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Posted on Mar 3, 2014 in Abuse, Browse by Name, Most Wanted | 1 comment

G.W. Exotics Animal Foundation Joe Schreibvogel

JOE SCHREIBVOGEL

If Joe Schreibvogel has contacted you with slanderous allegations against Big Cat Rescue, check out this million dollar settlement Joe Schreibvogel consented to in favor of Big Cat Rescue.

Researched and written by Howard Baskin JD, MBA, Advisory Board Chairman of Big Cat Rescue

Joe Schreibvogel says that he and his parents started G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Park in memory of a brother who loved animals.

On December 10, 2010 Joe wrote on Facebook

“…another employee quit today without so much as a phone call.  …all I get is a text message that reads… My brother (g.w.) would be ashamed of what I have become”

If Joe’s brother was indeed a lover of animals, this is likely to be an understatement.

As detailed below, Joe has become one of the most notorious breeders and exploiters of tiger cubs in the world.

Joe Schreibvogel is also known individually as:

 

 Joe Exotic

Aarron Alex

Cody Ryan

 

And doing business as:

 

5 Continent Productions

Garold Wayne Interactive Zoo

G.W. Exotic Animal Foundation

G.W. Exotic Animal Park

G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Foundation

G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Park

Alex Productions

Awakening Productions

Awakening Rescue

Big Cat Rescue Entertainment Group

Corley’s Exotics

Mystical Magic of the Endangered

Tigers in Need

Welch’s Entertainment Group

Welch’s Tiger Experience

Welch’s Great Cat Adventure

World Magic

and others.

 

ABUSE OF TIGER CUBS

 

Joe Schreibvogel operates a roadside zoo in Oklahoma with 1400 animals, including over 150 tigers, on sixteen acres, that has a history of serious animal abuse (see below).  He generates revenue by constantly breeding tiger cubs, ripping them from their mothers shortly after birth, and abusing them by carting them around from mall to mall charging people to pet them alongside a magic show he performs.  USDA rules prohibit using the cubs for this purpose after they reach 12 weeks old.  When he can no longer use them to make money, he “donates” (or by some reports sells) them, or brings to his zoo.  In most cases these animals will at best spend their entire lives in small, prison-like cells.  Current USDA regulations permit keeping an adult tiger in a cage smaller than a parking spot. Many of his cats are sent to places with a history of animal abuse violations.

 

What is life like for these poor cubs dragged around from mall to mall for the early weeks of their lives?  Videos of the mall exhibit reveal what they endure.

 

In the video below, you can see that the cub has diarrhea.  Witnesses report this was true of at least three of the cubs.  Instead of taking the cubs off display, the attendant follows the cub with a rag.  First Beth Corley wipes the floor, then she wipes the cub’s bottom with the same rag.  The cub’s bottom is likely raw and sore from the diarrhea.  You can hear the cub scream.  You can see the video under “Sick Cubs at Mall” below.

 

Malls who allow Joe to exhibit are supporting this abuse.  If venues would not allow acts like this, the breeding and suffering would stop.  Fortunately, more and more responsible venues are making the right decision.  For instance, after a cub display at one of their stores, Petsmart recently issued a policy that there would be no exotic animal displays at their U.S. and Canada stores.  In doing so they showed that they truly care about animals.

 

Joe claims that he has to breed cubs and take them out on the traveling show in order to support the animals at his zoo.   He acknowledges that this is wrong when he says in a Facebook post that he does not want to do this but is “forced to” in order to make money to support the animals at the zoo.  Joe is only forced to do this as a result of his own bad decisions and lack of caring for animals.

 

Joe’s latest argument to justify his rampant breeding (which he calls “selective”) is that he is doing a public service because by supplying a cub to every zoo and exhibitor who wants a tiger, he is putting out of business the “back yard breeders.”  This is a little bit like John Dillinger claiming he was doing public service by putting other bank robbers out of business because he had robbed all the banks.  It does not matter who is breeding tigers to make money from cubs and then discarding them to a life of misery.  It is just wrong.

 

The fact is that real sanctuaries all around the country are able to support their rescue and animal care work without adding to the problem by breeding and without abusing animals to make money.  They do that by operating facilities that have excellent animal care that donors appreciate and want to support.  They also do that by being financially responsible and not taking in more animals than they can support.

 

The fact that true sanctuaries all of over the country do support their animals without tormenting innocent cubs proves that it can be done.  If Joe cannot do the right thing for the animals, he should not be collecting them. If real sanctuaries around the county are capable of doing this, why can’t Joe?

 

Joe’s website says his zoo was started in 1999 as a way to honor his deceased brother, who reportedly loved animals.  Joe could have done exactly that.  He could have built a real sanctuary by taking in animals and giving them the kind of care that would have touched the hearts of donors who would have supported him like other real sanctuaries have done.  He says on his website that in 2005 he “grew away from the word ‘Sanctuary’ … because everyone wanted to dictate how you run a business as a sanctuary, but no one wanted to help pay the bills.”

 

Regarding having others “dictate”, yes, to be a real sanctuary, you have to meet certain standards of animal care. The animal abuse documented in USDA violations from 2000 to 2004, discussed below, shows he never was a sanctuary.  He could have invested time in learning the skills needed to run a true sanctuary, including how to run the financial side of a nonprofit.  He could have built a place that would have been a true tribute to a deceased animal lover.  He did not.

Young Children Bitten at GW Park

Before going into the details about Joe’s exploitation and lies, below are three videos taken in September 2011 by visitors to GW Park.  According to a USDA Fact Sheet, cubs under 8 weeks old should not be petted because their immune systems have not sufficiently developed to prevent disease.  Separately, USDA guidance forbids petting cubs over 12 weeks of age because they are dangerous.  (See 2010 in the Palazzo case upholding USDA position established in 2004).

In these three short videos you see GWPark employees blatantly violating these USDA policies and endangering the cubs and the public.  In the videos the handlers acknowledge that the cubs are 14, 15, 16, 19 or 20 weeks old.  In one video you hear the handlers laughing about a child being bitten by one of the overage cubs and being taken in to see under age cubs to appease the family.  Remarkably, just one week later, with a handler lying by saying “we have never had an incident,”  the video shows a young child jumped on and bitten by a 20 week old cub.  After that, even though in both videos the handlers talk about the smaller cubs having weak immune systems which makes public contact dangerous for them, the park manager brings out a tiny two week old cub to appease the crowd.  He allows two and three people to grope at the cub at a time.  He only stops when the poor cub, who is so young that its eyes are not even open yet, starts squealing loudly and desperately tries to climb away to avoid the petting.

As a practical matter, USDA inspectors are never going to see the animals mistreated or see animals that are too young or too old being used this way.  The inspectors do not do undercover work, they announce themselves on arrival.  An individual who worked at GW Park tells us that when the inspector arrives, someone at the park announces “USDA on the property” and some individuals are assigned to delay the inspectors while others run around filling water bowls and stop any behavior that could result in citation.  As you watch the tiny cub squealing in discomfort and fear in the third video, knowing that each of the hands you see groping at him is a threat to his infant weak immune system, and as you hear the handlers in the first video chuckle about a child being bitten, and as you see Schreibvogel in the video at the top of this page strike a tiny cub with a pole and say “just pop ‘em in the ass,” ask yourself if you think Joe Schreibvogel is someone who loves animals.  Does someone who loves animals torment tiny cubs to make money?   And if you are a venue that permits his traveling exhibit to set up in your mall or fair, aside from the potential liability, is this kind of treatment of animals what you want to support?

Underage Cubs Used to Appease Crowd After Child Bitten

 

Sick Cubs at Mall

 

 

 

 

Joe Schreibvogel Exposed by Inside Edition

 

 

HISTORY OF ANIMAL ABUSE

 

USDA VIOLATIONS

 

Instead of creating a sanctuary, Joe created a facility that in its early years, 2000 – 2004, was cited repeatedly by USDA for serious violations of the minimum standards of the Animal Welfare Act.  USDA has limited enforcement resources.  They can only take a few animal abusers to court, so they reserve that for only the most blatant cases.  Typically they will issue citations for years, giving the licensee every opportunity to correct the out of compliance conditions before they consider filing a lawsuit. After years of citations they finally sued Joe.  In April 2005 the agency filed a 20-page complaint against Joe with numerous charges, including the following:

* Failure to provide adequate veterinary care
* Failure to handle animals so that there was minimal risk of harm to the animal and to the public
* An incident in which a tiger escaped from his enclosure and attacked and seriously wounded a camel
* Transportation of 15 tigers and lions in a manner that allowed urine, feces, or both to contaminate the animals caged below
* Lack of potable water for 18 lions, 23 tigers, 15 bears, 20 cougars, three leopards, and a pig
* Lack of employees present to provide care to 80 large, dangerous cats
* Lack of knowledge by employees about how often the animals were fed
* Filthy, wet, unsafe, and dilapidated enclosures
* Failure to handle animals in a manner that does not cause trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm, or unnecessary discomfort
* Failure to provide animals with minimum space

In January 2006 he consented to a $25,000 fine and a probation period. Based on inspections since, hopefully conditions have improved.  But, for over five years before USDA forced changes, the animals Joe “rescued” were subjected to the horrible conditions USDA cited.

In September 2009 USDA issued a warning notice for alleged violations of the AWA handling requirements stemming from separate incidents that occurred in 2007 and 2008, one involving a customer injured by a lion cub.

On September 13, 2011 Schreibvogel was cited by USDA for failing to provide veterinary care to two animals.

On December 1, 2011 Schreibvogel was cited by USDA for improper handling related to an incident in September 2011 at GW Park where young boy was injured by a tiger cub.

23 CUBS DIED AT GW PARK

Schreibvogel is currently under investigation by USDA for the deaths of 23 tiger cubs and separately for other possible violations of the AWA.  The cubs died between April 2009 and May 2010 according to what Joe’s people reported to the FDA.  Any responsible facility would have done necropsies on the  initial deaths.  Joe finally did necropsies on one or two of the last cubs to die and called in FDA to test the formula.  The necropsies indicated curdled milk formula in the stomachs of the cubs.  So, Joe insists that the cubs were killed by “bad formula.”  But, the FDA testing of the samples Joe provided and of samples from the manufacturer found nothing wrong with the formula.  This formula must be stored, handled, mixed and administered properly.  Since FDA found nothing wrong with the formula itself, if the cubs did die from the formula, the most logical conclusion is that it was because Joe’s staff did not do one or more of these activities properly.

PETA INVESTIGATION

 

Between February and June 2006, a PETA investigator working at GW Exotics kept a log documenting a pattern of abuse.  These included animals seriously injured from fighting, food dishes teeming with maggots, hungry animals who went without food, animals who were abused and beaten by staff.  For instance, here are two examples from http://www.peta.org/features/gw-the-animals.aspx:

 

JULIE, THE THREE-LEGGED LION

On his first day on the job, PETA’s investigator met Julie, a three-legged lioness, who had a bloody, raw, and gaping hole where her right front leg used to be. Julie had been attacked by two tigers who literally chewed and tore her leg off and then ate it. The remaining stump of her leg had to be amputated and when she pulled out the stitches, Julie’s open wound went untreated.Though she moaned and whimpered for days, she was given nothing for pain. Julie languished in a small and barren indoor cage on a concrete floor with nothing more than a small towel for comfort. Although she was bred and born at the zoo, [J1] tells people that he “rescued” Julie and that she was injured before coming to the zoo.

 

‘THE VEGAS TIGERS’

GW’s Holiday 2005 newsletter reported that the Fercos Bros., a Siegfried & Roy wannabe magic act in Las Vegas, gave the park two male tigers who had “outgrown” the stage. Two days after PETA’s investigator started working at the park, the “Vegas tigers,” as they were called, were killed by lethal injection because staff decided they were “mean.”

Reportedly, the tigers’ teeth were cut out, and one was decapitated and his head given to the veterinarian’s husband to be mounted. When the Fercos came to visit the tigers in June, they were told that the cats were killed when lightning struck their cage during a storm.

Below is a video by the investigator showing a dying horse left suffering, workers beating animals with tools, and a worker explaining how they forge the feeding log to say animals were fed that were not because USDA had no way to prove otherwise.

According to one report “PETA activists took their recordings to law enforcement, but no charges were filed after authorities said no criminal activity occurred in the videos they viewed. Federal agents inspected the park twice after the videos were released and found no violations. Schreibvogel claimed the PETA videos took out of context what was going on, but did admit he had fired four of the employees featured in the investigation.” Although authorities decided not to file criminal charges, it is hard to imagine the behavior in this video not being animal abuse no matter what the “context.”

For more on PeTA’s investigation visit http://www.peta.org/features/gw.aspx


IS JOE AN ANIMAL LOVER?

 

Allowing animals to suffer horrible conditions for years until USDA forced him to correct them clearly contradicts Joe’s claim to be a lover of animals. His current argument that he should be allowed to abuse cubs and subject a steady stream of them to lifelong misery in order to support those he has collected raises further doubts. He accepts animals from places known for animal abuse without regard for the fact that these places continue to operate and abuse more animals. Is that a rescuer, or someone just building the “world’s largest” big cat zoo to satisfy his ego?

 

IS JOE A PERSON OF CHARACTER AND PROFESSIONALISM?

 

To get an insight into Joe’s character, let’s look at a few examples of his behavior.

Photos of PETA and BCR effigies being killed. One of his responses to criticism from PETA and BIG CAT RESCUE was to post photos on his Facebook page showing figures labeled PETA and BCR with guns to their heads, hangman’s nooses around their necks, and a bow and arrow pointed at them.

If you are a manager of a mall reading this, is this the kind of person you want to be associated with?

Photo shooting polar bear cub. One mall executive found out how professional Joe is when his company decided they did not want to be associated with Joe’s abuse. Joe, using one of his “stage names” Aarron Alex, accused the management company online of “supporting the killing of animals” and posted a photo with his proposed boycott of their properties showing a polar bear plush toy with a handgun to its head and the title “If Mama Don’t Want It Don’t Nobody Want It.”

If you were a mall owner or manager, is this the kind of vendor you want?

Registering URLs in Name of Dead Person. Another rather bizarre behavior is that in recent years Joe has been in the habit of registering new internet URL’s using the name Brian Rhyne, who the GW website said died in 2001. What kind of person uses a dead man’s name to register their websites? Recently Joe has been changing some of these, perhaps as a result of this strange behavior being commented upon online.

Crude, sexually oriented comments and lies.  Joe and a small band of cronies, most of whom are people who support subjecting exotic animals to the unsuitable condition of being pets, constantly post blatant lies, sometimes sexually oriented, about his critics.  Some of the Facebook identities making these comments are fake identities set up by Joe or this group.  For instance, it is hard to imagine that his Facebook supporter “Carole Backsins” is anything more than a shallow and childish alteration of the name of Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue.

 

JOE’S MULTIPLE COMPANY NAMES AND PERSONAL NAMES

 

What about all those company names listed at the top of this page? One of the most basic principles in marketing is to develop a consistent brand image. The problem for Joe is that his brand is tainted by his animal abuse, so he keeps making up new names. He really went to town in 2010 adding at least four of the names listed above.

He says he uses different names to avoid the “animal activists.” Joe is not fooling any of the people who fight to protect animals and want him to stop abusing the cubs. They find him no matter what entity name he uses. The only people he can fool this way are the members of the public. One individual, Aaron Wissner, whose posts indicate he simply was concerned at what he saw at a mall and wanted to find out who “Tigers in Need” was, spent what had to be hours researching. Some of his information came from prior versions of this page, but much he obtained elsewhere. A URL to his research appears at the bottom of this page.

Joe’s Names. In addition to using his own name, Joe has performed his magic act using Joe Exotic, Aarron Alex, and Cody Ryan. Cody Ryan frequently performs as a duo with a man named Aaron Stone. Joe posts disparaging remarks about his critics under both his own name and Aarron Alex, and Aaron Stone has shown up with similar comments as a “volunteer” on at least one post.

Joe’s Accomplices. Joe has two accomplices in the subterfuge of his entity “name game.” One is Beth Corley. Joe has one USDA license. Beth Corley has her own license, registered at the same address as Joe’s, i.e. the G.W. Animal Park address. The other accomplice is Vicky Welch, spelled with a “y” in news reports, but with an “i” when Joe uses her name to register URL’s for the new names he makes up for the magic act and cub display. She travels with the show and has been referred to in the press as “road manager and animal caretaker” for Awakening Productions.

Are they all interconnected? It would take too long to give details on each here. We have built an excel spreadsheet sorting out his maze. Some names are registered as Trade Names of G.W. Exotics. Others are separate corporations. And still others are not registered at all with the Oklahoma Secretary of State nor show up on the IRS.gov site as nonprofits even though they claim to be.

Just for example, let’s look at one person and one entity.

Beth Corley. As mentioned, Beth has a USDA license registered at Joe’s address. Beth is referred to in an online news story posted by Joe as “Director” of Big Cat Rescue Entertainment. She is referred to by a reporter for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, IN as “Beth Corley, a worker with Big Cat Rescue” (failing to include the “Entertainment”). A report in The Telegraph on the exhibit at the Alton Square Mall in Alton, IL in July 2010 refers to “Beth Corley, co-founder of Welch’s Entertainment.” The Fremont Tribune from Fremont, NE on 1-28-10 refers to “Corley’s Exotics, run by Beth Corley of G.W. Exotic Animal Park.”

Tigers In Need. Now, let’s take one entity, or one name since it does not actually appear to be an entity, “Tigers In Need”. As of this writing, we could not find it registered as a Trade Name nor as a separate Corporation, so it appears to be just a made up name. One advantage, assuming that is intentional, is that it is difficult to know who “owns” it. Below is a list of some of the ways in which Tiger In Need is connected to the other entities and accomplice names:

1) The URL tigersinneed.org was registered 1/30/10. Before 7/29/10 the WHOIS report showed Registrant Name was “Tigers in need” and Registrant Email was Joe_Exotic@Yahoo.com. On 7-29-10 the registration was changed to show Registrant Name as Vicki Welch and Registrant Email left blank.

2) The tigersinneed.org website has a description that clearly is GW Park. It refers to being started in 1999 in Southern Oklahoma and having over 150 big cats. It says “Please note that we are a non-profit organization and are not affiliated with any other company”, when it clearly is the same facility as the GW Exotic zoo.

3) The “Contact Us” link at tigersinneed.org brings up “Florida Office 813-361-9611”, the same phone being used by Big Cat Rescue Entertainment.

4) The “Guestbook” link at tigersinneed.org contains comments from visitors to the Alton Mall in July. The Alton, IL newspaper, The Telegraph, reporting on the show at the mall, refers to the cats being “just a few of the 150 or so from the Tigers In Need refuge in Wynnewood, Okla. Welch’s Entertainment holds the tours…to raise money for Tigers In Need.” It quotes “Beth Corley, co-founder of Welch’s Entertainment.”

5) The Davis County Clipper 7-27-10 in Bountiful, UT refers to Welch’s Tiger Experience also being called Tigers in Need.

6) An event notice on the East Town Mall website was titled Tigers in Need formally (sic – formerly) Awakening Productions.

What kind of person creates a maze of entities like this, and for what legitimate purpose?

 

JOE’S FALSEHOODS

 

Joe and his employee Bobbi Corona have a total disregard for the truth that is remarkable. He says and writes whatever nonsense he decides to make up. PeTA identified statements about his breeding and selling that they show to be false at http://www.peta.org/features/gw-exotic-animal-trade.aspx

Here are some examples where Joe misleads or issues totally false statements:

Tigers In Need Nonprofit and Not Affiliated. His many names and entities and the deception that they foist on the public are discussed above. A number of his entities, like Tigers In Need, have claimed on their websites, literature and press reports to be “nonprofit.” They do not show up as registered trade names of a nonprofit, nor on the IRS site under their own names. G.W. Exotic Animal Park is a nonprofit, so maybe Joe thinks that any name he wants to call it by becomes a nonprofit, even when he is denying that the name is associated with GW. The other deception is the idea that these are not related. Tigers In Need, which clearly is just another name for the GW Animal Park, has on its website at this writing “we… are not affiliated with any other company”, an obviously false statement.  Then, in his depositions in our lawsuit, he did an about face and says that G.W. Exotic Animal Park, Tigers in Need and Big Cat Rescue Entertainment are all the same.  He claims he never intended to file Big Cat Rescue Entertainment as a separate company, it should have been a d/b/a.  This is in spite of the fact that he first registered it as a d/b/a, then redrew that registration and filed it as a separate corporation.

Howard Baskin cub display video. Howard Baskin, husband of Carole Baskin from Big Cat Rescue, went undercover at a tiger cub exhibit to get video showing the cubs’ distress and the exhibitor’s lies. He then made a video explaining in detail why these exhibits are abusive and provided details about the particular exhibitor involved and the poor conditions at her facility. The video included the video clip at the top of this page showing Joe’s cubs with diarrhea. You can see the 6 minute video at http://www.bigcatrescue.org/video/00389.htm

What did Joe do? He issued a “press release” on PRLog claiming that Carole does not know that “her husband has been going behind her back to either pet or play with a baby tiger cub.” He quoted the owner of the exhibit, someone who says Joe “donated” a cub to her, as saying “Maybe this is how he gets his kicks since he cant (sic) get them at home…” So, Joe, Howard Baskin goes behind his wife’s back to pet tiger cubs, then makes a video and has her post it on the Big Cat Rescue website. Pretty darn sneaky of him. Surely she will never know. Does a truthful person of character post a press release like this?

Joe claims he is no longer the one displaying the cubs. This one is a gem. Joe recently started saying that people concerned about the abuse in the cub exhibit should leave him alone and are lying if they associate him with it because the cub exhibit is under the USDA license of another person. In a Facebook post 11/4/10 Joe says “I DON’T USE CUBS (his caps) anylonger (sic), all I do is Magic shows.”

Let’s think about that one. The USDA licensee is now not Joe. It is Beth Corley. But her license is registered at the same address as his and she has historically travelled with the show. Her connections to his various entities are detailed above. The proceeds of the show are still advertised as going to Tigers In Need, basically just another made up name for Joe’s GW Exotics Animal Park as shown above. So the show still benefits Joe’s zoo. But since the cubs are technically registered under his co-worker’s license Joe has nothing to do with the cubs show? Sure, Joe.

Breeding “A Select Few”. Joe says he breeds “a select few.” Were the 23 cubs that died mid 2010 a select few? He is constantly breeding to supply his road show. He can be heard in the PeTA video yelling at the cats to breed because he needed cubs for the road show.

Laws restricting private ownership cause abandonment. The GW Exotic website “About” page claims the laws banning private exotic animal ownership are the cause of the abandonment of exotics that Joe has to rescue. This is utter nonsense. New bans typically grandfather in private owners. But more importantly, it is private ownership that causes the abandonment. If private ownership were banned nationwide, which it should be like it is in many states and many other nations, there would be NO abandonment because no private owners would have them!

The steady increase in legislation banning private ownership represents recognition by our society that private ownership leads to massive abuse. Social values evolve. It took decades to ban slavery in England and for women to win the right to vote in America. Those ideas started out as “radical”, held by a small minority. Gradually more and more people understood and agreed until they became a part of our value system that we take for granted today. The same trend is happening with private ownership of exotics. Gradually more and more people are realizing that this simply leads to widespread abuse of these animals. The best evidence of this is the accelerating trend in state laws. Just since 2005 eight more states have passed some level of ban.

GW Exotic is “Accredited”. Joe says he is “accredited”.  He is accredited by United States Zoological Association. Tis is an organization Joe himself created in August 2008. The Registered Agent for USZA in the Oklahoma Secretary of State records is Joe Schreibogel.  When he set up the USZA.us website, he used his email address, but listed the Registered Agent as Brian Rhyne, a man who Joe’s own website said died in 2001.  In one fax Joe claims USZA has “nearly 2 million supporters,” another blatant lie.

What kind of organization is it? The USZA website has a page where people can list exotic animals they want to give away, sell or buy. On 11/7/10 the section listing cats for sale offered “baby white tigers” with the notation “great breed stock”. The sellers are only listed by a code. This code for this seller was “600 OK”. As in Oklahoma. Most likely Joe.

Joe refers to his park as a zoo.  The recognized accrediting body in the zoo industry is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  Joe is not accredited by AZA.  Being accredited implies having been reviewed by some independent organization and found to have met certain standards.   Forming your own entity to accredit yourself does not qualify as “accredited.”

People Magazine cover.  On his Facebook page for “Joe Exotic” Joe shows “Cody Ryan” ( aka Joe) and Aaron Stone on the cover of People Magazine for “September 2010”, giving the impression they were actually on that cover. They were not.

Joe is Police Chief. On Examiner.com Joe says he “is a former police chief of the Colony Tx…”.

