’ ”

Yates has a state license to keep tigers and tells people it’s illegal to keep them without one.

The challenges grow along with the animal.

“How do you get a 500-pound tiger to the vet? We have people call us all the time asking, ‘How can we do it?’ ” Baskin said.

People also fail to consider that the vet who treats their dogs and cats probably doesn’t have any experience with tigers.

Tigers live for up to 20 years, Yates said. They’re noisy even after being spayed or neutered. They eat 15 to 20 pounds of raw meat a day.

One of MacKay’s tigers weighs around 800 pounds.

“He’s very friendly,” MacKay said, “but he’s testy if you turn your back on him. He’ll come for you like you’re a toy. He could crush me in a heartbeat.”

He has been hurt just once, he said, when one of his tigers gave him a “love bite.”

“Just a 14-stitcher,” MacKay said. “He put his mouth around my ankle and didn’t release his grip.”

Although MacKay gave an initial interview to the Times about raising cubs, he later would not respond to telephone and fax inquiries regarding the advisability of breeding them or criticisms of the practice by others.

Once owners decide their “pet” isn’t working out, they discover how hard it is to get rid of a grown tiger.

“The first thing they’ll do is call the local zoo,” Cuny said. “Nine times out of 10, the zoo says, ‘No thanks.’ Then they’ll call animal control, which tells them to try a sanctuary. The sanctuary will most likely say, ‘We’d love to help you but we’re full.’ Or, ‘We’re a non-profit. We can take it if you can contribute several thousand dollars toward its lifetime care.’ ”

In Florida , it’s against the law to own a tiger as a pet. But there are loopholes. If you’re going to use a tiger for some commercial purpose, such as as a mascot for a business, or to educate the public, or to be photographed for movies or commercials, you can get a license to own a tiger. The animals also can be sold to buyers from states that don’t regulate private ownership of non-native wildlife, such as Texas or Alabama .

But even within Florida , enforcement is scattered. Florida ‘s Wildlife Commission has only 10 investigators to cover the entire state.

“People hide them from inspectors,” Kalmanson said. “They get thrown in cages that are too small.”

Some people who buy or sell tiger cubs tend to be secretive. Even if properly licensed, they don’t want to attract attention from neighbors or animal-rights activists.

One seller with an ad in Animal Finders Guide listed four Siberian tiger cubs, born April 20, as free to a good home. She listed a phone number in the 727 area code.

She abruptly hung up when she learned her caller was a reporter.

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382.

Wife Shot, Husband Killed When Deputies Enter Fray

By STEPHEN THOMPSON , The Tampa Tribune

Tampa Bay Online

DUNEDIN – At the front door of Donald Yates’ home, a sign reads, “We Don’t Call 911,” and beneath it dangles a replica of a gun.

At 10:31 a.m. Thursday, someone did dial 911 from the home. Then the call went dead.

When deputies arrived at 1438 Chesterfield Drive , they heard screaming from a screened-in area at the back of the house, Pinellas County sheriff’s spokesman Mac McMullen said.

Four deputies then found themselves in the room, with Deborah K. Yates, 42, on the back of her husband, Donald, 45, who was holding a .40-caliber handgun, McMullen said.

As the struggle continued, deputies shot Donald Yates multiple times, and he died after being flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg .

Deborah Yates was shot once in the leg and was in serious condition at Bayfront, McMullen said.

Neither Yates nor his wife obeyed the deputies’ commands as they attempted to break up the fight, McMullen said. Deputy Jason Stibbard shot his Taser at Donald Yates from three or four feet, he said.

The couple separated, with Donald Yates rolling to the floor, his weapon pointed at the deputies, McMullen said.

Deputies Christine Smith and Christopher White, fearing for their lives, fired their .45-caliber handguns eight times at Donald Yates from about six feet away, the spokesman said.

Yates was hit multiple times in the torso and legs. The bullet that hit Deborah Yates could have come from either deputy’s weapon, McMullen said.

A preliminary investigation suggests Deborah Yates might have been trying to stop her husband from killing himself, McMullen said.

Donald Yates is the brother of Vernon Yates, who runs Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, a Seminole shelter for wildlife that police agencies can’t find homes for anywhere else.

“I find it hard to believe Donald did this,” Vernon Yates said. “It’s almost out of character for him, even though he thought he was a Hell’s Angel biker dude and wore leather.

“I don’t blame the officers,” he said. “I’m sure they told Donald to drop it and he didn’t.”

When Vernon Yates heard media reports about the Chesterfield Drive shooting, he wondered whether it was at his brother’s house “because him and Debbie fight like cats and dogs.”

Deborah Yates was Donald Yates’ third wife, Vernon said. With his first, he had a son, D.J., 26. The two worked in the maintenance department at Knight Dental Group, which makes crowns and bridges for dentists, the company’s chief executive officer said.

Donald Yates also had two daughters, 8 and 5, with his second wife, Cheryle, whom he divorced in 2002. The two shared custody of the girls.

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