The Colony website http://www.ci.the-colony.tx.us/Depts/pd/PoliceHistory.html contains the list of past and present police chiefs below. The policeman we spoke with by phone at The Colony police department advised that Joe Schreibvogel was never an officer there.

Since The Colony was formed, it has had 6 Chiefs of Police:
Jim Beltran August 1977 to May 1978
John Steinseck July 1978 to September 1979
Nick Ristagno Jan 1980 to April 1990
Ted Gibson December 1990 to February 1992
Bruce Stewart December 1992 to September 1995
Joe Clark April 1996 to Present

Other places Joe mentions being an officer, then Chief, of Eastvale, TX, a small town of about 500 people that years later merged into The Colony.

Disparagement of Big Cat Rescue. Joe has become almost obsessed with disparaging Carole Baskin and Big Cat Rescue. He set up a website for this purpose. The “About” section contains the obvious lie that the site is written by “a group of independent reporters.” Sure, Joe.

In March 2010 he visited Big Cat Rescue as a tour guest, took photos, then captioned them with ridiculous lies. In September 2010 he visited again, this time taking a video of the tour. He made nonsensical comments into the microphone during the tour, including childish insults about the hard working volunteers he saw, then added captions with false statements like he did with his photos. He then flew low over the sanctuary for an extended period of time in a helicopter stressing the cats (not the act of someone who loves animals.)

A few examples of his false statements:

1) He questions the guide’s reference to Big Cat Rescue being accredited with a caption asking by whom. As he knows, the accreditation is by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries whose board is composed of members to the largest animal protection organizations.

2) He claims Carole is getting rich from the sanctuary. Carole has worked for 17 years without any salary or other compensation. In fact she donated the land, some investment properties, and made substantial cash donations. After 9/11 when tourism stopped and donations diminished she was selling her car and personal household belongings to pay for food for the cats.

3) He makes sarcastic, ridiculous comments about cage sizes and cleanliness that anyone who visits would realize are total nonsense. For instance, he shows a small portion of a cage and presents it as the entire cage. Or, he shows a structure made of small logs we built just for the cat’s entertainment and claims it is the den and the cat does not have proper shelter, when in fact the real den is nearby and Joe knows it.

Joe, using his alias Aarron Alex, misused the Care2 Petition site to post his photos and start a petition. Martha Hoffman, a person who had visited Big Cat Rescue a number of times, took the time to write to Care2 documenting the false statements. The last sentence of her first paragraph pretty much says it all:

“I am writing in regard to the BCR sanctuary and the accusations lodged by Aarron Alex. My husband and I are residents of Florida, living on the east coast. We have on numerous occasions visited the BCR participating in the different tours offered. Therefore we have walked the premises at different hours and NEVER have we seen anything in the context of what Mr. Aarron Alex has presented. He purposely distorts every single picture.”

To read the full text of her post where she explains the distortions in detail click here.

Finally, one of Joe’s more absurd posts implies that USDA does not do anything about his bogus complaints because “word has it that she (Carole) has a USDA person living on her property.” Sure Joe – and do Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa share a house with the mysterious “USDA person?”

Joe clearly does not have the slightest concern about whether what he says or writes is true. He makes up whatever he thinks will serve his purpose. The strange part is that he makes statements that are so obviously and outrageously not true. He does not even TRY to keep within the bounds of something that would make sense and be believable, except perhaps to his exotic animal owner following.

 

LACK OF FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY

 

Credible nonprofits display their financials to proudly show that they are good shepherds of their donors’ contributions. At this writing, none of Joe’s related entities have financial information on their websites. Some of the entities were formed too recently to have filed the required nonprofit IRS form 990, and the G.W. Exotics 990 for 2009 does not yet appear on Guidestar, so the only financial information available is GW Exotic’s 2008 Form 990.

For revenue, the 2008 Form 990 shows $501k in donations and $9k in sales of inventory. Expenses were $447k, with only $3k in salaries and only $48k in animal feed. If food was donated, it is supposed to be recorded as a “noncash” donation and included in the contribution number. So they spent $34/year per animal for food. This is not possible. And salaries of only $3k? Something does not add up. Meantime, Beth Corley is quoted in the press as saying it takes $60k/month to care for their 156 tigers, or $720k/year. They may have had fewer tigers in 2008, but what about the 1200+ other animals?

The 990 shows G.W. Exotic owning about $400k in Land, Buildings, and Equipment. But, this does not include the 16 acres the park sits on. According to county records, Joe owns that personally.

Joe says he displays the cubs to make money to support the park. He recently reported making a record $23,697 in five days. Imagine how many people had to handle these poor cubs in those five days to generate that. Think about how you would feel if that were a human baby. Is it really so much different for a tiger cub that at that age should be spending long hours sleeping just like a human baby?

 

COMMENTS AND RESEARCH BY OTHERS

 

Others have either done homework on Joe or posted comments that provide additional information.

PeTA. PeTA’s webite is referenced above. It mentions documents in which Joe has made false statements. It also provides a list of the other disreputable exotic animal breeders, exhibitors, etc. with whom Joe deals in his rescuing and placing of animals. See http://www.peta.org/features/gw.aspx  Joe repeatedly refers to this undercover work as “faked” or a “frame job,” which is absolutely absurd.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Joe Schreibvogel is one of the best examples in the nation of why private ownership of big cats should be banned. He has a history of abuse, breeds big cats adding to the number that live a miserable life in small cages, breeds and takes in more than he can financially support, and justifies the current abuse by saying he needs to do it to make money to support the other animals. He shows himself to be totally devoid of integrity and professionalism with his inappropriate photos depicting violence against his critics and by constantly posting material online that he knows is devoid of any semblance of truth.

Venues who host exhibits like this and the public who “pay to play” don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. We hope the information on this page helps. The best way to stop this form of abuse is to have venues and the public understand what really happens to these animals and choose not to support the misery Joe and those like him create.

Joe prefers to be a zoo rather than a sanctuary. Two individuals who say they know Joe say he has told them his goal is to be the “world’s largest” animal facility. But he could make a different choice. If Joe took all the time he spends online ranting untruths about those who object to his abuse of these cubs and devoted it to trying to learn the skills necessary to operate a real sanctuary, and if he focused on having a number of animals that he could reasonably support instead of being “the world’s largest”, he might be able to support his animals without having to abuse some to do it. No one who runs a real sanctuary will tell you it is easy, and Joe might not be able to do it. But that is not a reason to let him continue to breed and abuse generation after generation of innocent cubs.

 

PAGES REFERRED TO ABOVE

Marsha Hoffman letter to Care2 re Aarron Alex Petition disparaging Big Cat Rescue

TO: Care2

I am writing in regard to the BCR sanctuary and the accusations lodged by Aarron Alex.My husband and I are residents of Florida, living on the east coast. We have on numerous occasions visited the BCR participating in the different tours offered. Therefore we have walked the premises at different hours and NEVER have we seen anything in the context of what Mr. Aarron Alex has presented. He purposely distorts every single picture.

First, I would like to address the various tours / money making claim. To the credit of the BCR their tours are considerably smaller than those of other sanctuaries we have visited. Total number of people for day tours is 20 people. This is done so as not to upset the animals. The price of their tours are very much in line with other sanctuaries .. in some cases less. Public is NOT permitted to wander around outside of the tour as in other sanctuaries. While the tours do provide income, that money is used for the benefit of the inhabitants and the wonderful education provided by BCR in regard to exotic animals. I don’t understand this complaint. Seems to me they are just reaching for something that isn’t there to try to discredit this sanctuary especially because they charge for their zoo. BCR, like every other sanctuary, need income to provide for the care of the animals. He complains that Carole Baskin did not do the tour – as they are done by volunteers. Ms. Baskin has a sanctuary to run that is why she has volunteers do the tours.

Further Ms.Baskin’s only concern/interest is that of the welfare of the animals. The BCR is a true sanctuary. Animals are not exploited, do not do tricks, are not handled by the public etc .. which is in complete contrast to the “sanctuary” zoo Mr. Aarron Alex is associated with. See -http://www.gwpark.org/e – BCR on the other hand, is a quiet, peaceful place for animals to live out their lives as close to their natural habitats as possible.

As far as the pictures go I am appalled at the distortions. Pictures were taken of the animals close up and do not show full enclosures. Yes, several of the enclosures are round, but what Alex neglected to say is how large they are .. ranging from actually one full acre to smaller ones for smaller cats. Pictures of cats resting on rocks, or sitting in a hut/cave are close ups and do not show the background.

Examples of distortion and lies ..

1 – Cat sitting in small cage with water dish … This is the feeding cage. Every animal has it’s own cage to go to when their food is distributed. As a matter of fact, if one is at the BCR a half hour or so, before feeding, due to the schedule one would see animals sitting patiently in their feeding cage waiting for the feeding. Animals are given any necessary medications and carefully observed while in these small cages. Also it is at this time that keepers clean out the enclosures.

2 – Wild feral cats roaming around. This is absolutely not true. The domestic cats are all friendly felines who come up to people during tours for belly rubs, ears to be scratched and the treats the various volunteers/staff carry with them. I have never seen a feral cat in the area. If you look at the cat Alex has taken a picture of, you will see a very healthy animal, well groomed and certainly well fed. All domestic cats are taken for their shots and cared for/loved every bit as well as the big cats.

3 – Dead trees …. each year different organizations/stores donate unsold Christmas trees – this is simply to add variety to the enclosures and make them more jungle like. These trees bring new smells for the animals and offer something new to investigate.

4 – Poop in enclosures. We have never ever seen unclean enclosures. The staff is constantly cleaning and maintaining the enclosures. Again a factor for the small feeding cages. These cages lock while the animal is feeding and gives the staff ample time to maintain healthy clean enclosures. See point #1.

5 – There is a picture of a tiger lying by the side of the enclosure, but if you look closely, you will see green grass in the background and a pond. This is the “round” enclosure Alex speaks about ………however, he neglects to say it is one acre in size and has a pond for the tigers to swim in.

6 – Black big cat on a rock …. this is where the animal goes to sun himself – the entire rest of the enclosure is conveniently cut out of the picture. There are trees to climb, grass to roll in and a den to hide in ……..not in the picture though.

7 – He portrays huts/dens as horrible small caves where the animals huddle in. These dens or huts are usually in the middle of an enclosure and true to natural habitats of cats where they sleep, have their cubs and spend a good deal of their time. Once again he has conveniently eliminated the large area that house these huts/dens.

8 – There is a tiger lying down on it’s back, with all four legs in the air and belly exposed. What Alex evidently does not understand is that cats, wild or domestic will only take this position if they are truly secure and content. This position makes a cat very vulnerable to attack from a predator. Obviously this tiger is full of trust and totally comfortable in its surroundings.

9 – Three legged Serval. Desiree was rescued from the side of a road in AZ that way. Aarron Alex tries to make the reader believe that this happened to the Serval while it was at BCR ……..a bold faced lie!

I would like to invite you to visit http://www.bigcatrescue.org/videos and view the various videos they have about their sanctuary. You will see how it disputes everything presented by this man. Then go to …http://www.911animalabuse.com/00abusers/GWExotics.htm. Quite a contrast. In Aarron Alex’s write up which accompanies the petition he has the audacity to accuse the BCR of exploiting animals for money when his so called “sanctuary” does exactly that. BCR is not a show place – instead it is a true sanctuary for animals to live out their lives in dignity and peace. Enclosures are not done in glittering, elaborate circus like manner – instead they are done in a calm, tranquil, soothing way to exemplify the natural habitat of each animal.

I respectfully request that you remove this petition due to the untruths, deceptions and blatant distortions. Mr. Aarron Alex obviously went to there for the sole purpose of causing trouble. He knew exactly what he was doing and wanted to accomplish. Please don’t be a party to this sort of dishonesty.

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Posted on Nov 24, 2013 in Browse by Name | 0 comments

Hollywood Animals

Hollywood Animals

Hollywood Animals

 

See what others have to say about Hollywood Animals

 

 

Also goes by the name Brian McMillan and tours under the name Walking With Lions at fairs.

Hollywood Animals
P.O. Box 2088 (really?  you keep lions and tigers in a P.O. Box?)
Santa Clarita, CA 91386
Tel: 323-665-9500 Fax: 661-252-4509
Cell: 213-842-2170

New address:
1902 Houston Road Phoenix, OR where Brian McMillan has requested that the Jackson County Development Services interpret his breeding and commercialization of wild animals to be permitted under “farm use.”  The application says he plans to bring 7 lions and assorted other wild animals from Canyon County, CA to Jackson County, OR.  This 41 ac site borders or is within a 1 mile radius of 5,000 approximately residences, businesses and 4 schools.

According to those who live in the area, the real disgrace is that none of the schools, library, the police, the sheriff’s department, fire chief, retailers nor residents were informed that a wild animal attraction was opening in their neighborhood.  It has been suggested that the Jackson County Development Services may have tried to block McMillan from bringing the lions under the “farm use” loophole, but that McMillan is stating that USDA gives him the right to have them; so no one can stop him.

This is a common ploy used by those who own exotic cats to circumvent local prohibitions on big cats as pets.   A one page application and $40.00 can get them a USDA license, which makes them “an exhibitor” or a “breeder” thus circumventing laws that prevent their “pets.”  In 2010 the Office of the Inspector General audited USDA and found that of the licensees, who held four or fewer big cats, 70% were just pet owners who obtained this easy-to-get license in order to get around local bans.  This is why we need a federal ban on the private possession of big cats.

Hard to believe anyone could think there would be anything good or redeeming about a place that rents out lions, tigers or any other wild animal.

 

2008 USDA Violations

 

2009 USDA Violations

 

2011 USDA Violations

 

 

Nov 13, 2013  PHOENIX, Ore. — Giraffes, zebras, and even some lions, are moving in next door to a Phoenix neighborhood. The owner says the animals will bring big business to the Southern Oregon town, but others have concerns about how close the animals are to people.

A Hollywood animal trainer says he wants to bring the operation to Southern Oregon because he loves the land and loves the climate. The 41 acre property sits near homes, schools and businesses, and Oregon laws about exotic species allow them to be there.

North Houston Road is like many areas in Phoenix, home to scattered neighborhoods, farms, and businesses. Coming next year, that area gets some wild new tenants. Hollywood animal trainer Brian McMillan is moving his operation from Southern California to Phoenix, where he will raise and train several exotic animals, and put on educational programs.

“We will have programs here where we can have school kids in, and also members of the public who are interested in learning about game farming,” says McMillan.

He plans to bring those hoofed animals, and is trying to get approval for seven lions. That came as a surprise to some of its neighbors, including Phoenix High School, which is right next door. Principal Jani Hale says she’s neutral about having the animals next door, but she does worry about loud noises from football games startling the animals.

“That’s the first thing I thought of was out touchdowns. We make a touchdown and we shoot off our pirate cannon, and I thought, ‘OK, do the owners know about our cannon? Someone should tell them.’”

Many neighbors NewsWatch12 spoke to said they’re not worried, and are excited about the program.

“They just seem like very sincere people and I don’t see any threat,” said Monica Jenkins, who lives next door. “I do feel comfortable.”

So how can giraffes, zebras and lions move in next door? In Oregon, animals like zebras and giraffes fall are considered “non-controlled species” by ODFW. No agency inspects them, and there is no minimum fencing requirements, and lions are regulated by the USDA.

In California, laws are getting stricter. In September, West Hollywood banned exotic animal shows. Huntington Beach and Pasadena also have similar bans. McMillan has run his “Walking with Lions” shows for years at parks and circuses, but he says the changing laws are not influencing the move to Southern Oregon.

“We looked basically all over the United States,” McMillan says. “We love this area. As soon as we came here, we felt like we were home.”

McMillan also says he follows federal fencing and safety guidelines, to make sure nothing gets out.

“We have an impeccable safety record. We’ve never had an accident, never had an incident.”

McMillan says after seeing so much support from neighbors, it’s a project he hopes other Phoenix residents will approve of.

“We really do want the community to get behind this,” he said.

The USDA does routine inspections on lions. They issued a reports in 2008 and 2009 saying McMillan was allowing the public to get too close to the big cats. They said the issue was corrected, and McMillan has had no violations for the past two years.

McMillan says there’s still work to be done rebuilding homes and clearing land on the property. He says the animals won’t be brought in until sometime in the middle of next year.  http://www.kdrv.com/wild-animal-trainer-moves-in/

 

Note:

West Hollywood joins other California cities, including Huntington Beach and Pasadena, in banning commercial exotic animal displays. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-west-hollywood-bans-commercial-animal-displays-20130917,0,4376637.story

 

Although this ban doesn’t directly effect Brian McMillan, it is obvious that Californians are becoming more aware of animal sentience and less tolerant of animal exploiters.

 

October 05, 2013 By Mark Freeman Mail Tribune

 

PHOENIX — A Hollywood trainer of lions and other exotic animals says he plans to open a satellite operation near Phoenix to serve as a home base for his Oregon filming and as an education center.

 

Lions, giraffes, zebras and a host of African antelope could be living a year from now in new facilities that trainer Brian McMillan plans for his property along Houston Road adjacent to Phoenix city limits.

 

McMillan and his wife, Victoria, in August bought a 41-acre parcel of farmland and are now renovating the century-old farmhouse on the property — the first phase of his planned operation.

 

“It’s going to be a year or so from now,” McMillan said in a Tuesday interview from his current operation in Canyon Country, Calif. “Right now we’re just trying to get our house built.”

 

McMillan has been an animal trainer for more than 30 years, according to his website. His credits include television shows such as “CSI: NY” and “Monk” and films such as “Into the Wild,” as well as an array of talk shows and television commercials.

 

McMillan said his “Hollywood Animals” and “Walking with Lions” operations already do filming in Oregon, primarily in the Portland area, and he wants to expand that work in Oregon and Northern California.

 

The couple settled on the Phoenix property as a base for filming here because they prefer the climate and the community, he said, but that they plan to keep his Southern California operation as well.

 

Eventually, he plans to add pens and other facilities on the property before shipping seven lions, three giraffes, three zebras, two camels, two ostriches and six antelope north, according to his county planning application.

 

“It’s a nice, big, beautiful piece of property with lots of space,” he said. “And we’ve always liked Oregon.”

 

Before purchasing the land, which is zoned exclusively for farm use, McMillan asked the Jackson County Planning Department whether these exotic animals would fall under the land-use definition of “farm use.”

 

The lions fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and would need a permit from that agency to be housed on the property, said Bruce Pokarney, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture.

 

The ostriches and camels already are exempt from wildlife laws because they are considered domesticated animals, said Rick Boatner, who handles exotic species issues for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

The giraffes, zebras and the antelopes — kudus, blackbucks and impalas — are listed by the ODFW as “non-controlled animals” that can be kept, bred or sold here under limited restrictions, Boatner said.

 

There are not even fencing requirements such as those for keeping bears or cougars, Boatner said.

 

“Just humane conditions, that’s it,” he said. “But if they escape, you have some different rules to deal with.”

 

Under state statutes, any escaped exotics must be reported to the ODFW within 24 hours, and the owners have 48 hours to capture them, Boatner said. After that, any police officer or ODFW biologist can capture, seize or kill the escaped animal, he said.

 

“They can do whatever they think is best,” Boatner said.

 

All the animals must get an ODA health certificate before they can enter Oregon, Boatner said.

 

“It’s very rare, outside of zoos, to bring these animals in,” he said.

 

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

 

 

Is this the same Brian McMillan?

NC couple accused of tying son to tree charged

Posted 6/16/2008 10:23 PM |  Comment    |  Recommend  E-mail | Print |

 This undated police handout, shows Brice Brian McMillan, who along with 36-year-old Sandra Elizabeth McMillan,  have been charged with murder and felony child abuse, after the Macclesfield N.C., couple, allegedly tied their 13-year-old son to a tree for two nights as a punishment for disobedience.(AP Photo/police)

 Enlarge

This undated police handout, shows Brice Brian McMillan, who along with 36-year-old Sandra Elizabeth McMillan, have been charged with murder and felony child abuse, after the Macclesfield N.C., couple, allegedly tied their 13-year-old son to a tree for two nights as a punishment for disobedience.(AP Photo/police)

By Martha Waggoner, Associated Press Writer

TARBORO, N.C. — A couple accused of killing their 13-year-old son by tying him to a tree for two nights for punishment appeared in a courtroom Monday to face charges of murder and felony child abuse.

Attorneys appeared Monday with Brice Brian McMillan, 41, and his wife Sandra Elizabeth McMillan, 36, of Macclesfield.

 

“It’s a sad case,” defense attorney Allen Powell, who represents Brice McMillan, said after the hearing. He declined any further comment, and the couple did not enter a plea.

 

Tyler Gene McMillan was buried Monday morning next to his mother in Greenville. An obituary in the Greenville Daily Reflector said the boy was raised in Pitt County and enjoyed reading, fishing, karate, being a Boy Scout and watching professional wrestling.

 

The county sheriff’s office has said Brice McMillan told a deputy the teen was being disobedient and was forced to sleep outside last Tuesday while tied to a tree. The teen was released Wednesday morning, but again tied up that night for bad behavior.

Sheriff James Knight has said the boy was left tied to the tree until the following afternoon, when his stepmother found him unresponsive. Authorities believe the boy was bound to the tree with plastic ties and possibly other kinds of material.

 

Arrest warrants for both McMillans said the child sustained “bruising to the wrist, cuts to entire body, missing flesh from buttocks, results from being tied to a tree for approximately 18 hours resulting in death.”

 

The warrants didn’t reveal a specific cause of death. An autopsy is pending at the state’s chief medical examiner’s office in Chapel Hill.

 

Two other children living in the McMillans’ home, ages 7 and 9, have been placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services, authorities said. The teenager’s obituary said he has a brother and stepsister.

 

Macclesfield is about 60 miles east of Raleigh.
He looks very much the same in the photo and video above, but that may be a coincidence.

 

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Posted on Aug 12, 2013 in Abuse, Browse by Name, Most Wanted | 1 comment

Big Cats of Serenity Springs Nick Sculac

Big Cats of Serenity Springs Nick Sculac

USDA Sues Nick Sculac and Serenity Springs

for Many Violations of the Animal Welfare Act

Download 2012 filing:  USDA Sues Nick Sculac and Serenity Springs for Many Violations of the Animal Welfare Act

Download 2013 Comments Opposing Serenity Springs’s CBW Permit Application from the posting in the Federal Register in July 2013.  The following is much of the 50 page text, without footnotes.  The footnotes are included in the download above.

Comments of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Opposition to PRT-05161B Submitted by Nick Sculac d/b/a Serenity Springs

 

  1. I.               Introduction

 

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”) urges the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (“FWS”) to reject Nick Sculac’s (“Sculac”) (d/b/a Serenity Springs) (“Serenity Springs”)  application for a captive-bred wildlife permit (PRT-05161B) (the “application”) because Serenity Springs has failed to demonstrate that its breeding activities will enhance the survival of the species in the wild; has made material false and misleading statements on its application; fails to demonstrate a showing of responsibility—especially given its egregious chronic violations of the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. § 2131 et seq. (“AWA”), which have resulted in a now-pending enforcement action—and its likely violations of federal and state law; lacks the expertise, resources, and facilities to implement a true conservation breeding program; and has failed to provide required information.  In light of the foregoing, as detailed herein and documented by the accompanying exhibits, the FWS should deny Serenity Springs’s permit application and, instead, initiate an investigation into its likely violations of the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. (“ESA”), and the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, Pub. L. 108-191 (“CWSA”), and its submission of false statements to the agency.

Pursuant to 50 C.F.R. § 17.22(e)(2), should the agency decide to issue the permit despite our objections, we hereby request notice of that decision at least ten days prior to the issuance of the permit via e-mail to DelciannaW@petaf.org or telephone to 202-309-4697.

  1. II.             Legal Background

 

The ESA establishes a national policy “that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species and shall utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of [the Act].”  16 U.S.C. § 1531(c).  In relevant part, the ESA prohibits persons from taking endangered species.  The ESA defines the term “take” to include “harass, harm, . . . wound, kill, . . . or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”  Id. § 1532(19).  “Harass” is defined by regulation as “an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”  50 C.F.R. § 17.3.  As it pertains to captive animals,[1] such as the tigers and other endangered species at issue, the definition of “harass” expressly exempts “generally accepted” animal husbandry practices and breeding procedures.  Id.  “Harm” means “an act which actually kills or injures wildlife.”  Id.

Although the ESA regulations do not define “wound,” the verb means “to cause a wound to or in” or “to inflict a wound.”  Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2011) (Definition of “Wound” (Verb)). The noun is defined as “an injury to the body (as from violence, accident, or surgery) that typically involves laceration or breaking of a membrane (as the skin) and usually damage to underlying tissues.” Id. (definition of “Wound” (Noun)); see also The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed. 2009) (definition of “Wound” (Noun)) (defining “wound” as “[i]njury to a part or tissue of the body, especially one caused by physical trauma and characterized by tearing, cutting, piercing, or breaking of the tissue”).  The Act’s prohibitions on taking, transporting, shipping, and selling endangered species apply to the captive tigers and other endangered species that Serenity Springs maintains.

Section 10 of the ESA gives the FWS limited authority to issue permits to allow otherwise prohibited activities like “takes,” transport, shipment, and sale only “for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.” 16 U.S.C. § 1539(a)(1)(a) (emphasis added).  FWS regulations provide an exemption from § 10’s prohibitions for foreign species that are captive-bred in the U.S. if the “purpose” of taking, transporting, shipping, or selling the captive-bred species “is to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”  50 C.F.R. § 17.21(g)(ii) (emphasis added).  Persons who seek to engage in any of these activities must apply for, and obtain, a captive-bred wildlife permit. Id.

An applicant for a CBW permit must include information specified in 50 C.F.R. § 17.22(a)(1), including “[a] full statement of the reasons why the applicant is justified in obtaining a permit including the details of the activities sought to be authorized by the permit.”  Id. § 17.22(a)(1)(vii).  In deciding whether to grant a CBW permit, the FWS “shall consider” the issuance criteria specified in § 17.22(a)(2), including whether “the expertise, facilities, or other resources available to the applicant appear adequate to successfully accomplish the objectives stated in the application.”  Id. § 17.22(a)(2)(vi).  A CBW applicant/registrant must also comply with the general permit conditions set forth in § 13 of the regulations, including that it “maintain[]” any “live wildlife possessed under a permit . . . under humane and healthful conditions.”  Id. §§ 13.3, 13.41.  In addition, § 13.42 provides that “[t]he authorizations on the face of a permit are to be strictly interpreted and will not be interpreted to permit similar or related matters outside the scope of strict construction.”[2]

 

  1. III.           Argument

 

  1. A.    Serenity Springs Captive Breeding Activities Do Not Enhance the Propagation or Survival of the Species. 
    1. 1.     Serenity Springs’s “conservation breeding program” is woefully inadequate.

 

As the FWS has made clear, CBW permits authorize otherwise prohibited activities “provided that the principle purpose [of those activities] is to facilitate conservation breeding.”  FWS, Captive-bred Wildlife Registration under the U.S. Endangered Species Act 2 (Jan. 2012) (emphasis added); see also id. (“The registration may be issued when the applicant documents that his activities will serve to enhance propagation or survival of endangered or threatened species, as defined in 50 CFR 17.3 . . . and the principal purpose of the activities is captive breeding for conservation purposes.” (emphasis added)).

As defined by the ESA, the term “conservation” means “to use and the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this chapter are no longer necessary.” 16 U.S.C. § 1532(3).

  1. a.     Serenity Springs does not currently have a conservation breeding program.

As evidenced by the list of births that Serenity Springs submitted with its CBW permit application, while the facility seeks a permit to breed lemurs, cheetahs, three species of leopards, tigers, and hyenas, of this list, the only type of animals that Serenity Springs has bred in the past five years is tigers.

Moreover, Serenity Springs’s tiger breeding does not constitute conservation breeding. As the FWS has explained elsewhere:

We do not believe that breeding inter-subspecific crossed or generic tigers provides a conservation benefit for the long-term survival of the species.  Inter-subspecific tiger crosses and animals of unknown subspecies cannot be used for maintaining genetic viability and distinctness of specific tiger subspecies.  Generic tigers are of unknown genetic origin and are typically not maintained in a manner to ensure that inbreeding or other inappropriate matings of animals do not occur.

FWS, Proposed Rule, U.S. Captive-Bred Inter-Subspecific Crossed or Generic Tigers, 76 Fed. Reg. 162 (Aug. 22, 2011).  Similarly, in correspondence to Serenity Springs regarding its permit application, a FWS biologist advises that “white tigers are hybrids and should not be bred” and that “hybridization of listed species i[s] prohibited under both the CBW and ESA.”  App. 13; see also id. (“generic tigers . . . are not suitable for species conservation and cannot be authorized under the CBW”); see also FWS, Captive-Bred Wildlife Registration under the Endangered Species Act 2 (Jan. 2012) (“The registration may not be issued or used to sell protected species as pets or for hybridization of any listed species.”).

Serenity Springs’s website features a hybrid white tigers, including a white tiger cub, see, e.g., Serenity Springs Wildlife Center, http://www.serenityspringswildlife.org/ (featuring images of a white tiger cub being bottle fed and an adult white tiger).  Moreover, even the non-white tigers bred by Serenity Springs—at least twelve in the past five years, according to its application, App. 34—are almost certainly generic, hybrid mixed subspecies.

Experts agree that tigers who are not managed as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’s (“AZA”) Species Survival Plan (“SSP”) Program—which the tigers held by Serenity Springs are not—are in all likelihood generic—and must be presumed to be.  Statement of Dr. Ron Tilson, Senior Conservation Advisor to the Minnesota Zoo Foundation (Oct. 20, 2011) [hereinafter “Dr. Tilson Statement”].

As experts Dr. Ronald L. Tilson—who served as Coordinator of the AZA’s SSP for tigers for nineteen years and who is now Senior Conservation Advisor to the Minnesota Zoo Foundation—and Philip Nyhus—an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies with particular interest and expertise in tiger conservation who has published extensively in the area—explain, the vast majority of captive-bred tigers in the United States are generic; “[t]hey are no longer Amur or Sumatran or Bengal tigers. They are tiger soup,” and thus breeding these animals serves no conservation purpose.  Philip J. Nyhus et al., Thirteen Thousand and Counting: How the Growing Captive Tiger Populations Threaten Wild Tigers, in Tigers of the World, 2ded., pp. 236 (2010).  Dr. Steve Olson, Vice President of Federal Relations for the AZA, concurs: “To our knowledge, there are no captive tigers in the U.S. that are purebred subspecies with known pedigrees traceable to their wild-caught founders other than those managed within the AZA Tiger SSP.”  See Letter to Tim Van Norman, Chief, Branch of Permits, Division of Management Authority (“DMA”), FWS, from Steve Olson, AZA (Aug. 30, 2011).  And Serenity Springs has down nothing to rebut this presumption—indeed, despite the FWS’s request for information regarding the specific subspecies of tigers he intends to breed, and for an assurance that hybrids will not be bred, App. 13, the application materials indicate that the applicant has furnished none of this information.

Indeed, a brief look at the commercial sources from which Serenity Springs has obtained tigers in the past makes it clear that it is not working with pure subspecies.  For example, according to its application, of the current tigers it holds, Serenity Springs has obtained nineteen of these from GW Exotic Animal Foundation (“GW Exotic”), see App. 23-27—including at least one white tiger.  (Serenity Springs also obtained a liger from GW Exotic.  App. 26.)  Joe Schreibovgel, owner of GW Exotic has established a “breeding program” with tigers and claims to be “in the final 2 years of an experimental stage of coming up with a new species. . . . All natural with no interference of man.”  GW Exotic Memorial Park, Breeding Program.[3]  Despite this clear disregard for true species conservation, Serenity Springs obtained tigers from GW Exotic as recently as last year, App. 17, and indicated on its CBW permit application that it intends to continue to acquire animals from this facility, despite the fact that GW Exotic does not have a CBW permit.[4]

Serenity Springs also lists Dirk Arthur as the source of seven of the tigers it currently holds—including at least four white tigers.  According to Serenity Springs’s website, one of these white tigers, Bianca, “was born in Dirk Arthur’s endangered species breeding program.” Serenity Springs, The Tigers of Serenity Springs, http://www.serenityspringswildlife.org/tigers.php. Needless to say after the foregoing discussion, a true endangered species breeding program does not breed white tigers.  Yet not only has Serenity Springs acquired three white tigers from Dirk Arthur as recently as last year, see. App. 27, it has also recently transferred a tiger cub to Arthur, App. 34.  Arthur exhibits multiple white tigers, as well as a hybrid liger.  See Dirk Arthur Wild Magic, Co-Stars, http://dirkarthur.net/costars.  Arthur touts his so-called “endangered species breeding program,” claiming that “Dirk Arthur’s White Bengal Tigers and Snow Tigers are indisputably one of the Earth’s most striking and noteworthy species.”  Endangered Species Preservation Program.  As the FWS recognized in correspondence to Serenity Springs, however, “[t]here is no ‘snow tiger.’”  App. 13.  So-called “snow tigers” are hybrids with recognized health problems.  Id.

Indeed, it does not appear that any of the facilities from which Serenity Springs has obtained tigers is a member of the AZA SSP, making it all but a foregone conclusion that it is engaging exclusively in unlawful breeding of hybrid generic tigers

For the reasons explained above, Serenity Springs has no current conservation breeding program. To the contrary, as recognized by the FWS and elaborated further below, Serenity Springs is engaging in breeding practices that are harmful to conservation and contrary to the ESA.

  1. b.     Serenity Springs’s permit application fails to propose a conservation breeding program with sufficient detail. 

Not only does Serenity Springs currently lack any semblance of a breeding program, it has failed to describe with any level of specificity a proposed conservation breeding program, and for this reason alone the permit must be denied.

CBW permits, like all ESA permits, must be “specific”—they “describe certain circumscribed transactions,” setting forth “specific times, dates, places, methods of taking or carrying out the permitted activities, numbers and kinds of wildlife or plants, location of activity, and associated activities that must be carried out.”  50 C.F.R. § 13.42.

Serenity Springs’s CBW permit application is so lacking in details that it makes it impossible to issue the sort of specific, circumscribed permit that is required.

The CBW permit application requires an applicant to “[p]rovide a specific description of how your proposed activities are going to facilitate captive breeding of the species identified . . .  , including your long term goals and intended disposition of any progeny.”  App. 2 (emphasis in original).  Serenity Springs utterly fails to provide a specific description of the required information.  Serenity Springs’s response to this request is purportedly included in Attachment D, see App. 2, 28.  Attachment D, however, fails to adequately describe what Serenity Springs’s proposed activities even are in the first instance, let alone how they will facilitate captive breeding.  Rather than a description of a breeding program, Attachment D purports to be a bullet point list of “some of the . . . ways” that one can “help fund wildlife preserves.” App. 28. The majority of this document describes projects that do not involve captive breeding and that are spearheaded by groups other than Serenity Springs. The full description of Serenity Springs’s “conservation breeding plan” appears to be:

Through out specific breeding program and working with organizations listed above and to begin a relationship with the AZA and their Species Survival Plan we plan to increase numbers of individuals within each recognized endangered species and subspecies. Maintain the number and diversity of the subspecies currently recognized. Preserve genetic diversity at both species and subspecies levels recognizing the crucial role of both in situ and ex situ approaches for this.

App. 29-30.

This does not describe a program and it certainly does not constitute a “specific description of how your proposed activities are going to facilitate captive breeding of the species identified.”  App. 2 (emphases added).  Indeed, this description does not even make reference to specific species, which is particularly concerning given that Serenity Springs initially submitted an application for a permit to breed twenty-six different species—a number of which it does not even possess.

  1. i.      Acquisition of Animals

 

Serenity Springs’s failure to sufficiently describe how it intends to acquire even the now-shorter list of species it intends to breed and where it intends to house these animals further evidences its fundamental lack of a plan.  For instance, brown hyenas, lemurs, and cheetahs are amongst the species for which Serenity Springs seeks a CBW permit to breed, Receipt of Applications for Permit, 78 Fed. Reg. 38731 (June 27, 2013), yet, according to the current inventory submitted with its application, Serenity Springs does not currently possess any animals of these species, App. 23-27.[5]  Nor does it specify how it intends to obtain these animals.  Instead, Serenity Springs has submitted a laundry list of animal exhibitors, dealers, and breeders, unaware whether any of them possess the requisite CBW permit and, if so, for which species.  See App. 11; see also id. at 12 (“There are other facilities we work with and will be working with to acquiring [sic] other specimens but have not been able to reach a couple of them to get their USDI#.”).  In fact, review of the most recent list of CBW permitees made available to PETA by the FWS, CBW Registrant List, reveals that four of the six entities identified do not have CBW permits, and that none of the listed entities are permitted to breed cheetahs or brown hyenas.  At an absolute minimum, then, Serenity Springs must be denied permission to breed these species.

                                            ii.     Space for Animals

 

Equally unclear is where Serenity Springs intends to put any additional animals it acquires—or any animals it breeds.  As the FWS explained to Serenity Springs in response to its application, “You have asked for species in addition to those you currently hold but, I am unable to see any space for any additional animals as it appears that all exhibits have animals in residence.  We could not authorize any additional species until facilities were available.”  App. 13.  According to the records that the FWS provided to PETA, Serenity Springs did respond to this observation—except possibly with regard to snow leopards.  The applicant has not made clear where it intends to house lemurs, cheetahs, or brown hyenas.  Given Serenity Springs’s failure to meet the requirement that it provide “[a] detailed description, including size, construction materials, and protection from the elements, and photographs or detailed diagrams . . . clearly depicting your existing facilities where the wildlife will be maintained,” App. 3 (emphasis in original), the application should be denied.  That Serenity Springs is not prepared to take on these additional species is evinced by the fact that, while the application includes enclosure descriptions for a number of species, it does not include descriptions for hyena, lemur, or cheetah enclosures.  See App. 43-44.  At a bare minimum, then, Serenity Springs should be denied a CBW permit for these species.  But given the overall lack of space at this facility, the permit application should be denied in its entirety—especially given Serenity Springs’s history of failing to meet the minimum AWA standards for separating incompatible animals:  The applicant currently faces, amongst dozens of other charges for AWA violations, a charge for violating this requirement vis a vis tigers.  See In re Nick Sculac, AWA Docket No. 12-00223, at ¶ 12 (Feb. 1, 2012) [hereinafter “USDA Complaint”].[6]  In addition, in the past five years, two tigers have been killed by cage mates, according to Serenity Springs’s application.  See App. 34-35.

Complete denial of the permit application is further warranted on this basis because even the enclosures that Serenity Springs does have are, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), which administers the AWA, in serious disrepair, as detailed in § III.E.5, infra.  For example, just earlier this year the USDA cited Serenity Springs for no fewer than eleven inadequate enclosures, which hold a total of twenty-two animals. USDA Inspection Reports (Jan. 7, 2013, at 2-3).  The citation notes that this is a repeat violation from inspections conducted on twenty-two separate occasions.  Id. at 10.  The violations included numerous enclosures with exposed protruding nails, shredded and splintered wood, and broken wires with sharp protruding edges.  Id. at 9-10.

                                             iii.  Genetic Vitality

 

The application form additionally requires the applicant to supply “documentation showing how your captive population is being managed to maintain its genetic vitality.”  App. 2.  Serenity Springs provides no such documentation whatsoever—instead it states, without supporting documentation:

Our facility currently manages our captive documentation through written and online reports as well as completed medical records for all animals.  Any offspring are documented through a detailed birth record.  All animals residing at the facility are also photographed for their record.  We are also just beginning a program to microchip all animals as well.

App. 30.  Again, these assertions are left unsupported, as, notably unlike most CBW permit applicants, Serenity Springs does not actually attach any of the documents showing the lineage of the animals it intends to breed, instead simply attaching a single blank form.  See App. 32. Further, Serenity Springs currently faces charges for failing to “keep and maintain records of the acquisition and disposition” of seven animals, USDA Compl. ¶ 8.c.—including at least four tigers who were born onsite, compare id. (listing names), with App. 24 (identifying named animals as tigers born onsite)—indicating that it is in fact not capable of  ensuring genetic vitality.  See also, e.g., USDA Inspection Reports at 3-4 (May 23, 2013, at 2-3; Jan. 7, 2013, at 1-2) (citations for failure to maintain acquisition and disposition records).

Serenity Springs’s failure to ensure genetic vitality is further apparent from its intentional breeding of white tigers, which experts recognize are all highly inbred, and its acquisition of animals from entities with similar unprofessional breeding practices, such as GW Exotic and Dirk Arthur, see § III.A.1.a, supra.  In addition, Serenity Springs attributes two recent tiger cub deaths to “possible genetic issues.” App. 35.  Serenity Springs’s recent transfer of a cub to Dirk Arthur further erodes confidence in Serenity Springs’s commitment to an acquisition and disposition protocol that promotes conservation.

                                              iv.  Disposition Plans

 

For these same reasons, Serenity Springs’s vague statement that “[t]he disposition of the offspring of this project will be to established facilities working within the organizations listed” (i.e., the “AZA, ZAA, RSF, USZA, PAAZB, FCF”) is not a specific description of its intended disposition of any progeny, as required.  Moreover, it makes clear yet again Serenity Springs’s lack of commitment to true species conservation and genetic vitality.  For example, this incredibly vague “plan” allows Serenity Springs to continue dealing with irresponsible breeders like GW Exotic, whose owner Joe Schreibvogel is the president of the deceptively named U.S. Zoological Association (“USZA”).  See, e.g., Vince Grzegorek, United States Zoological Association President Thinks Zanesville Exotic Animal Owner Was Murdered in a Conspiracy, Cleveland Scene, Apr. 17, 2012. 

The equally misleadingly named Zoological Association of America (“ZAA”) advertises itself in the Animal Finders Guide, a trade publication that caters to exotic animal breeders and dealers, hunting ranches, and the pet trade, with the stated purpose of assisting “breeders to show a profit.”  Animal Finders Guide 8 (July 2013).  And the ZAA’s “accreditation” is widely regarded as dubious at best as the ZAA has “accredited” numerous facilities that do not adhere to minimum animal husbandry standards—let alone breeding standards.

Likewise, the Feline Conservation Federation (“FCF”) has accredited GW Exotic, see FCF, GW Exotic Animal Memorial Park, http://www.felineconservation.org/fcf/g.w._exotic_animal_memorial_park.htm, despite its irresponsible practice of routinely breeding hybrid animals including ligers and white tigers, see, e.g., GW Zoo Animal Gallery, Ligers, http://gwzoo.org/GWZoo-Liger-Pictures.php; GW Zoo Animal Gallery, Tigers, http://gwzoo.org/GWZoo-Tiger-Pictures.php, and its lengthy USDA enforcement history, including a pending investigation, as discussed on page 7 n.5.

The Rare Species Fund (“RSF”) fares no better.  This entity was created by and is directed notorious tiger exhibitor and breeder “Doc” Antle of T.I.G.E.R.S., see RSF, http://www.rarespeciesfund.org/.  Not only does T.I.G.E.R.S. have an atrocious USDA enforcement history, it has also irresponsibly hybridized endangered species for many years.  Indeed, the RSF’s brochure repeatedly touts white tigers, including in an image promoting T.I.G.E.R.S. featuring “four color variations of tigers: . . . standard Bengal, golden tabby, snow white, and royal white”; an image featuring public handling of a white tiger cub described as an “ambassador” for conservation; an image of an adult white tiger at T.I.G.E.R.S.; and a promotion for a show that “features many rare and unique varieties of big cats, including four fantastic colors of Tigers.”  RSF, In Support of Outstanding Wildlife Conservation Initiatives.  The brochure even features Doc Antle with a liger.  Id.

In short, virtually every organization that Serenity Springs lists as part of its disposition plan has a documented record of irresponsibility.  To issue a CBW permit authorizing such dispositions would contravene the fundamental purpose of the ESA.

And while Serenity Springs lists the AZA for potential disposition, the fact of the matter is that, for the reasons discussed in § III.A.1.c.ii, Serenity Springs simply cannot qualify for AZA accreditation or non-member status and, as such, is not authorized to participate in its breeding programs.

  1. c.     Additional problems with Serenity Springs’s purported conservation breeding

 

  1. i.      There have been an unacceptable number of mortalities among tigers bred at Serenity Springs.

 

There have also been an unacceptable number of mortalities among tigers bred at Serenity Springs.  Although the application lists two tiger cubs born on August 17, 2011, App. 34, it appears from the list of mortalities that three were born, see id. at 3 (listing three cubs of the “same litter” who would have been born in August 2011).  These three cubs died at two-months, six-months, and one-year of age of “possible genetic issues,” which is obviously of great concern to a program one of the purposes of which is to maintain genetic diversity.  Id.  In addition, the application reports the death of another cub born at the facility in 2010.  Id. at 2.

In a recent USDA inspection report, it was noted that an employee had observed a female tiger in labor and contacted the attending veterinarian, who instructed the employee to monitor the tiger.  The next day the mother and her cub were found dead.  According to the inspector, the employee did not appear to have monitored the tiger, as ordered by the veterinarian, “in order to prevent the death of this tiger and her cub.”  USDA Inspection Reports (May 23, 2013, at 1-2).  Serenity Springs was cited for failing to perform “[d]aily observation of all animals to assess their health and well-being . . . to ensure that timely and accurate information on problems of health, behavior, and well-being is conveyed to the attending veterinarian.”  Id. at 2.

Two additional tigers born at Serenity Springs were put down in 2003 after attacking a volunteer, who had entered their enclosure while they were present.  Eileen Kelley, Cat-Refuge Worker Survives Attack of 2 Tigers, Denver Post, July 1, 2003, at B03.  (This incident is discussed more fully in § III.E.2.)

Also of great concern, numerous other infant animals have died at Serenity Springs as a result of likely negligence and lack of appropriate veterinary care.  For example, Serenity Springs states that a five-week-old black bear cub who died on March 14, 2009 was the “runt of litter died of pneumonia.”  Id. at 2.  However, the USDA Complaint asserts that two bear cubs, including the cub that ultimately died, developed aspiration pneumonia, from inhaling milk into their lungs, as a result of the cubs’ poor handling.  USDA Compl. ¶ 20.  Moreover, as Dr. Mel Richardson, who has more than thirty years of experience caring for captive wild animals, explains, attributing a cub’s death “to the fact the cub was the runt of the litter . . . is a sign of incompetence.  Runts of the litter when hand raised have just as good a chance at survival as the larger cubs . . . .”  Statement of Dr. Mel Richardson 2 (July 29, 2013) [hereinafter “Dr. Richardson Statement”].  And, according to Dr. Richardson, aspiration pneumonia “is always directly related to the caretakers’ experience.  Aspiration pneumonia is always the fault of the handler.  Improper technique and feeding too much volume at too long of a feeding interval is the primary cause.  If this facility is allowing aspiration pneumonia to occur, they should not be breeding wild animals.  In other words their permit should not be renewed.”  Id.

Two seven-month-old tigers further died of feline panleukopenia in 2009.  App. 34.  Since at least 2002, the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (“AAZV”) has recommended that tigers never before vaccinated for panleukopenia receive at least two and preferably three booster vaccines approximately three weeks apart after six weeks of age, as well as an annual booster.  AAZV, Tiger SSP Vaccination Recommendations, http://www.aazv.org/?273.  It is highly unlikely that two tiger cubs would have died of this viral disease had they been appropriately vaccinated.  Dr. Richardson Statement 1.

Serenity Springs has failed to adequately address how it intends to prevent such mortalities in the future.  With respect to the deaths of tiger cubs from panleukopenia, for instance, the facility asserts that “we now have a complete veterinary facility with the ability to quarantine animals.”  App. 34.  But the best method of prevention is clearly vaccinating tiger and other big-cat cubs for panleukopenia and other viral diseases.   Likewise, the facility states that the bear cub who was the “runt of the litter” died of pneumonia, but fails to mention that the pneumonia developed as a result of the cub aspirating milk into his lungs, and that it resulted from the facility’s negligence.  Therefore, the application fails to discuss how Serenity Springs now trains and monitors staff and volunteers to ensure that this will not happen again.

The application further reports that the parents of the three tiger cubs who died of “possible genetic issues” have now “been neutered and spayed.”  Id. at 3.  But it does not discuss how Serenity Springs selects breeding pairs to minimize the risk of genetic issues, particularly as so many captive tigers are inbred; whether it performs any genetic testing, or the like.

Serenity Springs’s disturbing record of infant mortalities, and its apparent failure to develop appropriate methods of preventing such mortalities in the future, belies its claim to run a legitimate conservation breeding program.

  1. ii.    Serenity Springs is not a member of an Species Survival Plan.

 

The application form requires applicants to indicate whether they “are participating in an organized breeding program, such as a Species Survival Plan, or contributing data to a studbook” and, if so, to “provide documentation describing the objectives and goals of the program.”  App.  2.  Serenity Springs is not a member of either the AZA or any of its SSPs, nor does it appear to participate in any other organized breeding program or contribute data to a studbook.

The AZA administers SSPs, the “mission” of which are “to cooperatively manage specific, and typically threatened or endangered, species population[s],” ranging from giant pandas and California condors to African and Asian elephants and lowland gorillas.  AZA, Species Survival Plan Programs.  An SSP’s primary functions include overseeing the development of a studbook, which documents the pedigree and demographic history of each individual species member held by participants in the SSP; monitoring and documenting all ex situ birth, death, and transfer information; recommending breeding decisions to enhance genetic diversity; and developing a breeding and transfer plan.  Id.; AZA, Studbooks.

CBW registration may be issued only “when the applicant documents that his activities will serve to enhance propagation or survival of endangered species . . . and the principal purpose of the activities is captive breeding for conservation purposes.”  FWS, Captive-Bred Wildlife Registration under the Endangered Species Act 2 (Jan. 2012) (emphases added).  The “original intent” of the CBW system was “the encouragement of responsible breeding that is specifically designed to help conserve the species involved.”  Captive-Bred Wildlife Regulation, 63 Fed. Reg. 48634, 48635 (Sept. 11, 1998) (emphasis added).  The FWS has previously voiced concern that “captive-bred animals . . . might be used for purposes that do not contribute to conservation.”  Captive-Bred Wildlife Regulation, 57 Fed. Reg. 548-01, 550 (Jan. 7, 1992).  Participating in an SSP suggests that the purpose of a breeding program is in fact “for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species,” 16 U.S.C. § 1539(a)(1)(A), as well as that the program is taking appropriate steps to maintain genetic diversity, see App. 2 (requiring applicants to provide “documentation showing how your captive population is being managed to maintain its genetic vitality”).

Serenity Springs claims that it plans to “begin the process of working with the AZA and their SSP.”  App. 30; see also id. at 29 (“[T]o begin a relationship with the AZA and their Species Survival Plan we plan to increase numbers of individuals within each recognized endangered species and subspecies.”).  However, it is extremely unlikely that the facility is qualified to work with the AZA or any of its SSPs.

Organizations can participate in an SSP in one of three ways: (1) as an AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium; (2) as a Certified Related Facility; or (3) as an Approved Non-Member Participant.  Because Serenity Springs is open on a regularly scheduled, predictable basis, see Guided Tour Information, http://www.serenityspringswildlife.org/gptours.php, the facility can only participate as an accredited zoo.  AZA, The Guide to Certification of Related Facilities 10 (2013 ed.); AZA Approved Non-Member Participation in SSP Programs.

To obtain accreditation, Serenity Springs must meet the AZA accreditation standards.  AZA, The Accreditation Standards and Related Policies 3 (2013 ed.) [hereinafter “AZA Accreditation Standards”].  Serenity Springs fails, or is likely to fail, to meet numerous accreditation standards, including, but not limited to:

  • Standard 1.1.1 requires that institutions “comply with all relevant local, state, and federal laws and regulations, including those specific to wildlife.”  As discussed throughout these comments, there is compelling evidence that Serenity Springs has routinely violated the AWA and other laws and regulations, including many specific to wildlife.  A USDA complaint is currently pending against the facility for numerous alleged violations of the AWA, seeking suspension or revocation of Serenity Springs’s AWA exhibitor license.  See supra p. 7 n.5.  The facility is also facing pending charges for maintaining inadequate disposition records, including for tiger cubs born at Serenity Springs.  In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently fined Serenity Springs $7,000 for a “willful” violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (“OSH Act”), for requiring employees to get into the enclosures with tigers, after a volunteer was seriously injured by one.  See §§ III.D.1-2, III.D.5, III.E.2, III.E.5.    

 

  • Standard 1.4.1 requires that “[a]n animal inventory must be compiled at least once a year and include data regarding acquisitions and dispositions at the institution.”  Id.  As we previously discussed in § III.A.1.b.iii, the facility is facing pending charges for maintaining inadequate disposition records, including for tiger cubs born at Serenity Springs.  The USDA has also cited the facility for failing to keep complete disposition and acquisition records for multiple animals.  USDA Inspection Reports (May 23, 2013, at 3; Jan. 7, 2013, at 1-2; June 25, 2007, at 2; July 6, 2006, at 1).

 

  • Standard 1.5.2 requires that “[a]ll animals” be held “in appropriate groupings.”  Serenity Springs reports that two tigers have died due to separate fights with enclosure mates within a four-year period.  App. 29-30.  Dr. Mel Richardson, who has more than thirty years of experience as a keeper and veterinarian caring for and studying many species of captive wild animals, including tigers, confirms that it is neither usual nor acceptable for a facility to have this record of deaths from fighting.  Dr. Richardson Statement 1.

 

  • Standard 2.4.1 provides that “[t]he veterinary care program must emphasize disease prevention.”  The USDA Complaint alleges that, between May 2007 and April 2009, Serenity Springs failed to vaccinate animals against distemper, “or to take steps to eliminate or reduce their risk of contracting the disease,” leading to the deaths of a four-month-old lion, a seven-month-old tiger, two other young tigers, two twelve-week-old lions, an eleven-month-old lion, two one-year-old lions, and a ten-week-old black bear.  USDA Compl. ¶ 7.  Additionally, as aforementioned, two seven-month-old tigers further died of feline panleukopenia in 2009.  App. 34.  Since at least 2002, the AAZV has recommended that tigers never before vaccinated for panleukopenia receive at least two and preferably three booster vaccines approximately three weeks apart after six weeks of age, as well as an annual booster.  AAZV, Tiger SSP Vaccination Recommendations, http://www.aazv.org/?273.  It is highly unlikely that two tiger cubs would have died of this viral disease had they been appropriately vaccinated.  Dr. Richardson Statement 1. Furthermore, on May 18, 2009, the USDA cited Serenity Springs for failing to “[p]rovide effective drainage to . . . prevent the potential for . . . diseases in all animal enclosures.”  USDA Inspection Reports (May 18, 2009, at 4).  This was a repeat violation from inspections done on January 20, 2009; September 17, 2007; April 6, 2007; and May 12, 2004.  Id.  The facility still had not corrected the drainage problem almost five years after the original date of correction.  Id.  Likewise, Serenity Springs received at least eight citations for failing to maintain sanitary conditions, “to prevent possible . . . disease hazards,” between June 2007 and March 2010.  Id. (Mar. 9, 2010, at 6-7; Sept. 17, 2007, at 3-4; June 25, 2007, at 4).  The facility was also cited at least eleven times for failing to maintain a perimeter fence, which would “effectively restrict   . . . animals with contagious diseases from entering the facility.”  Id. (Feb. 7, 2012, at 1; Sept. 7, 2011, at 4-5; Jan. 19, 2011; Nov. 15, 2010; Mar. 11, 2010; Apr. 8, 2010; Mar. 9, 2010; Jan. 19, 2010; Oct. 1, 2009; May 18, 2009, at 5; Sept. 17, 2007).  In addition, the USDA cited Serenity Springs at least five times for failing to administer a proper “pest control program” and/or maintaining conditions that harbored pests.  Id. (Sept. 7, 2011, at 1, 5, 6; May 18, 2011, at 5; June 2, 2010; June 25, 2007, at 4-5).  The agency warned that “[t]hese pests could potentially spread disease to the animals at this facility.”  Id. (June 25, 2007, at 5).

 

  • Standard 2.4.2 provides that “keepers should not diagnose illnesses nor prescribe treatment.”  According to the USDA Complaint, on August 24, 2008, Sculac, who has no veterinary training, diagnosed a tiger, Nala, as having cancer.  He unsuccessfully attempted to inject her with euthanasia solution, before ultimately killed her by cutting her throat.  USDA Compl. ¶ 15.b.  The Complaint also asserts that a leopard and her enclosure mate died tragically in January or February 2010, after the female was observed in “obvious distress,” because Sculac incorrectly diagnosed her as being in labor and failed to contact the attending veterinarian.  Id. ¶ 7.

 

  • Standard 2.6.1 requires that “[a]animal food preparation and storage . . . meet all applicable laws and/or regulations.”  On September 7, 2011, a USDA inspector observed an open bag of animal food on the ground “around fecal material with flies swarming around the bag.”  USDA Inspection Reports (Sept. 7, 2011, at 5).  This was a repeat violation from inspections on November 15, 2010; March 11, 2010; January 19, 2010; October 2, 2009; May 20, 2009; and September 17, 2007.  Id.  An accumulation of feces was also observed in animal feed on multiple occasions.  Id. (Jan. 7, 2013, at 3).

 

  • Standard 2.8.1 requires institutions to administer “[p]est control management programs   . . . in such a manner that the animals . . . are not threatened by the pests [or] contamination for pests . . . .”  Serenity Springs was cited by the USDA for failing to administer an adequate “pest control program” on May 18, 2011 and June 25, 2007.  Id. (May 18, 2011, at 5; June 25, 2007, at 4-5).  The agency also cited the facility multiple times for maintaining conditions with the potential to harbor pests.  Id. (Sept. 17, 2011, at 1, 5, 6; May 18, 2011, at 5; June 2, 2010; June 25, 2007).

 

  • Standard 9.1 provides that, “[t]he institution, regardless of whether operating on a profit or nonprofit basis, must provide sufficient evidence of its financial support.”  As § III.E.1 details, Serenity Spring lacks the financial stability to become an AZA-member zoo.  The facility’s most recent IRS Form 990, for the year 2011, shows net assets or fund balances of -$3,238 at the beginning of the year and -$43,096 at the end.  2011 Form 990.  And this is hardly an aberration:  The 990 for 2007 shows a balance of -$301,015 at the beginning of the year and -$351,401 at the end.  2007 Form 990.

 

  • Standard 10.1.1 requires that “[g]ood housekeeping [b]e regularly practiced.”  Serenity Springs utterly fails to meet this standard.  The USDA has cited it innumerable times for poor housekeeping, including, but not limited to, maintaining conditions with the potential to harbor pests; keeping food near fecal matter; failing to dispose of expired drugs; allowing standing water with scum and slime to form in animal enclosures; maintaining unsanitary contaminations; and allowing animals’ water to become contaminated.  USDA Inspection Reports (Sept. 17, 2011, May 18, 2011; Nov. 14, 2010; June 2, 2010; Mar. 9, 2010; Jan. 19, 2010; Oct. 2, 2009; May 18, 2009; Sept. 17, 2007; June 25, 2007; Apr. 6, 2007; Oct. 8, 2004; May 12, 2004).

 

  • Standard 10.3.4 requires that “[w]hen sunlight is likely to cause overheating of or discomfort to the animals, sufficient shade (in addition to shelter structures) must be provided by natural or artificial means to allow all animals kept outdoors to protect themselves from direct sunlight.”  On May 18, 2009, the USDA cited Serenity Springs for failing to provide adequate “protection from the direct sunlight” to fifty-two animals in twenty-five enclosures.  USDA Inspection Reports (May 18, 2009, at 4).  This was a repeat violation from June 25, 2007, when “[s]everal of the animals with insufficient shade were observed heavily panting.”  Id. (June 25, 2007, at 3).

 

  • Standard 11.1.1 requires that the institution “be in compliance with all applicable laws and/or regulations regarding employee training for safety in the workplace.”  Again, OSHA recently fined Serenity Springs $7,000 for a “willful” violation of the OSH Act, for requiring employees to get into the enclosures with tigers, after a volunteer was seriously injured by one.

 

  • Standard 11.3.3 provides, in relevant part, that “[a]nimals maintained where they will be in contact with the visiting public must be carefully monitored.”  On July 7, 2011, the USDA cited Serenity Springs for exhibiting a tiger on a leash that was not large enough, while only a rope and a fifty-inch space separated the tigers from the public.  USDA Inspection Reports (July 7, 2011, at 1).  On August 29, 2007, the agency again cited the facility for failing to restrain African lion cubs who were in direct contact with the public at photo shoots.  Id. (Aug. 29, 2007, at 1).  Serenity Springs was also cited for placing insufficient distance between the public and two large cats—a leopard and an adult tiger, while each cage was only monitored by one handler.  The handlers apparently failed to stop the adult cats from reaching their paws out of the cages or the public from sticking fingers into a cage holding tiger cubs.  Id. (Nov. 10, 2006, at 1).  And, on April 30, 2004, the USDA cited Serenity Springs for holding animals in open crates during public exhibition.  The animals continually jumped out of the crates, into which the public was also able to reach.  Id. (Apr. 30, 2004, at 2).

 

  • Standard 11.8.1 requires perimeter fencing, which is “constructed,” in part, “so that it protects the animals in the facility by restricting animals outside the facility.”  Serenity Springs has been cited at least eleven times for failing to maintain a perimeter fence, which would “effectively restrict . . . animals with contagious diseases from entering the facility.”  Id. (Feb. 7, 2012, at 1; Sept. 7, 2011, at 4-5; Jan. 19, 2011; Nov. 15, 2010; Mar. 11, 2010; Apr. 8, 2010; Mar. 9, 2010; Jan. 19, 2010; Oct. 1, 2009; May 18, 2009, at 5; Sept. 17, 2007).

 

Furthermore, although Serenity Springs contends that it wants “to begin the process of working with the AZA and their SSP,” App. 30, none of the facilities that it claims that it “works with and will be working with to acquir[e] other specimens” for its breeding program are members of SSPs, see App. 5, 12-13. 

 

  1. iii.  Sculac has arranged to acquire endangered wildlife from, and dispose of them to, disreputable breeders. 

 

Also indicative of Serenity Springs’s lack of involvement in protection of endangered species are the close associations that Serenity Springs has with other exhibitors who have well-documented histories of abusing and neglecting animals—including endangered species—and violating applicable state and federal laws.  Among these owners of exotic animals are the notorious Joe Schriebvogel of GW Exotic in Oklahoma, the disgraced and now defunct Wesa-A-Geh-Ya facility in Missouri, and Las Vegas-based entertainer Dirk Arthur, who breeds, transfers and uses tigers as props in a magic act.

  1. 1.     GW Exotic/Joe Schreibvogel (Wynnewood, OK)

 

In his application, Sculac notes that—in the past four years alone—he has obtained at least eighteen animals from “GW Exotic Animal,” operated by Joe Schreibvogel, aka “Joe Exotic.”  Of these eighteen animals, twelve were reportedly tigers (of whom eight were reportedly cubs or juveniles). GW Exotic and Schreibvogel (collectively, “GW Exotic”) have notorious reputations for abuse and neglect of animals.

GW Exotic has been cited repeatedly by the USDA for violating the minimum standards of care set forth in the federal AWA and was charged with more than sixty violations of the AWA in 2005.  Compl., In re: Joe Schreibvogel, et al., AWA Docket No. 05-0014 (Apr. 14, 2005).  In January 2006, GW Exotic’s USDA license was suspended, it was put on probation for eighteen months, and it agreed to pay a $25,000 civil penalty to settle USDA charges that included dangerous animal handling practices, filthy transport conditions, failure to provide animals with drinking water, insufficient staffing, and verbally abusing federal officials, as well as many charges of filthy, wet, unsafe, and dilapidated enclosures.  Consent Decision and Order, In re: Joe Schreibvogel et al., AWA Docket No. 05-0014 (Jan. 26, 2006).  The agency noted that GW Exotic had demonstrated “a consistent disregard for, and unwillingness to abide by, the requirements” of the AWA and a “lack of good faith.”  Compl., In re: Joe Schreibvogel, et al., AWA Docket No. 05-0014, at ¶ 6 (Apr. 14, 2005).

Following these citations, PETA conducted an undercover investigation of GW Exotic.  PETA’s investigator found dead, dying, and injured animals; extremely crowded conditions; a serious lack of basic necessities, such as food, water, and veterinary care; inadequate cages; and untrained and incompetent staff who were intentionally cruel to numerous animals.  The problems that we documented included the following:

  • Many animals went unfed for days at a time.
  • Animals were routinely hit, kicked, sprayed with cold water, struck with rakes and shovels, and blasted with fire extinguishers to break up frequent fights.
  • Two healthy adult tigers were killed, and their teeth were reportedly cut out to be given away as gifts.
  • Lion and tiger cubs born at the facility were removed from their mothers immediately after birth and then were often declawed—a practice that the USDA has now banned—and taken on the road.
  • Lit cigarettes and cigars were given to primates.
  • Employees were instructed to falsify paperwork required by the USDA regarding animal feeding schedules and environmental enrichment for primates.
  • Animals frequently escaped because of the inadequate cage security and careless personnel.
  • Incompatible animals were not separated, and many incurred serious injuries from fighting.

Photos from the investigation are attached and are also available here.  Since PETA’s investigation, GW Exotic has continued to violate the AWA and has been repeatedly cited by the USDA.  In fact, as of 2012, the USDA had “three ongoing cases” involving GW Exotic for its continued disregard for minimum standards of care.  Letter from USDA Staff Veterinarian to Anna Barry, Senior Biologist, DMA, FWS, Apr. 4, 2012.

 

  1. 2.     Wesa-A-Geh-Ya (Warrenton, MO)

The application shows that Sculac obtained at least eight tigers from a squalid and unlicensed roadside zoo called Wesa-A-Geh-Ya in Warrenton, Missouri, prior to the facility’s closure in 2008. Wesa-A-Geh-Ya also transferred tigers to Schreibvogel at that time.

The transfer of animals from Wesa-A-Geh-Ya to Sculac and Schreibvogel in 2008 occurred more than two years after Wesa-A-Geh-Ya’s federal exhibitor’s license had been revoked by the USDA.  Indeed, on March 1, 2006, Wesa-A-Geh-Ya owners Kenneth and Sandra Smith signed a Consent Order agreeing to the permanent revocation of their USDA license after the USDA filed administrative charges for the Smiths’ willful violations of the AWA.  See Consent Decision and Order, In re: Sandra Smith et al., AWA Docket No. 05-0004.  As discussed later in § III.D.4, these interstate transfers violated the CWSA.[7]

Wesa-A-Geh-Ya’s closure was prompted after a  volunteer was attacked by a tiger and lost his leg above the knee, Sarah Whitney, Tigers Head Out, Suburban Journal, Sept. 17, 2008, and came about a year after the Warren County Sheriff’s Department cited Wesa-A-Geh-Ya’s owners for violating Missouri law by failing to register prohibited animals, see Offense Report, Warren County Sheriff’s Department, June 1, 2007.

  1. 3.     Dirk Arthur (Las Vegas, NV)

 

Despite publicly representing that Serenity Springs keeps tigers “until they die” and that Sculac and Serenity Springs “don’t breed” and “neuter [any animal] that comes in,” see Sarah Whitney, Tigers Head Out, Suburban Journal, Sept. 17, 2008, Sculac provided a tiger cub who had been born at Serenity Springs in April 2011 to entertainer Dirk Arthur, who uses tigers for a magic act called “Dirk Arthur’s Wild Magic” in Las Vegas, App. 34.  Sculac has also obtained exotic cats from Arthur.  Id. at 25-26.

 

Arthur has been cited by the USDA on numerous occasions for failing to comply with AWA regulations, including unsanitary facilities, and numerous instances in which tigers were kept in hot metal cages in direct sunlight where temperatures reached up to 127 degrees.  USDA Inspection Reports for Illusioneering, Inc. and Dirk Arthur, Jan. 15, 2008, June 20, 2007, Aug. 31, 2006, and July 14, 2005.

  1. B.    Serenity Springs’s Purported “Educational” Activities Do Not and Cannot Justify Its Application for a CBW Permit. 

In response to the requirement that it provide “a specific description of how your proposed activities are going to facilitate captive breeding of the species,” for which a permit is sought, App. 2, Serenity Springs makes vague, general comments about how it “educate[s] the public on the plight of species on five continents and what we, as humans need to do to help fund wildlife preserves.”  Id. at 28.  This is not only untrue—it is irrelevant.  The CBW regulations provide that “[p]ublic education activities may not be the sole basis to justify issuance of a registration.”  50 C.F.R. § 17.21(g)(3); see also FWS, Captive-Bred Wildlife Registration under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (“Please note that registrations are not issued for conservation education only.”).  When the agency amended the CBW regulations to codify this policy in 1993, it voiced concern that, in the absence of such limitation, “captive-bred animals . . . might be used for purposes that do not contribute to conservation, such as . . . for entertainment.”  Captive-Bred Wildlife Regulation, 57 Fed. Reg. 548-01, 550 (Jan. 7, 1992) (emphasis added).  In the preamble to the final rule, the agency explained that it has “sincere doubts about the relative conservation benefits that are provided to non-native species in the wild from the public exhibition of living wildlife.”  Captive-Bred Wildlife Regulation, 58 Fed. Reg. 68323, 68324 (Dec. 27, 1993) (emphasis added).

The rule that “[p]ublic education activities may not be the sole basis to justify issuance of a registration,” 50 C.F.R. § 17.21(g)(3), also reflects the near consensus in the scientific community that using endangered species in exhibitions and entertainment has no impact on public attitudes about conservation.  For example:

  • In 2001, the AZA set out to measure the impact of zoo visits on visitors’ “conservation-related knowledge, attitude, affect and behavior.”  Lynn D. Dierking, Visitor Learning in Zoos and Aquariums: Executive Summary, AZA, at i (2001-2002).  The study concluded that claims that zoos might have the potential to impact positively guests’ conservation knowledge, affect and behavior, “were not substantiated or validated by actual research.”  Id.

 

  • A survey at Rosamond Gifford Zoo reported in AZA’s Communiqué in 2003 by the zoo’s then-president, Dr. Anne Baker, showed that the zoo’s guests were not looking for a serious educational experience.  Instead, the public reported overwhelmingly that a visit to the zoo meant quality time with family members and fun.  Lisa Kane, Contemporary Zoo Elephant Management: Captive to a 19th Century Mission, in An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity 87, 94 (Debra L. Forthman et al. eds., 2009) (citing Anne Baker, From the President, 3 Communiqué (Dec. 2003)).

 

  • In 2006, a comprehensive study was conducted at five UK zoos aimed at directly measuring the educational impact of a zoo visit.  Visitors were asked questions before and after a visit to assess their (1) conservation knowledge; (2) commitment to conservation; and (3) capacity to get involved.  No statistically significant changes were measured across the five sites, with the exception of one zoo in which visitors seemed to have a heightened awareness of how they might contribute to conservation.  This anomaly was later thought to be an artifact of visitors being in a hurry to enter and therefore being less accurate in their first round of answers than they would have been otherwise, so that it appeared that their knowledge improved after the visit more than it had.  Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Welfare State: Measuring Animal Welfare In The UK 2006, at 95-96 (2006).

 

  • Another study conducted at Lincoln Park Zoo’s gorilla and chimpanzee exhibits showed that frequent exhibit visitors were no more knowledgeable than first-time visitors and found, no change in attitudes about gorillas or chimpanzees.  This lack of improved attitude was absent whether zoo guests were first-time or frequent visitors.  K. E. Lukas & S. R. Ross, Zoo Visitor Knowledge and Attitudes Gorillas and Chimpanzees, 36 Journal of Environmental Education 33, 33-34, 41, 46-47 (2005).

 

  • In terms of affecting zoo guest action, a study at Brookfield Zoo failed to detect a significant effect on visitors’ intent to get involved in conservation even after multiple visits to an exhibit called The Swamp.  Carol D. Saunders & H. Elizabeth Stuart Perry, Summative Evaluation of the Swamp: a Conservation Exhibit with a Big Idea, XII Visitor Behavior 4, 5-6 (1997).

 

  • Zoo Atlanta investigated whether its interactive elephant exhibit encouraged active support for elephant conservation.  Visitors leaving the zoo were asked to take an already stamped postcard and send it to the White House expressing their views on whether or not the United States should continue its moratorium on the ivory trade.  Only 5.9 percent of those who saw the zoo’s elephant show and experienced the interactive elephant display at the zoo mailed the cards.  Zoo visitors who saw neither returned the cards at a rate of 3.8 percent.  Jeffrey S. Swanagan, Factors Influencing Zoo Visitors’ Conservation Attitudes and Behavior, 31 Journal of Environmental Education 26, 26-30 (2000).

 

  • A study of visitors to Monterey Bay Aquarium found that any improved commitment to conservation amongst visitors this had disappeared several months after their visit to the facility.  L. Adelman et al., Impact of National Aquarium in Baltimore on Visitors’ Conservation Attitudes, Behavior, and Knowledge, 43 Curator 33-61 (2000).

 

  • Visitors to San Francisco’s UnderWater World Aquarium were asked if they thought that they had learned anything (rather than directly testing their knowledge) and a majority, 78%, felt they had not.  Aline H. Kidd & Robert M. Kidd, Aquarium Visitors’ Perceptions and Attitudes toward the Importance of Marine Biodiversity, 81 Psychological Reports 1083-88 (1997).

Therefore, Serenity Springs’s so-called educational programs do nothing to enhance the propagation and survival of the species, as the ESA and its regulations require.

  1. C.   Serenity Springs Has Made False Statements as to Material Facts in Connection with Its Application.

In addition to its failure “to disclose material information required,” discussed infra, Serenity Springs “has made false statements as to . . . material fact[s], in connection with [its] application.”  50 C.F.R. 13.21(b)(2).  This alone warrants denial of Serenity Springs’s permit application.  See id.

Specifically, Serenity Springs has made numerous false and misleading statements regarding the causes of mortalities at its facility. For example:

  • In its permit application Serenity Springs attributes the February 2010 deaths of two leopards—species for which it now seeks a permit to breed—to “old age,” without elaboration.  App. 34.  According to the USDA, however, these leopards died as a result of Serenity Springs’s willful failure to provide adequate veterinary care and failure to properly handle animals.  USDA Compl. ¶ 25.  The USDA found that, rather than obtain veterinary care for a female leopard who was in obvious distress, Sculac opined that the animal was giving birth.  According to the USDA, “the leopard was discovered dead and hour later.”  Id.  The animal’s body was then left overnight in an enclosure she shared with a male leopard.  According to the USDA:

The following morning, the male leopard was discovered lying on top of the female, vocalizing and in distress, whereupon . . . Sculac administered tranquilizers to the male leopard and affixed a noose around his neck to remove him from atop the dead female leopard. . . . Sculac then injected the male leopard  with a reversal drug, and removed the noose.  The male leopard entered the shelter, appeared to have trouble breathing, and was bleeding from his nose and mouth.  He was discovered dead the following morning.

Id.

  • In its permit application Serenity Springs similarly attributes the July 2009 death of a cougar to “old age” and the death of a tiger—another species that the facility seeks a permit to breed—the same day to “old age put down by vet had cancer.”  App. 34.  In fact, according to the USDA, both of these animals were euthanized by a volunteer veterinary technician.  USDA Compl ¶ 23.b.  The USDA found that these deaths were caused by Serenity Springs’s failure to provide adequate veterinary care to these two animals, who had “obvious medical problems.”  Id. 
  • In its permit application Serenity Springs describes the January 2010 death of a lynx as follows: “13yr old- impaction/died during surgery.”  App. 34.  According to the USDA, however, the cause of death was likely septicemia, arising from a denial of veterinary care.  See USDA Compl. ¶ 24.  Specifically, the USDA found that Serenity Springs:

failed to obtain veterinary care for a female lynx (Phoebe) suffering from a prolapsed uterus.  [Serenity Springs] did not seek veterinary care for Phoebe for one week.  Surgery revealed several inches of impacted feces including wood shavings.  Phoebe died in [Serenity Springs’s] custody following surgery.  The attending veterinarian reported that the suspected cause of death was septicemia due to the length of time of impaction.

Id.

  • In its permit application Serenity Springs attributes the death of a bear cub in March 2009 to “runt of litter died of pneumonia.”  App. 34.  According to the USDA, this cub died as a result of willful improper handling by Serenity Springs, which “fed the bears with a bottle in such a manner that both developed aspiration pneumonia, from inhaling milk into their lungs, which caused the death of one of the bears.”  USDA Compl. ¶ 20The USDA further reports that a second cub died at Serenity Springs on April 9, 2009, of distemper, id.—a death that does not even appear on the list of mortalities submitted to the FWS by Serenity Springs.
  • Serenity Springs appears to have failed to include at least one other mortality from the list that it submitted as part of its CBW permit application:  According to the USDA, on August 24, 2008, Sculac, who is not a veterinarian, diagnosed a tiger named Nala as having cancer and then, rather than obtain veterinary care for her, gave the tiger “three doses of a sedative, unsuccessfully attempted to inject Nala with a euthanasia solution, and ultimately killed her by cutting her throat, and reported to Colorado officials that Nala had died of natural causes.”  Id. ¶ 15.b.  Serenity Springs has not listed any tiger deaths on our around this date in the application that it submitted to the FWS.  See App. 34.

The FWS should also be skeptical of Serenity Springs’s assertions that many of its mortalities are due to “old age.”  Aside from the fact that this is not a cause of death—and that as noted above the applicant has clearly made false and misleading statements about some of these deaths—just earlier this year the USDA inspector found a tiger at Serenity Springs who was “extremely thin such that all his ribs were visible and his hip bones were protruding.”  USDA Inspection Reports (Jan. 7, 2013, at 1).  The inspector reported: “When asked about this animal, the licensee initially said it was an older animal but, on review of records, this animal was noted to be born in 2007 and acquired by the licensee on 8/26/12.”  Id.

Because Serenity Springs has made numerous false and misleading statements to the FWS in its CBW permit application—statements that bear directly on its ability to properly care for the animals it seeks a permit to breed—the application should be denied outright.

  1. D.   Serenity Springs “has failed to demonstrate a valid justification for the permit and a showing of responsibility.”

The FWS must reject the application because Serenity Springs “has failed to demonstrate . . . a showing of responsibility.”  50 C.F.R. § 13.21(b)(3).  A “showing of responsibility” is a demonstration that the applicant is “capable” of successfully operating a captive-breeding program.  OSG Prod. Tankers LLC v. United States, 82 Fed. Cl. 570, 575 (Fed. Cl. 2008) (discussing a “showing of responsibility” in the context of government contracts).  “Responsibility determinations are practical, not legal determinations based primarily on the [applicant]’s suitability for a particular job.”  Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted) (quoting Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, 714 F.2d 163, 167 n.18 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (same)).

 

  1. 1.     The mortalities at Serenity Springs demonstrate that it is unqualified to receive a CBW permit. 

 

The number and causes of animal mortalities at Serenity Springs make the facility utterly unsuitable to receive a CBW permit.  The facility lists an astonishing fifty-nine deaths in the past five years.  If approximately 140 animals are at the facility “at all times,” as the Application claims, this means that almost thirty percent of the animals maintained by Serenity Springs in the past five years have died.  See App. 34-35.    

Many of the animals at Serenity Springs have died as a result of poor veterinary care, negligence, and improper handling.  For example, according to the USDA Complaint, on August 24, 2008, Sulac, who has no veterinary training, diagnosed a tiger, Nala, as having cancer.  He unsuccessfully attempted to inject her with euthanasia solution, before ultimately killing her by cutting her throat.  USDA Complaint ¶ 15.b.  On March 10, 2009, two bear cubs purportedly developed aspiration pneumonia, from inhaling milk into their lungs, as a result of their poor handling.  One of the cubs died.  Id. ¶ 20.  In addition, the USDA complaint alleges that, between May 2007 and April 2009, Serenity Springs failed to vaccinate animals against distemper, “or to take steps to eliminate or reduce their risk of contracting the disease,” leading to the deaths of a four-month-old lion, a seven-month-old tiger, two other young tigers, two twelve-week-old lions, an eleven-month-old lion, two one-year-old lions, and a ten-week-old black bear.  Id. ¶ 7.  According to the USDA, Serenity Springs also failed to provide any veterinary care for two cats—a tiger and a cougar—“with obvious medical problems.”  Id. ¶ 23.b.  Instead, without notifying a veterinarian, the facility had a volunteer “euthanize” the animals himself.  Id.   Again, according to the USDA, on January 19, 2010, Serenity Springs did not provide veterinary care for a lynx, Phoebe, with a painful prolapsed uterus, which caused impaction.  “Surgery revealed several inches of impacted feces including wood shavings.”  Id. ¶ 24.  Phoebe died of septicemia after surgery, likely “due to the length of time of impaction.”  Id.  The USDA complaint also asserts that two leopards died tragically in January or February 2010, because Serenity Springs failed to obtain veterinary care despite their “obvious distress.”  Id. ¶ 7.  And tigers were killed in fights with enclosure mates on two separate occasions.  App. 34-35 (listing deaths on October 10, 2008 and May 15, 2012).  Dr. Richardson confirms “[t]hat this is unacceptable and indicates poor management and husbandry practices.”  Dr. Richardson Statement 1.

Serenity Springs also states that a five-week-old black bear cub who died on March 14, 2009 was the “runt of litter died of pneumonia.”  App. 34.  Again, however, as Dr. Richardson, who has more than thirty years of experience caring for captive wild animals, explains, attributing a cub’s death “to the fact the cub was the runt of the litter . . . is a sign of incompetence.  Runts of the litter when hand raised have just as good a chance at survival as the larger cubs . . . .”  Dr. Richardson Statement 2.

Furthermore, two seven-month-old tigers died of feline panleukopenia in 2009.  Serenity Springs asserts that “we now have a complete veterinary facility with the ability to quarantine animals.”  Attachment E to the Application 2.  But, as far back as at least 2002, the AAZV has recommended that tigers never before vaccinated for panleukopenia receive at least two and preferably three booster vaccines approximately three weeks apart after six weeks of age, as well as an annual booster.  AAZV, Tiger SSP Vaccination Recommendations, http://www.aazv.org/?273.  It is highly unlikely that two tiger cubs would have died of this viral disease had they been appropriately vaccinated.  Statement of Dr. Richardson 1. 

Serenity Springs also reports that a tiger was “put down” due to a “very large hygroma,” which was impossible to treat.  App. 35.  However, as Dr. Richardson explains, “there is no reason other than negligence or lack of proper veterinary care that a tiger’s hygroma should get so large that the tiger needs to be euthanized.  Hygromas are essentially caused by poor management.”  Statement of Dr. Richardson 1.

In a recent USDA inspection report, inspectors noted that the facility acquired three-day-old white tiger cubs.  One died within twenty-four hours of arriving at Serenity Springs, while another was euthanized.  The reported cited the facility for transporting and handling “very young and unhealthy animals,” which likely caused the cubs trauma and unnecessary discomfort and “may have contributed to these animals’ deaths.”  USDA Inspection Reports (May 23, 2013, at 3).

In the same inspection report, it was noted that an employee had observed a female tiger in labor and contacted the attending veterinarian, who told the employee to monitor the tiger.  The next day the mother and her cub were found dead.  According to the inspector, the employee did not appear to have monitored the tiger, as ordered by the veterinarian, “in order to prevent the death of this tiger and her cub.”  Id. (May 23, 2013, at 1-2).

Finally, the June, 2, 2010 inspection report states that a male tiger died three days after beginning to show signs of declining health, such as losing weight rapidly, drinking lots of water, and having difficulty walking.  The staff attempted to contact the veterinarian, but was unable to make contact for four days.  During that time, the facility failed to make any attempts to contact another veterinarian.  According to the inspector, there was no provision for backup or emergency veterinary care in the written program of veterinary care.  Id. (June 2, 2010, at 1).

Serenity Springs cannot possibly demonstrate a “showing of responsibility” in light of its history of negligently and inhumanely causing the deaths of numerous animals.

  1. 2.     Serenity Springs’s chronic and egregious AWA violations

 

Serenity Springs cannot demonstrate a “showing of responsibility” because it has a history of improperly handling animals; failing to provide animals with veterinary care; maintaining animals in unsafe and unhygienic conditions; failing to adequately guard the public safety; and failing to grant USDA inspectors access to its facilities—all in violation of the AWA.  In addition to the egregious alleged violations detailed in the last subsection, Serenity Springs has committed the following AWA violations, among many others:

 

  • On May 31, 2013, the USDA cited Serenity Springs for failing to provide its inspectors access to the facility and animals.  According to the inspection report, “[t]he licensee was contacted by APHIS officials via phone.  When the inspector stated that they needed access to conduct an inspection, the licensee refused to come to the facility, have any other representative come to the facility, or allow anyone present at the facility to conduct an inspection despite having allowed facility employees to accompany inspectors on inspection in the past.”  Id. (May 31, 2013).  This was at least the tenth time that the agency had cited Serenity Springs for failing to provide it access.  See also id. (Apr. 15, 2013; Mar. 20, 2013; Dec. 7, 2011; Sept. 3, 2010; Aug. 25, 2009; Apr. 3, 2009; Mar. 9, 2007; Dec. 6, 2006; Nov. 14, 2002).  

 

  • On May 23, 2013, a tiger was observed limping.  Sculac claimed that he had first noticed the tiger’s condition “last night,” but “no records were made or available for review at the time of the inspection and no contact had been made with a veterinarian to diagnose or treat the condition.”  USDA Inspection Reports (May 23, 2013, at 1).  This was a repeat violation.  Id. 

 

  • Also on May 23, 2013, the inspector observed that a second tiger was lame.  The facility had previously contacted the veterinarian about the tiger “losing weight,” and the veterinarian had started her on antibiotics after finding ulcers in her mouth and a broken tooth.  Id.  However, the tiger had not had a follow-up visit from the veterinarian for at least thirty-three days.  “No plan for follow-up on this animal’s condition was made,” nor had anyone “noticed the abnormal gait nor reported it to the veterinarian.”  Id.  This was another repeat violation.  Id. 

 

  • On January 7, 2013, the USDA inspector observed that a male white Bengal tiger was “extremely thin such that all his ribs were visible and his bones protruding.”  Id. (Jan. 7, 2013, at 1).  When asked, Sculac told the inspector that the tiger was an “older animal” but, on review of the records, it was learned that the tiger was born in 2007.  No one at Serenity Springs had noted the tiger’s condition or contacted the veterinarian.  Id. 

 

  • Also on January 7, 2013, the USDA inspector reported:  “No documentation/records were available to show the disposition of 1 adult Paca which was still listed in the book for current animals on hand.  Licensee stated the animal had passed away but could not provide a date or identify which of the two Pacas (the acquisition record listed 1 male and 1 female) had died.”  Id. (Jan. 7, 2013, at 2). 

 

  • Serenity Springs was repeatedly cited by the USDA for allowing animals’ food to become contaminated.  See id. (Jan. 7, 2013, at 3; Sept. 12, 2011; Nov. 15, 2010; Mar. 9, 2010; Jan. 19, 2010; Oct. 1, 2009; May 18, 2009). 

 

  • On November 5, 2010, the USDA cited the facility for failing to follow veterinary instructions.  Three tigers had corneal opacities and changes to their eyes, “for which the AV recommended providing increased shade to minimize potential pain and distress from these conditions and to prevent further worsening of these conditions.”  Id. (Nov. 5, 2010, at 1).  No changes were made.  This was a repeat violation from June 2, 2010; May 18, 2009; and June 25, 2007.  Id.  More than three years had elapsed since the original correction date.  Id. 

 

  • Again on November 5, 2010, Serenity Springs was cited for failing to follow the attending veterinarian’s directions.  The veterinarian had prescribed two medications to treat a sore on a male leopard’s tail, but the facility appears to have discontinued treatment without seeking her advice.  Id. 

 

  • Also on November 5, 2010, the facility was cited for failing to provide over ninety days of prescribed analgesic treatment to a male leopard with “severe right forelimb swelling of the elbow, despite the veterinarian’s direction to continue treatment.  Id.  Sculac informed the USDA that he planned to schedule euthanasia “due to a lack of improvement in [the leopard’s] condition.”  Id. 

 

  • On June 2, 2010, the USDA cited Serenity Springs for failing to make provision for backup or emergency veterinary care in the written program of veterinary care, after a tiger who had gone without treatment for days died.  Id. (June 2, 2010, at 1). 

 

  • On March 9, 2010, the USDA once again cited the facility for inadequate veterinary care.  The attending veterinarian prescribed medication for two juvenile tigers suspected of having ringworm, but there were no records showing that the tigers were receiving this medication, nor was medication available to review during the inspection.  In addition, two other tigers who showed signs of ringworm were being given only half the prescribed dose of medication.  The attending veterinarian had not seen the tigers in two months, and there did not appear to be any improvement in their condition during that period.  Id. (Mar. 9, 2010, at 1). 

 

  • Again on March 9, 2010, staff told the USDA inspector that they had first noted a male mountain lion’s “significant” lameness three days earlier and that the attending veterinarian had instructed them to “watch it for now.”  Id. (Mar. 9, 2010, at 2).  However, “[d]uring an interview with the attending veterinarian shortly after the inspection was performed, she stated that she had not been notified of this animal’s condition.  There were no records kept at the facility that indicated the staff had attempted to notify the attending veterinarian as stated.”  Id. 

 

  • Also on March 9, 2010, “[a] female leopard, Casey, was noted to have hair loss, reddened tissue, and bone exposed at the tip of her tail.  The condition of this lesion [was] serious as the risk of infection into the vertebral column and adjacent tissues [was] high.”  Id.  However, “[t]he attending veterinarian had not been notified of this animals [sic] worsening condition by the licensee.”  Id.  A male leopard housed with Casey was also noted to have “multiple reddened, erosive areas on both nostrils and on his lower right lip.”  Id.  The condition had been reported during the previous inspection, on January 19, 2010, yet Serenity springs had yet to notify the attending veterinarian.  Id.  In addition, the USDA inspector noted that three coatimundis had “significant hair loss on their tails, backs, and sides.”  Id.  Although staff had notified the attending veterinarian, they had not relayed to her “the extent of the hair loss . . . so she was unaware how severely these animals were affected.”  Id.  Finally, the USDA inspector observed a female mountain lion and a female tiger with “hair loss and reddened skin.”  Id.  Staff had not notified the attending veterinarian, even though they were aware of the condition and claimed to be treating it with a Betadine spray.  Id.  

 

  • That same day, several leopards were observed to be exhibiting “self-inflicted lesions on their tails.”  Id. (Mar. 9, 2010, at 3).  Sculac told the inspector that the leopards were receiving the prescribed treatment, but there was no communication with the attending veterinarian as to whether they had responded to the treatment since the veterinarian’s last visit to the facility two months earlier.  Id. 

 

  • On March 9, 2010, the USDA inspector reported:  “Two leopards died (one on 2/12/2010 and the other on 2/14/10 according to disposition records) but the attending veterinarian had not been notified of any problems with these animals and only learned that the animals had died during a facility board meeting.”  Id.

 

  • The USDA has repeatedly cited Serenity Springs for unsanitary conditions, including providing animals with unsanitary water.  See, e.g., id. (three citations on Mar. 9, 2010, at 6-7; two citations on Sept. 17, 2007, at 3-4; three citations on June 25, 2007, at 4). 

 

  • On January 19, 2010, Serenity Springs was cited for failing to provide veterinary care to six tigers and three leopards with hair loss, “thin body appearance,” limping, cloudy corneas, and lesions, among other conditions.  Id. (Jan. 19, 2010, at 1-2).  The facility failed to notify the attending veterinarian about any of these animals’ conditions.  Id.   

 

  • On January 20, 2009, the USDA inspector reported:  “The program of veterinary care is not always being maintained effectively.  Timely and accurate information on problems of animal health and well-being is not always being conveyed to the attending veterinarian.”  Id. (Jan. 20, 2009, at 1).  As evidence, the inspector noted that staff had not detected during the required daily observation, nor had the attending veterinarian been notified about, the condition of one tiger with abrasions, hair loss, and “inflamed and red colored skin” and a second tiger with an “open wound about 2 wide by 5 long o her belly by her back legs.”  Id. 

 

  • On January 2, 2008, a leopard, Rosebud, was observed “hunched over in an abnormal posture with poor hair coat and open wound on the tail.”  Id. (Jan. 2, 2008, at 1).  Another, Thunder, was observed with “open wounds on the tail.”  Id.  There was no evidence that Serenity Springs staff had detected the leopards’ conditions during the required daily observation, nor had the attending veterinarian been called.  Id. 

 

  • On September 17, 2007, the USDA inspector observed that a tiger, Sitara, had “several puncture wounds on the inside thigh of the rear right leg with some swelling and an open wound about 1” on the outside of the left leg.”  Id. (Sept. 17, 2007, at 1).  Another tiger, Eragon, was limping “with obvious swelling.”  Id.  There was no evidence that Serenity Springs staff had detected the tigers’ conditions during the required daily observation, nor had they contacted the attending veterinarian.  Id.   

 

  • The USDA has repeatedly cited Serenity Springs for exhibiting dangerous animals in a manner that places the public’s safety at risk.  See, e.g., id. (July 7, 2011, at 1; Aug. 29, 2007, at 1; Nov. 10, 2006, at 1; Apr. 30, 2004, at 2). 

 

  • On June 25, 2007 and October 8, 2004, the USDA cited Serenity Springs for failing to dispose of expired medication.  Id. (June 25, 2007, at 1; Oct. 8, 2004, at 1). 

 

As we discuss in § III.E.5, the USDA has also cited Serenity Springs numerous times for risking injury to the wildlife by failing to maintain its facilities in good repair.

 

  1. 3.     Serenity Springs’s likely violations of the ESA 
    1. a.     Likely unlawful transfers of endangered animals

Tigers are listed as endangered pursuant to the implementing regulations of the ESA, see 50 C.F.R. § 17.11, and the ESA prohibits the “sale or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any

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species,” and also makes it unlawful to deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce, by any means whatsoever and in the course of a commercial activity, any such species,” 16 U.S.C. § 1538(a)(1)(E).

The ESA allows for exceptions to these prohibitions in strictly limited circumstances, but reflects a policy of “institutionalized caution,” Tenn. Valley Auth. v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 194 (1978), and was carefully drafted “to limit substantially the number of exemptions that may be granted under the Act, . . . given that these exemptions apply to species which are in danger of extinction.”  Cong. Research Serv., 97th Cong., Legislative History of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as Amended in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980, at 156 (Comm. Print 1982) (H.R. Report 93-412 (July 27, 1973)) (emphases added).  Accordingly, § 10 allows Defendants to issue permits for export and import only “for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.” 16 U.S.C. § 1539(a)(1)(a).  A narrow regulatory exemption authorizes one to, in pertinent part, “export or re-import; deliver, receive, carry, transport or ship in interstate or foreign commerce, in the course of a commercial activity; or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce” tigers bred in captivity in the United States if (a) they are  “inter-subspecific crossed or ‘generic’” and (2) “the purpose of such activity is to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected exempted species.”  50 C.F.R. § 17.22(g).  If one does not qualify for this exception, then it is legally required to apply for a permit to sell any tiger, receive any tiger in the course of a commercial activity, and so forth. 16 U.S.C. § 1538(a)(1)(E).

Yet, as Serenity Springs CBW permit application makes clear, it has acquired tigers from numerous commercial entities over the years including, as previously discussed in § III.A.1.a, at least nineteen tigers from GW Exotic and at least seven tigers from Dirk Arthur, amongst others.  In all likelihood, these animals were sold and then received by Serenity Springs “in the course of a commercial activity”—i.e., the sale.  Because, as also discussed in § III.A.1.a, these transactions involved white tigers and other tigers who were almost certainly “generic,” they by definition have no conservation value, so the purpose of their purchase was not to enhance the propagation or survival of the species.  Accordingly the generic tiger exemption would not have applied.  And yet there is no indication that the requisite ESA permits were obtained by Serenity Springs or the sellers, indicating that in all likelihood these entities repeatedly engaged in unlawful activities in violation of the ESA.

  1. b.     Unlawful takes of endangered species 

Serenity Spring has also taken endangered wildlife, in violation of the ESA.  The ESA establishes a national policy “that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species and shall utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of [the Act].”  16 U.S.C. § 1531(c).  In relevant part, the Act prohibits persons from taking endangered species.  Id. § 1538(a)(1)(B)-(C).  The ESA defines the term “take” to include “harass, harm, . . . wound, kill, . . . or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”  Id. § 1532(19).  “Harass” is defined by regulation as “an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”  50 C.F.R. § 17.3.  As it pertains to captive animals,[8] such as the wildlife at issue, the definition of “harass” expressly exempts “generally accepted” animal husbandry practices and breeding procedures.  Id.  “Harm” means “an act which actually kills or injures wildlife.”  Id.

Although the ESA regulations do not define “wound,” the verb means “to cause a wound to or in” or “to inflict a wound.”  Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2011) (Definition of “Wound” (Verb)). The noun is defined as “an injury to the body (as from violence, accident, or surgery) that typically involves laceration or breaking of a membrane (as the skin) and usually damage to underlying tissues.” Id. (definition of “Wound” (Noun)); see also The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed. 2009) (definition of “Wound” (Noun)) (defining “wound” as “[i]njury to a part or tissue of the body, especially one caused by physical trauma and characterized by tearing, cutting, piercing, or breaking of the tissue”).  The Act’s prohibition on taking endangered species applies to the captive wildlife that Serenity Springs maintains.

As previously discussed, the USDA Complaint asserts that, on August 24, 2008, Sulac, who has no veterinary training, diagnosed a tiger, Nala, as having cancer.  He unsuccessfully attempted to inject her with euthanasia solution, before ultimately killed her by cutting her throat.  USDA Compl. ¶ 15.b.  According to the USDA, Serenity Springs also failed to provide any veterinary care for two cats—a tiger and a cougar—“with obvious medical problems.”  Id. ¶ 23.b.  Instead, without notifying a veterinarian, the facility had a volunteer “euthanize” the animals himself.  Id.  Tigers and certain cougar subspecies are listed as endangered under the ESA.  Serenity Springs therefore harmed and killed endangered wildlife, in breach of the ESA’s take prohibitions.  

As the previous subsections illustrate, Serenity Springs has also harmed endangered species, in violation of the ESA’s take prohibitions, by failing to provide them adequate veterinary care, failing to treat them as prescribed, failing to adequately monitor their health, housing them in unsafe and unhygienic conditions, exposing them to the risk of disease, and handling them in a manner that causes them trauma, stress, and unnecessary discomfort.

  1. 4.     Likely CWSA violations

It also appears likely that Serenity Springs has been involved in numerous violations of the CWSA amendment to the Lacey Act, which went into effect in September 2007.  The CWSA makes it unlawful to “import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce” “any prohibited wildlife species,” 16 U.S.C. § 3372(a)(2)(C), and defines “prohibited wildlife species” as “any live species of lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, or cougar or any hybrid of such a species,” id. § 3371(g).  While it has some exceptions, including for USDA-licensed facilities and for accredited wildlife sanctuaries that do not breed or commercially trade in animals, id. § 3372(e), it is broader than the ESA in that it applies to the prohibited species regardless of whether they are endangered and because it prohibits transfer across state lines even if no commercial activity is involved.  See also FWS, Captive Wildlife Safety Act: What Big Cat Owners Need to Know (Aug. 2007).

Because it appears from Serenity Springs’s own records that it has acquired prohibited wildlife species from out-of-state entities that are not licensed by the USDA on numerous occasions, it is likely that Serenity Springs has been party to numerous violations of the CWSA.  For example:

  • According to the inventory that Serenity Springs submitted to the FWS as part of its application, eight of the tigers it currently holds were acquired from from Wes-A-Geh-Ya in Warrenton, MO, in September 2008.  App. 25.  In fact, according to news reports, Serenity Springs acquired fifteen tigers from Wes-A-Geh-Ya at this time.  See Sarah Whitney, Tigers Head Out, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sept. 17, 2008 (discussing transfer of ten female and five male tigers).  Wes-A-Geh-Ya’s USDA license was permanently revoked pursuant to a consent decree two-and-a-half years prior to this transfer, see In re Smith et al., No. 05-004, Consent Decision and Order, meaning that in all likelihood the transfer of these tigers across state lines violated the CWSA.

 

  • According to the inventory that Serenity Springs submitted to the FWS as part of its application, it acquired two tigers from Michael Giles of Las Vegas, Nev., on November 14, 2008.  App. 25.  According to the USDA, Michael Giles is not a USDA-licensed facility and was not at the time of this transfer. Thus, regardless of whether these tigers were donated or sold, their transfer across state lines likely violated the CWSA. See 16 U.S.C. § 3372(a)(2)(C); see also FWS, Captive Wildlife Safety Act: What Big Cat Owners Need to Know (Aug. 2007).

 

  1. 5.     OSHA violations

 

In 2009, a volunteer suffered wounds to his wrist, forearm, bicep, and tricep when he was mauled by a tiger at the facility.  R. Scott Rappold, Big Cat Sanctuary Co-Founder Accused of Theft, The Gazette, Oct. 1, 2010.  Again, OSHA fined Serenity Springs $7,000 for a “willful” violation of the OSH Act, on the basis that “[t]he employer is not furnishing employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  OSHA Citation, No. 0830600, at 2 (July 14, 2009) (emphasis added).  The agency explained: “Employees are not physically separated from non-domestic felines while employees are cleaning cages. .  . .  To abate this violation, the employer must ensure that employees who clean cages are physically separated from non-domestic felines while the employees clean the cages.”  Id.  And, as discussed in greater detail in § III.E.2, infra, this was not the first time that OSHA had investigated Serenity Springs for a tiger attack on a volunteer.  See Dick Foster, OSHA to Inspect Refuge Where Tigers Mauled Man, Rocky Mountain News, July 2, 2003, at 11A (discussing 2003 attack by two tigers).

 

  1. 6.     Serenity Springs’s inability to comply with applicable federal regulations

 

  1. a.     Inhumane and unhealthy conditions 

The FWS cannot issue Serenity Springs the requested permit because the facility subjects endangered wildlife to inhumane and unhealthy conditions.  Demonstrating a “showing of responsibility” means demonstrating that Serenity Springs could meet the requirements of a CBW permit.  See OSG Prods. Tankers LLC, 82 Fed. Cl. at 575.  However, the facility cannot show that it would meet the requirements of a CBW permit because it cannot show that it will comply with 50 C.F.R. § 13.41, which mandates that “[a]ny live wildlife possessed under a permit must be maintained under humane and healthful conditions.”  Id.; see also id. § 13.2 (“The regulations contained in this part provide uniform, rules, conditions, and procedures for the . . . issuance, denial, suspension, revocation, and general administration of all permits issued pursuant to this subchapter B.”).

As these comments amply show, Serenity Springs has a long and egregious history of causing the deaths of animals; failing to provide animals veterinary care; failing to provide prescribed medical treatment to animals; housing animals in unsafe and unhygienic conditions; feeding them food at risk of contamination; providing them contaminated water; failing to perform, or incompetently performing, the required daily observation to monitor their health; and handling the animals in a manner that causes them trauma, stress, and discomfort.  See §§ III.A.1.c.i, III.D.1-2, III.E.5.    

  1. b.     Access

 

The implementing regulations require that “[a]ny person holding a[n ESA] permit . . . shall allow the Director’s agent to enter his premises at any reasonable hour to inspect any wildlife or plant held or to inspect, audit, or copy, any permits, books, or records required to be kept by regulations of this subchapter B.”  50 C.F.R. § 13.47.  In addition, the regulations provide that,

[b]y accepting [a CBW] permit, the permittee consents to and shall allow entry by agents or employees of the Service upon premises where the permitted activity is conducted at any reasonable hour.  Service agents or employees may enter such premises to inspect the location; any books, records, or permits required to be kept by this Subchapter B; and any wildlife or plants kept under authority of the permit.

Id. § 13.21(e)(2).

Serenity Springs also cannot show that it will comply with the requirements that it allow the FWS access to its premises, records, and animals.  As previously discussed, the USDA has cited the facility for failure to provide agency inspectors access at least ten timesSee USDA Inspection Reports (May 31, 2013; Apr. 15, 2013; Mar. 20, 2013; Dec. 7, 2011; Sept. 3, 2010; Aug. 25, 2009; Apr. 3, 2009; Mar. 9, 2007; Dec. 6, 2006; Nov. 14, 2002).  There is no reason to believe that Serenity Springs will be more likely to comply with the ESA regulations, than it is with the AWA regulations.  The FWS should therefore deny Serenity Springs’s application for a CBW permit. 

  1. 7.     Serenity Springs’s inability to comply with conditions of the CBW permit

 

Serenity Springs also cannot satisfy the requirement that it “demonstrate . . . a showing of responsibility,” 50 C.F.R. § 13.21(b)(3), because it cannot show that it will “strict[ly] observ[e]” “all applicable foreign, state, local or other federal law,” as the CBW permit requires and this section amply illustrates.  See, e.g., CBW Permit No. MA808265-0 (“The validity of [this CBW] permit is also conditioned upon strict observance of all applicable foreign, state, local or other federal law.”). 

  1. 8.     Serenity Springs appears to lack the requisite state permits.  

Colorado law prohibits the possession of wildlife unless specifically permitted.  See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-6-109(1).  While Serenity Springs has submitted permits for some of the species it seeks a permit to breed, a number of these species are also notably absent from the state permits that were submitted.  Specifically, the application materials provided to PETA indicate that Serenity Springs lacks the requisite state permit for cheetahs, clouded leopards, brown hyenas, and any lemurs other than ring-tailed lemurs.  See App. 16-22; see also Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-6-109(1). These apparent violations warrant particular scrutiny given that Serenity Springs’s director has previously been cited by “the Colorado Division of Wildlife for illegally keeping bear and tiger cubs off the Serenity Springs property.”  R. Scott Rappold, Big Cat Sanctuary Co-Founder Accused of Theft, The Gazette, Oct. 1, 2010.

Because it appears from the face of its own application that Serenity Springs lacks the state permits needed to engage in the activities for which it seeks a CBW permit—and given Serenity Springs’s prior violations of state wildlife laws—the FWS should deny its permit application.

  1. 9.     Other laws

 

Sculac was recently convicted of theft, and sentenced to spend six years at a halfway house, in connection with the 2009 attack by a tiger on a volunteer (see § III.D.5, supra).  R. Scott Rappold, Big Cat Sanctuary Co-Founder Guilty but Avoids Prison Time, The Gazette, Oct. 26, 2010.  Although the USDA was still investigating and had not assessed any fines for the incident, Sculac told the victim of the attack that Serenity Springs had in fact been fined $40,500.  He claimed that he would lose his house, the sanctuary would be shut down, and the animals euthanized if the victim did not pay the fine—which the victim did, delivering a check to Sculac for $40,500.  R. Scott Rappold, Big Cat Sanctuary Co-Founder Accused of Theft, The Gazette, Oct. 1, 2010; see also USDA Compl. ¶ 3.  Noting Sculac’s two prior felony convictions, 4th Judicial District Judge David Gilbert told him: “You’ve been a con artist.  You’ve been misusing people.  You’ve been picking on people who are in a vulnerable state.”  R. Scott Rappold, Big Cat Sanctuary Co-Founder Guilty but Avoids Prison Time, The Gazette, Oct. 26, 2010.

This wasn’t the first time Sculac was accused of being a con artist.  In 2002, he was arrested on four counts of theft, accused of taking payment in two businesses for services and supplies that he failed to deliver.  Requesting bail be set at $100,000, a deputy wrote: “[Sculac] has shown proficiency in obtaining large sums of money by deception.”  R. Scott Rappold, Big Cat Sanctuary Co-Founder Accused of Theft, The Gazette, Oct. 1, 2010.      

  1. E.    Serenity Springs’s Expertise, Facilities, and Other Resources Are Inadequate. 

In considering an application, § 17.21 of the regulations requires the FWS to consider “whether the expertise, facilities or other resources available to the applicant appear adequate to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected wildlife.”  50 C.F.R. § 17.21(g)(3).  Serenity Springs lacks the finances, the expert staff, the breeding experience, and the facilities necessary to operate a successful and humane conservation breeding program.

 

  1. 1.     Serenity Springs lacks the financial resources to qualify for a CBW permit. 

Serenity Springs lacks the financial resources to run a conservation breeding program.  Serenity Springs’s most recent IRS Form 990, for the year 2011, shows net assets or fund balances of       -$3,238 at the beginning of the year and -$43,096 at the end.  2011 Form 990.  The 990 for 2010 and 2009 show end balances of -$3,238 and $0, respectively, while the 990 for 2007 shows a balance of -$301,015 at the beginning of the year and -$351,401 at the end.  2010 Form 990; 2009 Form 990; 2007 Form 990.  It does not appear that the facility filed a Form 990 for 2008.  See 990 Finder, Foundation Center, http://990finder.foundationcenter.org/990results.aspx?990_type=&fn=serenity+springs&st=CO&zp=&ei=&fy=&action=Find.

The facility has repeatedly discussed its financial difficulties.  In 2001, Sculac told the Rocky Mountain News that Serenity Springs had “almost run out of meat” and that it had been forced to use “money set aside for the payment on the meat truck” to buy food instead.  Deborah Frazier, Donations Drop, but Big Cats Still Need Meat, Rocky Mountain News, Oct. 10, 2001, at 14A.  Two years later, he told the Denver Post that he had overdrawn the business account by more than $22,000 and, as a result, that the company that delivered food for the animals had stopped its bimonthly delivery.  Eileen Kelley, Cat-Refuge Worker Survives Attack of 2 Tigers, Denver Post, July 1, 2003, at B03.  The Rocky Mountain News described “periodic panics when contributions fall short.”  Deborah Frazier & Gary Gerhardt, Last Refuge for Big Cats?  Colorado Sanctuaries Try to Take up Slack from Sites Elsewhere, Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 9, 2003, at 6A.  Then, again, in 2006, the facility reported that its food supplies were running short.  Deborah Frazier, Big-Cat Sanctuary in a Jam, Rocky Mountain News, June 26, 2006, at 15A.  And, in 2008, Sculac referred to the effort to pay the facility’s $19,000-a-month tab as “[d]ay-to-day.”  Rick Tosches, Sanctuary from the Wild World, Colorado Springs Independent, Sept. 18, 2008, at 8.  Indeed, the “property has been in and out of foreclosure several times.”  R. Scott Rappold, Big Cat Sanctuary Co-Founder Accused of Theft, The Gazette, Oct. 1, 2010.  In 2006, the facility only survived by selling land.  Deborah Frazier, Exotic Wildlife Sanctuaries Call $100,000 Bond Plan Unbearable, Rocky Mountain News, May 7, 2007, at 20.

Sculac himself has been beset by financial woes.  In 2005, his home was foreclosed and he “lost the contracting business that helped supplement the sanctuary’s $250,000 annual expenses.”  Claire Martin, A Colorado Life: Caring for Big Cats Made Refuge Owner Purr, Denver Post, Aug. 20, 2006, at C06.  He was sued in 2007 by a former attorney for $5,794 in unpaid legal bills.  In 2008, he was sued over $2,700 in unpaid medical bills.  And, in 2010, a motorcycle Sculac bought for $14,000 was repossessed.  R. Scott Rappold, Big Cat Sanctuary Co-Founder Accused of Theft, The Gazette, Oct. 1, 2010.  

Serenity Springs’s financial vulnerability is a serious concern.  Big-cat sanctuaries regularly close due to funding shortfalls, and placing the animals at other facilities can be a Herculean task.  See, e.g., Jim Douglas, Perilous Times for Big Cat Sanctuary in Wise County, WFAA, July 20, 2010; R. Scott Rappold, Big Cats Running Out of Shelter, The Gazette, Aug. 21, 2006; Deborah Frazier, Big Cats Find Serenity Ranch for Ex-Pets, Zoo Animals Devours Money Like Raw Meat, Rocky Mountain News, May 24, 1998, at 20A; Tamara Lush, Big Cats, Bad Economy, Canadian Press, Jan. 21, 2011; Dan E. Way, Lions and Tigers Transitioning Nicely to Life in Pittsboro, The Herald-Sun, Nov. 17, 2010.  And captive breeding is often prohibitively expensive.  Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 343 (Apr. 1996). 

  1. 2.     Serenity Springs lacks the expert staff necessary to qualify for a CBW permit. 

Serenity Springs has also exposed an alarming lack of knowledge about endangered species and their care.  In 2003, for example, a volunteer was attacked when he entered a cage to feed two tigers.  One cat took hold of the volunteer’s legs, and the other jumped him from behind, knocking him down.  Sculac, who had entered the cage with the volunteer, was forced to beat the tigers with a shovel until the other man could escape.  The volunteer was hospitalized for days with deep cuts to his scalp, leg, and arm.  Dick Foster, OSHA to Inspect Refuge Where Tigers Mauled Man, Rocky Mountain News, July 2, 2003, at 11A.  This attack would never have occurred if Serenity Springs had moved the big cats into shifting cages while cleaning and feeding to prevent direct physical contact—as is standard industry practice.  Alan H. Shoemaker et al., Zoo Guidelines for Keeping Large Felids in Captivity.  Instead, “Sculac said the worker invited harm by wearing shorts,” insisting “[t]hey get set off by bare legs,” Andrea Brown, Snow Removal at Big-Cat Ranch near Calhan Cost Nearly $15,000, AP Alert—Colorado, Jan. 25, 2007—a claim which Dr. Mel Richardson, who has thirty years of experience with captive wild animals, called an “outlandish myth[] and legend[].”  Dr. Richardson Statement 1.  Dr. Richardson states:  “[I]f the management of Serenity Springs is claiming this, then in my opinion they do not have the expertise to operate a Captive-Bred Wildlife facility.  This claim is simply not true.”  Id.  Totally ignoring the unpredictability of large predators, Sculac has also made the outrageous claim that “[i]f you spend too much time in the [tigers]’ cage, they’ll let you know.  You kind of get eyes in the back of your head.”  Id.

Unfortunately, this “knowledge” failed Serenity Springs again in 2009 when a volunteer suffered wounds to his wrist, forearm, bicep, and tricep when he was mauled by a tiger at the facility.  R. Scott Rappold, Big Cat Sanctuary Co-Founder Accused of Theft, The Gazette, Oct. 1, 2010.  As previously discussed in § III.D.5, OSHA fined Serenity Springs $7,000 for a “willful” violation of the OSH Act, on the basis that “[t]he employer is not furnishing employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  OSHA Citation, No. 0830600, at 2 (July 14, 2009) (emphasis added).  The agency explained: “Employees are not physically separated from non-domestic felines while employees are cleaning cages. . . .  To abate this violation, the employer must ensure that employees who clean cages are physically separated from non-domestic felines while the employees clean the cages.”  Id.  The citation identified shifting cages as “one feasible and acceptable method to correct this hazardous practice.”  Id.  Sculac’s woefully deficient knowledge of endangered species and their care directly led to the serious injury to two volunteers.

The other staff also lacks the requisite expertise to run a conservation breeding program.  Most concerning of all is that either a member of the staff or a volunteer without the required expertise caused a bear cub to aspirate milk into his lungs and die of pneumonia as a result.  See USDA Compl. ¶ 20.  According to Dr. Richardson, “this is always directly related to the caretakers’ experience” and “is always the fault of the handler.  Improper technique and feeding too much volume at too long of a feeding interval is the primary cause.  If this facility is allowing aspiration pneumonia to occur, they should not be breeding wild animals.”  Dr. Richardson Statement 2.

Yohani Bagerrela, the head caretaker at Serenity Springs, previously served as an animal handler and caretaker at GW Exotic Animal Park.  App. 36.  As previously discussed discussed in § III.A.1.c.iii.1, GW Exotic has a history of egregious and often intentionally cruel abuse.  The other animal caretaker, Devon DeVries, apparently has only worked in animal care at Serenity Springs, and the application does not include any information about any relevant education or training that DeVries might have.  App. 36.

The head veterinarian, Dr. Melanie Marsden, has been Serenity Springs’s attending veterinarian for fifteen years—a dubious qualification given the numerous times the USDA has cited the facility for failure to provide adequate veterinary care.  Other than her work at Serenity Springs, Dr. Marsden appears to spend the majority of her professional time as a small animal vet in private practice.  Id. at 5.  The junior veterinarian, Dr. Holly Colella, is an equine veterinarian, with specialties in general/emergency medicine, acupuncture, and equine dentistry—none of which obviously qualify her to care for exotic endangered wildlife.  This is particularly concerning since, according to the application, Dr. Colella is taking on a greater role at Serenity Springs as Dr. Marsden “is increasingly busy with her own small animal practice.”  Id.

Critically, none of these staff appears to have experience with conservation breeding or with caring for endangered species in a conservation breeding program.

  1. 3.     Serenity Springs lacks the breeding experience required for a CBW permit.

 

As discussed in great detail in § III.A, Serenity Springs has had relatively little experience breeding tigers, and no experience breeding any other endangered species.  The tigers born at the facility in 2010 were the first born there in six or seven years.  No one realized the mother, Priya, who had been living in the same enclosure with the cubs’ father for five years, was pregnant until two weeks before she was due.  Julie Walker, Serenity Springs’s operations director claimed:  “It’s really hard to tell if they’re pregnant.  Happy accident, we call it.”  Jakob Rodgers, Tiny Tigers Steal the Show in Debut at Big Cat Sanctuary, The Gazette, Apr. 18, 2011.  However, Dr. Richardson disputes this, stating that “[i]t should not be difficult for an exhibitor or dealer to tell if a tiger he holds is pregnant.”  Dr. Richardson Statement 2.  “Happy accident” hardly seems the right approach to breeding for a serious conservation breeding program.

 

  1. 4.     Serenity Springs lacks critical expertise about endangered species. 

 

Serenity Springs’s lack of expertise is evinced in many other ways.  CBW permits are available only for “endangered wildlife” of “a species having a natural geographic distribution not including any part of the United States.”  50 C.F.R. § 17.21(g)(1).[9]  Yet, the application lists twenty-six species and additional subspecies, for which Serenity Springs is seeking a permit, many of which do not qualify, including the Canada lynx, Eastern puma, Florida panther, Ocelot, American Black bear, Grizzly bear, Gray wolf, Bobcat, Serval, African lion, and African golden cat.  App. 4; see also id. at 13 (E-mail from Michael Carpenter, Senior Biologist, DMA, FWS, to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)) (“You have provided an extensive list of species to be included in the CBW however, the CBW is issued ONLY for breeding purposes and only for non-native (exotic) species listed under the ESA, thus a number of the species in your list are not eligible.”).

Serenity Springs’s website and newsletters frequently refer to “White Tigers,” “Snow Tigers,” and “Black Leopards” (or “Asian Black Leopards”), which suggests that these are recognized species or subspecies.  See, e.g., Serenity Springs Newsletter, Dec. 2012 (referring to Jamma as “a beautiful Black Leopard”); Serenity Springs Newsletter, Dec. 2011 (same and referring to Snow Magic as “our beautiful Snow Tiger”);  Serenity Springs Newsletter, Feb. 2012 (stating that Bosco and Keller are “White Tigers”); Serenity Springs Newsletter, Nov. 2011 (claiming that “Snow Magic is one of only 17 Snow tigers in the world” and referring elsewhere to Keller as a “Snow Tiger”); Serenity Springs Newsletter, Nov. 2010 (identifying Sinbad as “a beautiful Asian Black Leopard”); The Leopards of Serenity Springs, http://www.serenityspringswildlife.org/leopards.php (same).   They are not.  See App. 13 (E-mail from Michael Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)) (stating that “[t]here is no ‘snow tiger’ so there can’t be ‘only 17 in the world,’” as it states on the facility’s website).

In fact, both black and white coats are caused by genetic mutations, which are inherited recessively.  ScienceShot: How the White Tiger Got Its Coat, Science (sciencemag.org) May 23, 2013, http://news.sciencemag.org/; Alexsandra Scheider et al., How the Leopard Hides Its Spots: ASIP Mutations and Melanism in Wild Cats, 7 PLoS One (Dec. 12, 2012).  Experts in tiger conservation state with certainty that all white tigers in this country are of mixed heritage, are highly inbred, and represent a genetic aberration—there is no population of white tigers in the wild, nor has there ever been.  Philip J. Nyhus et al., Thirteen Thousand and Counting: How Growing Captive Tiger Populations Threatens Wild Tigers, in Tigers of the World: The Science, Politics and Conservation of Panthera Tigris 223, 234 (Philip J. Nyhus & Ronald Tilson eds., 2nd ed. 2010).  Indeed, according to Nyhus et al., “[a white tiger’s] value to conservation is zero and they are hampering efforts to education the public about true challenges of conserving the world’s wild tigers.”  Id.  Moreover, it is because “the recessive gene for the white color is a deleterious mutation and is thus co-linked to numerous . . . often fatal characteristics” that the neonatal mortality rate is extremely high.  Laren Begany & CL Cricuolo, Accumulation of Deleterious Mutations Due to Inbreeding in Tiger Populations (Apr. 27, 2009).  Experts have noted that, among white tiger cubs who survive infancy, “most have profound birth defects, such as strabismus (cross eyes), retinal degeneration, cleft palates, scoliosis of the spine, clubbed feet, immune deficiencies, and kidney abnormalities.”  Sarda Sahney, The Myth of the Endangered White Tiger, Science 2.0 (Aug. 30, 2007) (emphasis added); see also Ravi Romaiya, Inside America’s Tiger Breeding Farms, The Daily Beast, July 28, 2010; White Tigers: Inbreeding Depression and Genetic Abnormalities, Cat Resource Archive, available at http://www.messybeast.com/genetics/tigers-inbreeding.htm.

Serenity Springs also informs visitors to its website that there are “six species” of tiger and repeatedly references the various “species” of tigers.  See Serenity Springs Newsletter, Apr. 2011.  In fact, these are six subspecies of a single species, Panthera tigris.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (“IUCN”) Red List of Threatened Species, Panthera tigris, http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15955/0.

  1. 5.     Serenity Springs lacks adequate facilities to qualify for a CBW permit.

 

To say that Serenity Springs’s facilities are inadequate to meet the requirements of 50 CFR § 17.22(a)(2)(vi) would be a vast understatement.  The FWS has already acknowledged as much in a direct e-mail communication to Sculac from Mike Carpenter, wherein the agency’s senior biologist states: “You have asked for species in addition to those you currently hold but, I am unable to see any space for any additional animals as it appears that all exhibits have animals I residence.  We could not authorize any additional species until facilities were available.  In fact, I do not see any facility for either jaguar or snow leopard in the current situation.”  App. 13 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)).  More concerning, the USDA Complaint alleges that Serenity Springs “willfully violated the [AWA] Regulations” by, inter alia, failing to meet the minimum housing standards for tigers and other large felids on multiple occasions.  USDA Compl. 2.  According to the USDA, Serenity Springs has repeatedly subjected “over fifty animals” to conditions within enclosures that are hazardous and fall woefully short of meeting minimum standards of care, including exposed electrical wires, structurally unsound fencing, protruding nails, and shredded, splintered wood.  Id. ¶ 26.

Noting that “the gravity of the violations . . . is great,” the USDA’s charging document against Serenity Springs also attributes the deaths of numerous animals housed there—including large felids—to the licensee’s failure to adhere to the attending veterinarian’s housing recommendations.  Id. at 2.

In addition to Serenity Springs’s well-documented failures  to meet minimum housing standards prescribed by the AWA, the application falls woefully short of meeting the facilities’ requirements imposed by 50 C.F.R. § 17.22(a)(2)(vi), insofar as it fails to give adequate descriptions of specific enclosures for each and every species for whom the applicant is seeking a CBW permit and illustrates that the existing enclosures, for which descriptions are provided, do not meet the species-specific needs of the animals.

The application states that the tiger enclosures—which house multiple tigers—are as small as 800 square feet.  For comparison, the AZA’s recommendation for minimum enclosure size is 1200 square feet for one tiger with a fifty-percent increase in square footage for each additional tiger.  AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan® (2013 -in progress). Tiger Care Manual. AZA, Silver Spring, MD. p.100.  A recent inspection performed by an expert in big cat husbandry practices revealed additional serious concerns about tiger enclosures at Serenity Springs, including inadequate shelter from the elements, lack of bedding materials, lack of shade from the sun, and poor facility design that precluded tigers from being shifted securely for purposes of feeding or sanitizing the enclosures.  See Inspection Report of Pat Craig (Mar. 5, 2012).

For these reasons, Serenity Springs lacks “the expertise, facilities [and] other resources” required “to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected wildlife,” 50 C.F.R. § 17.21(g)(3), and the FWS should deny the facility’s permit application.

  1. F.    Serenity Springs Has Failed to Provide Material Required Information. 

The FWS must deny Serenity Springs’s application because “[t]he applicant has failed to disclose material information required.”  50 C.F.R. §13.21(b)(2) (“Upon receipt of a properly executed application for a permit, the Director shall issue the appropriate permit unless . . . [t]he applicant has failed to disclose material information required . . . in connection with his application.”); see also 50 C.F.R. § 17.22 (stating that the FWS may only issue a § 10 permit “[u]pon receipt of a complete application”).

On July 26, 2013, Delcianna Winders, Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement at the PETA Foundation, wrote to the FWS detailing material information that was missing from the application and requesting that the agency provide the information or confirm that the facility has not submitted it to the agency.  Letter from Delcianna Winders to Brenda Tapia, Program Analyst/Data Administrator, Branch of Permits, DMA, FWS (July 26, 2013).  The missing required material information includes:

  • “[A]ssurance that no hybrids will be bred.”   In the materials provided to PETA the FWS advised Serenity Springs that the ESA and its regulations prohibit the hybridization of listed species and that hybrids should not be bred, and requested that Serenity Springs provide an assurance that no hybrids will be bred.  App. 13-14.  No such assurance from Sculac is included in the materials that have been provided to PETA.  This is especially concerning given that, as the FWS has noted, Serenity Springs’s website features a number of hybrid animals, including ligers, tigons, and generic tigers—and given that, according to the application, Serenity Springs has a history of repeatedly breeding tigers who, in all likelihood, are mixed subspecies hybrids/generic, including as recently as 2011.

 

  • The specific subspecies of tigers involved.  The application form requires the applicant to provide “[t]he scientific name (genus, species and, if applicable, subspecies) and common name of each species [it is] seeking to have covered by the registration.”  App. 2 (emphasis added).  The correspondence from the FWS to Sculac reiterated that “[i]n order to list tigers we would need to know the specific subspecies involved,” given that “generic tigers (animals of unknown geographical origin) are not suitable for species conservation and cannot be authorized under the CBW[.]”  Id. at 14 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)).     

 

  • State authorization for the family Lemuridae (the application appears to seek a permit for the entire family Lemuridae, but PETA has only received a copy of a state permit for lemur catta); clouded leopards; brown hyenas; and cheetahs.

 

  • Sources for species.  In its initial submission, Serenity Springs indicated its intent to acquire animals from GW Exotic, which does not hold a CBW permit, and Triple D Game Farm, which holds a CBW permit for amur and snow leopards only.  Id. at 5.  The FWS advised Serenity Springs, “You need to provide sources for other species.”  Id. at 13 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)).  This is particularly important considering that the inventory submitted by Serenity Springs indicates that it does not currently hold a number of the species for which it seeks a CBW permit, including lemurs, brown hyenas, and cheetahs.  Nor is it clear from the inventory, which identifies simply “leopards,” whether Serenity Springs already possesses all three of the leopard species for which it seeks a permit.  Id. at 23-27.  Although PETA was provided a supplemental list of entities from which Serenity Springs intends to acquire animals, id. at 11, it is not clear from this list whether these entities possess CBW licenses and, if so, for which species—information that is expressly required by the permit application.  See id. at 2 (“Provide . . . [t]he name, address, and CBW registration number of the person(s) or institution(s) from whom you plan to acquire the wildlife.”).

 

  • Space for additional animals.  In the FWS’s May 6, 2013 correspondence with Serenity Springs, the agency advised it:  “You have asked for species in addition to those you currently hold but, I am unable to see any space for any additional animals as it appears that all exhibits have animals in residence. We could not authorize any additional species until facilities were available.”  Id. at 13 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)).  The materials provided to PETA do not include any information regarding space for additional animals, despite the fact that, as noted above, Serenity Springs seeks a permit for numerous species not currently held—with the possible exception of snow leopards.

 

  • A key to which species are in which enclosures.  The permit application requires “[a] detailed description, including size, construction materials, and protection from the elements, and photographs or detailed diagrams . . . clearly depicting your existing facilities where the wildlife will be maintained.”  Id. (emphasis in original).  As the FWS pointed out to Sculac in its correspondence, in addition to the apparent lack of space for additional animals, the diagram of the facility submitted by Serenity Springs does not indicate the species housed in fifty-two of the exhibits, making it impossible to determine “what is where.”  Id.  No key or other source indicating the species in each enclosure has been provided to PETA.

 

  • Genetic management.  The application form requires permit applicants to provide “[d]ocumentation showing how your captive population is being managed to maintain its genetic vitality.”  Id. at 2.  “The word ‘documentation’ means the use of documentary evidence or a furnishing with documents to substantiate a claim.”  Suarez Corp. v. U.S. Postal Serv., No. 87-358A, 1987 WL 955751, at *13 (N.D. Ohio May 29, 1987) (quoting Random House Dictionary (1975)).  The application provides absolutely no information—much less documentation—of how Serenity Springs is presently managing its captive population to maintain genetic vitality.  The facility does not discuss which tigers it is breeding; how it selects breeding pairs; whether it has a master breeding plan; whether it works with any organizations to make breeding and non-breeding recommendations; how it makes acquisition and disposition decisions; how it acquires tigers for breeding; whether it tracks demographic and genetic information for the tigers in its collection; or whether it contributes to a studbook.  Compare AZA, Species Survival Plan Program Handbook 34, 54 (Mar. 2011); Species Survival Plan Programs; AZA, Regional Collection Plan Handbook 5 (Mar. 2011).  The application states merely that the facility “plan[s] to increase numbers of individuals within each recognized endangered species and subspecies” and “[p]reserve genetic diversity at both species and subspecies levels”; that it would like to “begin a relationship with the AZA and their Species Survival Plan”; and that it “would like to establish a DNA database for endangered species, starting with the Tiger.”  App. 29-30 (emphasis added).  The facility fails to explain how it “plans” to accomplish these ambitious—and expensive—goals.

 

  • Information regarding captive breeding.  The application form requests “a specific description of how your proposed activities are going to facilitate the captive breeding of the species . . . including your long term goals and intended disposition of any progeny.”  Id. at 2 (emphasis in original).  Despite the fact that Serenity Springs seeks a permit for captive breeding, the application materials contain virtually no information about captive breeding.  In response to this request on the application, Serenity Springs directs the agency to “Attachment D.”  Id.  Attachment D, however, does not discuss what Serenity Springs’s proposed activities are, or how they will facilitate captive breeding.  The only reference to captive breeding in Attachment D—which focuses largely on non-breeding activities—is a vague and cursory reference to “our specific breeding program.”  Id. at 29.   In order for PETA to meaningfully comment on—and in order for the FWS to meaningfully evaluate—a CBW-permit application, the requisite specific information regarding proposed captive breeding activities is imperative.

 

  • Detailed description of the existing facilities where the hyenas, cheetahs, and lemurs will be maintained.  As noted above, the application specifically requests this information, as do the regulations.  See  50 C.F.R. § 17.22(a)(1)(v) (requiring that “[a] complete description and address of the institution or other facility where the wildlife sought to be covered by the permit will be used, displayed, or maintained” “must be attained” as part of the application for a § 10 permit); Id. § 17.22(a)(1)(vi) (requiring that “a complete description, including photographs or diagrams, of the facilities to house and/or care for the wildlife” “must be attained” as part of the § 10 permit application).  PETA has not been provided a diagram that indicates where specific species are housed and, while the application includes enclosure descriptions for a number of species, it does not include descriptions for hyena, lemur, or cheetah habitats, all species for which Serenity Springs seeks a permit to breed.

 

  • Mortality information.  The application materials attribute many mortalities to “old age,” without elaboration.  App. 33-34.  The application form requests that the applicant “explain the cause of the mortalities,” and the vague descriptor “old age” is not a concrete cause of death.  Id. at 3.  Nor is “possible genetic issues.”  Id. at 34.  The application form also requests that the applicant identify “measures taken to prevent future mortalities,” id. at 3, but in numerous instances Sculac identifies no such measures, including in the cases of “possible genetic issues” and in the cases of two tigers who were killed by cage mates, apparently due to incompatible housing arrangements, id. at 33-34.

 

Serenity Springs’s failure to provide the above material information disqualifies it from obtaining the requested CBW permit.

 

  1. G.   Serenity Springs’s Proposed Activities Will Not Benefit the Species in the Wild. 

The ESA authorizes the FWS to issue permits for otherwise prohibited activities only “for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”  16 U.S.C. § 1539(a)(1)(a). CBW permits fall within the second of these exceptions (“enhancement”), and, as the FWS has recognized, to qualify for this exception, one must “demonstrate how your proposed activities directly relate to the survival of this species in the wild.”  Fax from Anna Barry to John F. Cuneo, Jr., Hawthorn Corp. (Mar. 12, 2012) (emphasis added).  Because Serenity Springs has not demonstrated—indeed, has not even attempted to demonstrate—that its activities will benefit the survival of species in the wild, its permit application must be denied.

Because Serenity Springs fails to contend that its plans will benefit the species in the wild, it is not necessary to dwell on this issue:  The applicant bears the burden of demonstrating that it qualifies for the exception, see 50 C.F.R. § 13.21(b) (“fail[ure] to demonstrate a valid justification for the permit” warrants denial); see also, e.g.,  Letter from Anna Barry to John F. Cuneo, Jr. (Oct. 14, 2011) (“To meet the requirements under the ESA you need to be able to demonstrate how your proposed activities directly relate to the survival of this species in the wild.” (emphasis added)), and here Serenity Springs has utterly failed to make any such demonstration.

Nevertheless, exploring the reasons why the activities proposed by Serenity Springs will not enhance the survival of species in the wild—and how the activities are in fact likely to operate to the detriment of species in the wild—underscores why this CBW permit application must be denied.

  1. 1.     The generic tigers bred by Serenity Springs do not have conservation value.

First and foremost, as discussed extensively in § III.A.1, supra, and as recognized by the FWS, see, e.g., FWS, Proposed Rule, U.S. Captive-Bred Inter-Subspecific Crossed or Generic Tigers, 76 Fed. Reg. 162 (Aug. 22, 2011); App. 13 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)), the hybrid/generic tigers—the only types of animals Serenity Springs has in fact bred, according to its permit application—lack conservation value.

Further, as Ron Tilson explains,

The argument that privately-owned tigers have any significant conservation value falls flat when viewed from the lens of real need for four reasons.  First, tiger reintroduction is not currently an available conservation tool; reintroduction has never been tried.  Second, if tigers are to be reintroduced into the wild, animals of known genetic origin will be preferred.  Third, the zoo and aquarium associations of North America, Europe, Australasia, and Asia, have more than sufficient tigers to meet any foreseeable need.  Moreover, captive facilities in tiger range states continue to receive “problem” tigers who are removed from the wild by local wildlife authorities when they come into conflict with humans.  Finally, in a rather ironic twist, if the arguments of some private owners that subspecies designation does not matter are accepted, then any perceived limitations in the holdings of the world’s zoos could be made up with translocation from one area of Asia to the other.

Statement of Dr. Tilson.

  1. 2.     Captive-bred animals are ill-suited for reintroduction.

Moreover, even when not generic, captive-bred animals are ill-suited for reintroduction, making it unlikely in most instances that they will enhance the survival of the species.

In its simplest form, the role of captive breeding and reintroduction in conservation is analogous to Noah’s ark. Species threatened with extinction are maintained in captivity, as if aboard an ark escaping the flood, until those factors threatening their existence are removed and they can be returned to the wild.

Andrew E. Bowkett, Recent Captive-Breeding Proposals and the Return of the Ark Concept to Global Species Conservation, 23 Conservation Biology 773, 773 (2009); see also Annenberg Learner, Why Captive Breeding? (“When all of the existing habitat is poor quality or other environmental problems occur, a captive population can be maintained until the problems can be solved or another appropriate habitat can be found for the animal in the wild.  This kind of project allows us to bank a species.”).  A related purpose is to breed members of an endangered species in captivity “as a source of genetic material to infuse diversity into depleted wild populations.”  IUCN, The Ethiopian Wolf: Status Survey, The Ethiopian Wolf: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 64 (2002) (identifying the two purposes for which “the maintenance of viable populations of rare species is important”).

The animals Serenity Springs seeks a permit to breed can never serve these purposes.  First, because they maintain animals in conditions with “little or no opportunity to manage important aspects of their lives (such as quality, quantity, and timing of food and water, choice of mates or other social partners, etc.),” exhibitors like Serenity Springs fail to “provide [animals] with the kinds of experiences they will need to succeed outside of [human] care.”  Kathleen N. Morgan & Chris T. Tromborg, Sources of Stress in Captivity, 102 Animal Behaviour Science 262, 287 (2007) (internal citation omitted); see also M. Elsbeth McPhee, Generations in Captivity Increases Behavioral Variance: Considerations for Captive Breeding and Reintroduction Programs, 115 Biological Conservation 71, 71 (2003); Jennifer L. Kelley et al., The Influence of Rearing Experience on the Behaviour of an Endangered Mexican Fish, Skiffa Multipunctata, 122 Biological Conservation 223, 223 (2005); Javier Alvarez (FWS), Commercial Captive Propagation and Wildlife Conservation, IUCN SSC Commercial Captive Propagation and Wild Species Conservation, Selected Background Papers, Dec. 7-9, 2001; Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 340 (1996).

Second, the chasm between the conditions in captivity and the conditions in nature threaten genetic fitness and the preservation of the species-specific traits necessary for most animals to survive in the wild.  “Evolutionary processes do not stop because species are in cages,” and over time the erosion of species-specific traits can become inscribed in the genetic code of the animal.  Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 341 (1996).

Moreover, the traits selected for in captivity are unlikely to be those necessary for success in the wild.  For example, “captive breeding often results in the inadvertent selection of traits that are favourable in captivity, such as tameness and resistance to stress, or [in] the relaxation of selective forces that are common in nature, such as predation.”  Jennifer L. Kelley et al., The Influence of Rearing Experience on the Behaviour of an Endangered Mexican Fish, 122 Biological Conservation 223, 223 (2005); see Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 341 (1996); Richard Frankham, Genetic Adaptation to Captivity in Species Conservation Programs, 17 Molecular Ecology 325, 326 (2008).

Given the predictability and invariability of the captive environment, as well as its physical limitations, it is unsurprising that “[c]haracteristics selected for under captive conditions are overwhelmingly disadvantageous in the natural environment.”  Richard Frankham, Genetic Adaptation to Captivity in Species Conservation Programs, 17 Molecular Ecology 325, 326 (2008); accord Jennifer L. Kelley et al., The Influence of Rearing Experience on the Behaviour of an Endangered Mexican Fish, 122 Biological Conservation 223, 223 (2005).

Simply stated, the tigers bred at Serenity Springs—and other potential species—cannot be used to augment wild populations, or as a source of genetic material, since they are woefully unrepresentative of their wild counterparts.  See, e.g., Richard A. Griffiths & Lissette Pavajeau, Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, and the Conservation of Amphibians, 22 Conservation Biology 852, 853 (2008).

  1. 3.     Captive breeding fails to address the primary threat to the species in the wild: lack of adequate habitat and human-animal conflict. 

Even if reintroduction were a goal of Serenity Springs—which it is not—adequate habitat for tigers and the other species Serenity Springs seeks permission to breed has declined precipitously and no longer exists in sufficient quantity to support such a goal.  As Jack Woody, who oversaw the endangered species program at the FWS for over twenty years, summarized:  “It’s useless to produce truckloads of [animals] if there’s nowhere to release them.”  Laura Tangley, Captive Propagation: Will It Succeed?, 121 Science News 266, 268 (1982) (quoting Jack Woody).  Captive breeding by Serenity Springs does nothing to reverse this trend, and thus cannot be used as a basis to approve its CBW permit application.

  1. 4.     Serenity Springs’s proposed activities are actually likely to operate to the detriment of endangered species in the wild.

 

  1. a.     The FWS must make an individualized determination as to whether Serenity Springs’s proposed activities are likely to adversely affect the survival of endangered species.

The ESA “requires case-by-case review of exceptions,” which includes “mak[ing] certain findings,” Friends of Animals v. Salazar, 626 F. Supp. 2d 102, 119 (D.D.C. 2009), appeal dismissed, 09-5292, 2010 WL 286806 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 4, 2010) (emphasis added), including that “if granted and exercised [the exception] will not operate to the disadvantage of such endangered species,” 16 U.S.C. § 1539(d)(2) (emphasis added).  The regulations further require the FWS to make an individualized determination that “the authorization requested” does not “potentially threaten[] a wildlife or plant population,” 50 C.F.R. . 13.21(b)(4), as well as to consider “[t]he probable direct and indirect effect which issuing the permit would have on the wild populations of the wildlife sought to be covered by the permit,” id. § 17.22(a)(2)(ii).  Thus, the law mandates that the FWS make an “individualized analysis” of each permit application: including specific findings about specific animals in specific contexts.  See Friends of Animals, 626 F. Supp. 2d at 119-20 (“[T]he text, context, purpose and history of section 10 show a clear Congressional intention that permits must be considered on a case-by-case basis . . . .”).

Accordingly, in considering Serenity Springs’s application, the FWS may not rely on its blanket determination that the taking, transport, shipping, and sale of captive-bred wildlife “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the survival of the species.”  Memorandum from the Chief, Branch of Consultation and Monitoring, Division of Scientific Authority, FWS, to the Chief, Division of Management Authority, FWS (Nov. 17, 2003).  Nor may the agency rely on its earlier, substantially similar blanket determination that there is “no adverse affect,” Memorandum from the Chief, Office of Endangered Species, FWS, to the Chief, Wildlife Permit Office, FWS (Aug. 26, 1981)).

  1. b.     Serenity Springs’s exhibition of animals—and sale of animals for use in entertainment—is particularly detrimental to the species.

 

By breeding and exhibiting captive wildlife, Serenity Springs is not contributing to survival of the species.  By exhibiting captive-bred animals for purposes of “entertain[ing] the public,” App. 30, providing tigers for the entertainment industry, id. at 34, and through its role in “exotic pet dealing and ownership,” id. at 33, Serenity Springs is doing more harm than good to the species.

As discussed previously, Serenity Springs’s exhibition of endangered animals is detrimental to the species because of the serous misimpression it gives the public about the status of the species.  See § III.B.  As Nyhus et al. explain:

 

[Z]oos may actually undermine the continued existence of what they purport to celebrate.

People watch the films, they visit the zoos, and by the mesmeric power of these vicarious

experiences, they come carelessly to believe that the Bengal tiger . . . is alive and well

because they have seen it.
Philip J. Nyhus et al., Thirteen Thousand and Counting: How the Growing Captive Tiger Populations Threaten Wild Tigers, in Tigers of the World, 2ded., pp. 237 (2010); see also id. at 232 (our exposure to tigers as sources of entertainment has led to “the blurring of our awareness of what tigers are and the serious threats wild tigers face to their continued survival”).

This is especially true with regard to the animals bred by Serenity Springs—such as white tigers—that do not even exist in the wild.  Experts agree that people who spend money to see white tigers on exhibit are “actually less—not more—likely to have a meaningful understanding of the real challenges of wild tiger conservation.”  Id. at 237-38.  Nyhus et al. explain, “One logical outcome of the popularity of white tigers is a warped perspective and awareness of what a tiger is and the true threats faced by wild tigers.”  Id. at 234-35.

 

  1. c.     Resources spent by Serenity Springs on captive breeding are better spent on legitimate conservation programs.

Serenity Springs’s captive breeding is also detrimental to the species because it diverts scarce resources from conservation efforts that could have a truly beneficial impact on endangered animals in the wild.  Snyder et al. state that they “have frequently dealt with funding competition between [“in situ efforts” and “captive breeding”] and are acutely aware of how one approach often preempts the other, sometimes to the detriment of crucial in situ needs.”  Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 344 (1996); see also Andrew E. Bowkett, Recent Captive-Breeding Proposals and the Return of the Ark Concept to Global Species Conservation, 23 Conservation Biology 773, 774 (2009) (reviewing the literature); IUCN, The Ethiopian Wolf: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 65 (2002).  This is an especially critical problem given that the cost of captive breeding often exceeds in situ costs “even with intensive protection.”  Andrew E. Bowkett, Recent Captive-Breeding Proposals and the Return of the Ark Concept to Global Species Conservation, 23 Conservation Biology 773, 774 (2009) (citing A. Balmford et al., Parks or Arks: Where to Conserve Large Threatened Mammals?, 4 Biodiversity & Conservation 636 (1995)).

Captive breeding can also be a political, as well as monetary, diversion.  Snyder et al. explain that “[l]ong-term solutions are often politically more difficult than captive breeding solutions, so it is tempting for managers to deemphasize efforts for wild populations once captive populations are in place.”  Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 344 (1996).

Clearly, Serenity Springs’s captive breeding does not provide, and will never provide, a benefit to endangered animals in the wild, and thus its application for a CBW permit must be denied.

  1. H.   Issuance of a Blanket Five-Year Permit Would Violate the ESA.

According to the Federal Register notice of Serenity Springs’s CBW permit application, if granted the permit would “cover[] activities to be conducted by the applicant over a five-year period.” Receipt of Applications for Permit, 78 Fed. Reg. 38731, 38732 (June 27, 2013).  Issuing Serenity Springs a five-year blanket permit to engage in activities that would otherwise require individual permits, and without public notice and an opportunity for comment, see 16 U.S.C. 1539(c), would contravene the letter and the spirit of the ESA, which requires that permits be specific and narrowly tailored.  Congress intended for the ESA to prohibit “[v]irtually all dealings with endangered species, including taking, . . . except in extremely narrow circumstances.”  Tenn. Valley Auth., 437 U.S. at 180 (emphasis added).  Accordingly, the ESA grants the FWS limited authority to authorize “any act otherwise prohibited by section 1538 of this title . . . to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”  16 U.S.C. § 1539(a)(1)(a) (emphasis added).  The plain language of § 1539(a)(1)(a) (“any act”) contemplates a single, identifiable performance of taking, delivering, receiving, carrying, transporting, or shipping—not any vague, unspecified series of activities involving captive-bred wildlife performed over several years.  See also 50 C.F.R. § 13.42 (providing that ESA permits are “specific” and should “describe certain circumscribed transactions,” setting forth “specific times, dates, places, methods of taking or carrying out the permitted activities, numbers and kinds of wildlife or plants, location of activity, and associated activities that must be carried out.” (emphases added)).  To broadly authorize Serenity Springs to engage in innumerable unspecified and otherwise prohibited activities with unspecified animals would directly contravene this language and would allow the exception to swallow the rule.

Issuing such a broad permit would also directly contravene the public’s right to information under § 10(c) of the ESA.  Section 10(c) mandates:

The Secretary shall publish notice in the Federal Register of each application for an exemption or permit which is made under this section.  Each notice shall invite the submission from interested parties, within thirty days after the date of the notice, of written data, views, or arguments with respect to the application; except that such thirty-day period may be waived by the Secretary in an emergency situation where the health or life of an endangered animal is threatened and no reasonable alternative is available to the applicant, but notice of any such waiver shall be published by the Secretary in the Federal Register within ten days following the issuance of the exemption or permit.  Information received by the Secretary as part of any application shall be available to the public as a matter of public record at every stage of the proceeding.

16 U.S.C. § 1539(c) (emphases added); see Friends of Animals v. Salazar, 626 F. Supp. 2d 102,  113 (D.D.C. 2009); Cary v. Hall, No. C05-4363 VRW, 2006 WL 6198320, at *11 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 30, 2006).  Bypassing the act-by-act assessment mandated by the ESA in favor of blanket permission to engage in any and all captive-breeding-related activities over a five-year span deprives the public, including PETA, of information to which it would be entitled “as a matter of public record at every stage of the proceeding,” 16 U.S.C. § 1539(c), but for the FWS’s issuance of the blanket permit.

  1. I.      Should the FWS Nevertheless Issue Serenity Springs a CBW Permit, It Must Be Limited to One Year Given the Pending Enforcement Action for AWA Violations.

 

If, despite the abundant reasons in favor of denying Serenity Springs’s CBW permit application set forth here and supported by the accompanying exhibits, the FWS decides to grant Serenity Springs a CBW permit, such permit should be limited to a term of one year, given that Serenity Springs has an enforcement action currently pending with the USDA.  See Letter from Anna Barry to Ferdinand Hantig (Aug. 20, 2012); USDA Compl.; E-mail from David Sacks, USDA, to Teresa Marshall, PETA Foundation.

  1. IV.           Conclusion 

For all of the reasons detailed above, PETA urges the FWS to deny Serenity Springs’s application for a CBW permit and urges the FWS to launch an investigation into Serenity Springs’s apparent violations of the ESA and CWSA, as well as its submission of false material information to the agency as part of its application.

Pursuant to 50 C.F.R. § 17.22(e)(2), should the agency decide to issue the permit despite our objections, we hereby request notice of that decision at least ten days prior to the issuance of the permit via e-mail to DelciannaW@petaf.org or telephone to 202-309-4697.



[1] See id. (“Captivity means that living wildlife is held in a controlled environment that is intensively manipulated by man for the purpose of producing wildlife of the selected species, and that has boundaries designed to prevent animal, eggs or gametes of the selected species from entering or leaving the controlled environment. General characteristics of captivity may include but are not limited to artificial housing, waste removal, health care, protection from predators, and artificially supplied food.”).

[2] Although 50 C.F.R. § 13.42 is a general permitting regulation, this provision applies with equal force to CBW permits.  See id. § 13.3 (“The provisions in this part are in addition to, and are not in lieu of, other permit regulations of this subchapter and apply to all permits issued thereunder, including . . . “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants” (Part 17) . . . .  As used in this part 13, the term ‘permit’ will refer to a license, permit, certificate, letter of authorization, or other document as the context may require . . . .”).

[3] Tellingly, Serenity Springs also includes a link to GW Exotic Animal Park on its website, listing it as an “organization[] that support[s]” Serenity Springs, see Serenity Springs, Links, http://www.serenityspringswildlife.org/links.php—one of only three links.

[4] The permit number that Serenity Springs listed on its application as a CBW permit number for GW Exotic was in fact the number of an expired export permit.

[5] It is also unclear whether Serenity Springs already possesses the three species of leopards that it seeks a permit to breed, as it describes only “leopards” without specification on the inventory submitted as part of its application.  See App. 23.

[6] On February 1, 2012, the USDA filed suit against Serenity Springs, alleging willful violations of the AWA, the regulations, and the implementing standards and seeking revocation or suspension of the facility’s license.  USDA Compl.  Noting that no fewer than thirty-one animals died in the facility’s care between May 2007 and January 2010, the agency asserts that “the gravity of the violations here is great, and include the repeated noncompliance with the regulations and failure to meet the minimum standards for veterinary care, housing, and husbandry.”  Id. at 2.

 

[7] Additionally, it appears that the transfer of a big cat from Robin Sherman of Ballentine, MT to Sculac (see App. 25) may similarly have violated the CWSA since we are unable to locate a record of any federal licensure for Sherman.

[8] See id. (“Captivity means that living wildlife is held in a controlled environment that is intensively manipulated by man for the purpose of producing wildlife of the selected species, and that has boundaries designed to prevent animal, eggs or gametes of the selected species from entering or leaving the controlled environment. General characteristics of captivity may include but are not limited to artificial housing, waste removal, health care, protection from predators, and artificially supplied food.”).

[9] The only exception to this requirement is the Laysan duck.  Id. § 17.21(g)(5)(iii).

and they are hampering efforts to education the public about true challenges of conserving the world’s wild tigers.”  Id.  Moreover, it is because “the recessive gene for the white color is a deleterious mutation and is thus co-linked to numerous . . . often fatal characteristics” that the neonatal mortality rate is extremely high.  Laren Begany & CL Cricuolo, Accumulation of Deleterious Mutations Due to Inbreeding in Tiger Populations (Apr. 27, 2009).  Experts have noted that, among white tiger cubs who survive infancy, “most have profound birth defects, such as strabismus (cross eyes), retinal degeneration, cleft palates, scoliosis of the spine, clubbed feet, immune deficiencies, and kidney abnormalities.”  Sarda Sahney, The Myth of the Endangered White Tiger, Science 2.0 (Aug. 30, 2007) (emphasis added); see also Ravi Romaiya, Inside America’s Tiger Breeding Farms, The Daily Beast, July 28, 2010; White Tigers: Inbreeding Depression and Genetic Abnormalities, Cat Resource Archive, available at http://www.messybeast.com/genetics/tigers-inbreeding.htm.

Serenity Springs also informs visitors to its website that there are “six species” of tiger and repeatedly references the various “species” of tigers.  See Serenity Springs Newsletter, Apr. 2011.  In fact, these are six subspecies of a single species, Panthera tigris.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (“IUCN”) Red List of Threatened Species, Panthera tigris, http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15955/0.

  1. 1.     Serenity Springs lacks adequate facilities to qualify for a CBW permit.

 

To say that Serenity Springs’s facilities are inadequate to meet the requirements of 50 CFR § 17.22(a)(2)(vi) would be a vast understatement.  The FWS has already acknowledged as much in a direct e-mail communication to Sculac from Mike Carpenter, wherein the agency’s senior biologist states: “You have asked for species in addition to those you currently hold but, I am unable to see any space for any additional animals as it appears that all exhibits have animals I residence.  We could not authorize any additional species until facilities were available.  In fact, I do not see any facility for either jaguar or snow leopard in the current situation.”  App. 13 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)).  More concerning, the USDA Complaint alleges that Serenity Springs “willfully violated the [AWA] Regulations” by, inter alia, failing to meet the minimum housing standards for tigers and other large felids on multiple occasions.  USDA Compl. 2.  According to the USDA, Serenity Springs has repeatedly subjected “over fifty animals” to conditions within enclosures that are hazardous and fall woefully short of meeting minimum standards of care, including exposed electrical wires, structurally unsound fencing, protruding nails, and shredded, splintered wood.  Id. ¶ 26.

Noting that “the gravity of the violations . . . is great,” the USDA’s charging document against Serenity Springs also attributes the deaths of numerous animals housed there—including large felids—to the licensee’s failure to adhere to the attending veterinarian’s housing recommendations.  Id. at 2.

In addition to Serenity Springs’s well-documented failures  to meet minimum housing standards prescribed by the AWA, the application falls woefully short of meeting the facilities’ requirements imposed by 50 C.F.R. § 17.22(a)(2)(vi), insofar as it fails to give adequate descriptions of specific enclosures for each and every species for whom the applicant is seeking a CBW permit and illustrates that the existing enclosures, for which descriptions are provided, do not meet the species-specific needs of the animals.

The application states that the tiger enclosures—which house multiple tigers—are as small as 800 square feet.  For comparison, the AZA’s recommendation for minimum enclosure size is 1200 square feet for one tiger with a fifty-percent increase in square footage for each additional tiger.  AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan® (2013 -in progress). Tiger Care Manual. AZA, Silver Spring, MD. p.100.  A recent inspection performed by an expert in big cat husbandry practices revealed additional serious concerns about tiger enclosures at Serenity Springs, including inadequate shelter from the elements, lack of bedding materials, lack of shade from the sun, and poor facility design that precluded tigers from being shifted securely for purposes of feeding or sanitizing the enclosures.  See Inspection Report of Pat Craig (Mar. 5, 2012).

For these reasons, Serenity Springs lacks “the expertise, facilities [and] other resources” required “to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected wildlife,” 50 C.F.R. § 17.21(g)(3), and the FWS should deny the facility’s permit application.

  1. A.    Serenity Springs Has Failed to Provide Material Required Information. 

The FWS must deny Serenity Springs’s application because “[t]he applicant has failed to disclose material information required.”  50 C.F.R. §13.21(b)(2) (“Upon receipt of a properly executed application for a permit, the Director shall issue the appropriate permit unless . . . [t]he applicant has failed to disclose material information required . . . in connection with his application.”); see also 50 C.F.R. § 17.22 (stating that the FWS may only issue a § 10 permit “[u]pon receipt of a complete application”).

On July 26, 2013, Delcianna Winders, Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement at the PETA Foundation, wrote to the FWS detailing material information that was missing from the application and requesting that the agency provide the information or confirm that the facility has not submitted it to the agency.  Letter from Delcianna Winders to Brenda Tapia, Program Analyst/Data Administrator, Branch of Permits, DMA, FWS (July 26, 2013).  The missing required material information includes:

  • “[A]ssurance that no hybrids will be bred.”   In the materials provided to PETA the FWS advised Serenity Springs that the ESA and its regulations prohibit the hybridization of listed species and that hybrids should not be bred, and requested that Serenity Springs provide an assurance that no hybrids will be bred.  App. 13-14.  No such assurance from Sculac is included in the materials that have been provided to PETA.  This is especially concerning given that, as the FWS has noted, Serenity Springs’s website features a number of hybrid animals, including ligers, tigons, and generic tigers—and given that, according to the application, Serenity Springs has a history of repeatedly breeding tigers who, in all likelihood, are mixed subspecies hybrids/generic, including as recently as 2011.

 

  • The specific subspecies of tigers involved.  The application form requires the applicant to provide “[t]he scientific name (genus, species and, if applicable, subspecies) and common name of each species [it is] seeking to have covered by the registration.”  App. 2 (emphasis added).  The correspondence from the FWS to Sculac reiterated that “[i]n order to list tigers we would need to know the specific subspecies involved,” given that “generic tigers (animals of unknown geographical origin) are not suitable for species conservation and cannot be authorized under the CBW[.]”  Id. at 14 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)).     

 

  • State authorization for the family Lemuridae (the application appears to seek a permit for the entire family Lemuridae, but PETA has only received a copy of a state permit for lemur catta); clouded leopards; brown hyenas; and cheetahs.

 

  • Sources for species.  In its initial submission, Serenity Springs indicated its intent to acquire animals from GW Exotic, which does not hold a CBW permit, and Triple D Game Farm, which holds a CBW permit for amur and snow leopards only.  Id. at 5.  The FWS advised Serenity Springs, “You need to provide sources for other species.”  Id. at 13 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)).  This is particularly important considering that the inventory submitted by Serenity Springs indicates that it does not currently hold a number of the species for which it seeks a CBW permit, including lemurs, brown hyenas, and cheetahs.  Nor is it clear from the inventory, which identifies simply “leopards,” whether Serenity Springs already possesses all three of the leopard species for which it seeks a permit.  Id. at 23-27.  Although PETA was provided a supplemental list of entities from which Serenity Springs intends to acquire animals, id. at 11, it is not clear from this list whether these entities possess CBW licenses and, if so, for which species—information that is expressly required by the permit application.  See id. at 2 (“Provide . . . [t]he name, address, and CBW registration number of the person(s) or institution(s) from whom you plan to acquire the wildlife.”).

 

  • Space for additional animals.  In the FWS’s May 6, 2013 correspondence with Serenity Springs, the agency advised it:  “You have asked for species in addition to those you currently hold but, I am unable to see any space for any additional animals as it appears that all exhibits have animals in residence. We could not authorize any additional species until facilities were available.”  Id. at 13 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)).  The materials provided to PETA do not include any information regarding space for additional animals, despite the fact that, as noted above, Serenity Springs seeks a permit for numerous species not currently held—with the possible exception of snow leopards.

 

  • A key to which species are in which enclosures.  The permit application requires “[a] detailed description, including size, construction materials, and protection from the elements, and photographs or detailed diagrams . . . clearly depicting your existing facilities where the wildlife will be maintained.”  Id. (emphasis in original).  As the FWS pointed out to Sculac in its correspondence, in addition to the apparent lack of space for additional animals, the diagram of the facility submitted by Serenity Springs does not indicate the species housed in fifty-two of the exhibits, making it impossible to determine “what is where.”  Id.  No key or other source indicating the species in each enclosure has been provided to PETA.

 

  • Genetic management.  The application form requires permit applicants to provide “[d]ocumentation showing how your captive population is being managed to maintain its genetic vitality.”  Id. at 2.  “The word ‘documentation’ means the use of documentary evidence or a furnishing with documents to substantiate a claim.”  Suarez Corp. v. U.S. Postal Serv., No. 87-358A, 1987 WL 955751, at *13 (N.D. Ohio May 29, 1987) (quoting Random House Dictionary (1975)).  The application provides absolutely no information—much less documentation—of how Serenity Springs is presently managing its captive population to maintain genetic vitality.  The facility does not discuss which tigers it is breeding; how it selects breeding pairs; whether it has a master breeding plan; whether it works with any organizations to make breeding and non-breeding recommendations; how it makes acquisition and disposition decisions; how it acquires tigers for breeding; whether it tracks demographic and genetic information for the tigers in its collection; or whether it contributes to a studbook.  Compare AZA, Species Survival Plan Program Handbook 34, 54 (Mar. 2011); Species Survival Plan Programs; AZA, Regional Collection Plan Handbook 5 (Mar. 2011).  The application states merely that the facility “plan[s] to increase numbers of individuals within each recognized endangered species and subspecies” and “[p]reserve genetic diversity at both species and subspecies levels”; that it would like to “begin a relationship with the AZA and their Species Survival Plan”; and that it “would like to establish a DNA database for endangered species, starting with the Tiger.”  App. 29-30 (emphasis added).  The facility fails to explain how it “plans” to accomplish these ambitious—and expensive—goals.

 

  • Information regarding captive breeding.  The application form requests “a specific description of how your proposed activities are going to facilitate the captive breeding of the species . . . including your long term goals and intended disposition of any progeny.”  Id. at 2 (emphasis in original).  Despite the fact that Serenity Springs seeks a permit for captive breeding, the application materials contain virtually no information about captive breeding.  In response to this request on the application, Serenity Springs directs the agency to “Attachment D.”  Id.  Attachment D, however, does not discuss what Serenity Springs’s proposed activities are, or how they will facilitate captive breeding.  The only reference to captive breeding in Attachment D—which focuses largely on non-breeding activities—is a vague and cursory reference to “our specific breeding program.”  Id. at 29.   In order for PETA to meaningfully comment on—and in order for the FWS to meaningfully evaluate—a CBW-permit application, the requisite specific information regarding proposed captive breeding activities is imperative.

 

  • Detailed description of the existing facilities where the hyenas, cheetahs, and lemurs will be maintained.  As noted above, the application specifically requests this information, as do the regulations.  See  50 C.F.R. § 17.22(a)(1)(v) (requiring that “[a] complete description and address of the institution or other facility where the wildlife sought to be covered by the permit will be used, displayed, or maintained” “must be attained” as part of the application for a § 10 permit); Id. § 17.22(a)(1)(vi) (requiring that “a complete description, including photographs or diagrams, of the facilities to house and/or care for the wildlife” “must be attained” as part of the § 10 permit application).  PETA has not been provided a diagram that indicates where specific species are housed and, while the application includes enclosure descriptions for a number of species, it does not include descriptions for hyena, lemur, or cheetah habitats, all species for which Serenity Springs seeks a permit to breed.

 

  • Mortality information.  The application materials attribute many mortalities to “old age,” without elaboration.  App. 33-34.  The application form requests that the applicant “explain the cause of the mortalities,” and the vague descriptor “old age” is not a concrete cause of death.  Id. at 3.  Nor is “possible genetic issues.”  Id. at 34.  The application form also requests that the applicant identify “measures taken to prevent future mortalities,” id. at 3, but in numerous instances Sculac identifies no such measures, including in the cases of “possible genetic issues” and in the cases of two tigers who were killed by cage mates, apparently due to incompatible housing arrangements, id. at 33-34.

 

Serenity Springs’s failure to provide the above material information disqualifies it from obtaining the requested CBW permit.

 

  1. B.    Serenity Springs’s Proposed Activities Will Not Benefit the Species in the Wild. 

The ESA authorizes the FWS to issue permits for otherwise prohibited activities only “for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”  16 U.S.C. § 1539(a)(1)(a). CBW permits fall within the second of these exceptions (“enhancement”), and, as the FWS has recognized, to qualify for this exception, one must “demonstrate how your proposed activities directly relate to the survival of this species in the wild.”  Fax from Anna Barry to John F. Cuneo, Jr., Hawthorn Corp. (Mar. 12, 2012) (emphasis added).  Because Serenity Springs has not demonstrated—indeed, has not even attempted to demonstrate—that its activities will benefit the survival of species in the wild, its permit application must be denied.

Because Serenity Springs fails to contend that its plans will benefit the species in the wild, it is not necessary to dwell on this issue:  The applicant bears the burden of demonstrating that it qualifies for the exception, see 50 C.F.R. § 13.21(b) (“fail[ure] to demonstrate a valid justification for the permit” warrants denial); see also, e.g.,  Letter from Anna Barry to John F. Cuneo, Jr. (Oct. 14, 2011) (“To meet the requirements under the ESA you need to be able to demonstrate how your proposed activities directly relate to the survival of this species in the wild.” (emphasis added)), and here Serenity Springs has utterly failed to make any such demonstration.

Nevertheless, exploring the reasons why the activities proposed by Serenity Springs will not enhance the survival of species in the wild—and how the activities are in fact likely to operate to the detriment of species in the wild—underscores why this CBW permit application must be denied.

  1. 1.     The generic tigers bred by Serenity Springs do not have conservation value.

First and foremost, as discussed extensively in § III.A.1, supra, and as recognized by the FWS, see, e.g., FWS, Proposed Rule, U.S. Captive-Bred Inter-Subspecific Crossed or Generic Tigers, 76 Fed. Reg. 162 (Aug. 22, 2011); App. 13 (E-mail from Mike Carpenter to Nick Sculac (May 6, 2013)), the hybrid/generic tigers—the only types of animals Serenity Springs has in fact bred, according to its permit application—lack conservation value.

Further, as Ron Tilson explains,

The argument that privately-owned tigers have any significant conservation value falls flat when viewed from the lens of real need for four reasons.  First, tiger reintroduction is not currently an available conservation tool; reintroduction has never been tried.  Second, if tigers are to be reintroduced into the wild, animals of known genetic origin will be preferred.  Third, the zoo and aquarium associations of North America, Europe, Australasia, and Asia, have more than sufficient tigers to meet any foreseeable need.  Moreover, captive facilities in tiger range states continue to receive “problem” tigers who are removed from the wild by local wildlife authorities when they come into conflict with humans.  Finally, in a rather ironic twist, if the arguments of some private owners that subspecies designation does not matter are accepted, then any perceived limitations in the holdings of the world’s zoos could be made up with translocation from one area of Asia to the other.

Statement of Dr. Tilson.

  1. 2.     Captive-bred animals are ill-suited for reintroduction.

Moreover, even when not generic, captive-bred animals are ill-suited for reintroduction, making it unlikely in most instances that they will enhance the survival of the species.

In its simplest form, the role of captive breeding and reintroduction in conservation is analogous to Noah’s ark. Species threatened with extinction are maintained in captivity, as if aboard an ark escaping the flood, until those factors threatening their existence are removed and they can be returned to the wild.

Andrew E. Bowkett, Recent Captive-Breeding Proposals and the Return of the Ark Concept to Global Species Conservation, 23 Conservation Biology 773, 773 (2009); see also Annenberg Learner, Why Captive Breeding? (“When all of the existing habitat is poor quality or other environmental problems occur, a captive population can be maintained until the problems can be solved or another appropriate habitat can be found for the animal in the wild.  This kind of project allows us to bank a species.”).  A related purpose is to breed members of an endangered species in captivity “as a source of genetic material to infuse diversity into depleted wild populations.”  IUCN, The Ethiopian Wolf: Status Survey, The Ethiopian Wolf: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 64 (2002) (identifying the two purposes for which “the maintenance of viable populations of rare species is important”).

The animals Serenity Springs seeks a permit to breed can never serve these purposes.  First, because they maintain animals in conditions with “little or no opportunity to manage important aspects of their lives (such as quality, quantity, and timing of food and water, choice of mates or other social partners, etc.),” exhibitors like Serenity Springs fail to “provide [animals] with the kinds of experiences they will need to succeed outside of [human] care.”  Kathleen N. Morgan & Chris T. Tromborg, Sources of Stress in Captivity, 102 Animal Behaviour Science 262, 287 (2007) (internal citation omitted); see also M. Elsbeth McPhee, Generations in Captivity Increases Behavioral Variance: Considerations for Captive Breeding and Reintroduction Programs, 115 Biological Conservation 71, 71 (2003); Jennifer L. Kelley et al., The Influence of Rearing Experience on the Behaviour of an Endangered Mexican Fish, Skiffa Multipunctata, 122 Biological Conservation 223, 223 (2005); Javier Alvarez (FWS), Commercial Captive Propagation and Wildlife Conservation, IUCN SSC Commercial Captive Propagation and Wild Species Conservation, Selected Background Papers, Dec. 7-9, 2001; Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 340 (1996).

Second, the chasm between the conditions in captivity and the conditions in nature threaten genetic fitness and the preservation of the species-specific traits necessary for most animals to survive in the wild.  “Evolutionary processes do not stop because species are in cages,” and over time the erosion of species-specific traits can become inscribed in the genetic code of the animal.  Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 341 (1996).

Moreover, the traits selected for in captivity are unlikely to be those necessary for success in the wild.  For example, “captive breeding often results in the inadvertent selection of traits that are favourable in captivity, such as tameness and resistance to stress, or [in] the relaxation of selective forces that are common in nature, such as predation.”  Jennifer L. Kelley et al., The Influence of Rearing Experience on the Behaviour of an Endangered Mexican Fish, 122 Biological Conservation 223, 223 (2005); see Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 341 (1996); Richard Frankham, Genetic Adaptation to Captivity in Species Conservation Programs, 17 Molecular Ecology 325, 326 (2008).

Given the predictability and invariability of the captive environment, as well as its physical limitations, it is unsurprising that “[c]haracteristics selected for under captive conditions are overwhelmingly disadvantageous in the natural environment.”  Richard Frankham, Genetic Adaptation to Captivity in Species Conservation Programs, 17 Molecular Ecology 325, 326 (2008); accord Jennifer L. Kelley et al., The Influence of Rearing Experience on the Behaviour of an Endangered Mexican Fish, 122 Biological Conservation 223, 223 (2005).

Simply stated, the tigers bred at Serenity Springs—and other potential species—cannot be used to augment wild populations, or as a source of genetic material, since they are woefully unrepresentative of their wild counterparts.  See, e.g., Richard A. Griffiths & Lissette Pavajeau, Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, and the Conservation of Amphibians, 22 Conservation Biology 852, 853 (2008).

  1. 3.     Captive breeding fails to address the primary threat to the species in the wild: lack of adequate habitat and human-animal conflict. 

Even if reintroduction were a goal of Serenity Springs—which it is not—adequate habitat for tigers and the other species Serenity Springs seeks permission to breed has declined precipitously and no longer exists in sufficient quantity to support such a goal.  As Jack Woody, who oversaw the endangered species program at the FWS for over twenty years, summarized:  “It’s useless to produce truckloads of [animals] if there’s nowhere to release them.”  Laura Tangley, Captive Propagation: Will It Succeed?, 121 Science News 266, 268 (1982) (quoting Jack Woody).  Captive breeding by Serenity Springs does nothing to reverse this trend, and thus cannot be used as a basis to approve its CBW permit application.

  1. 4.     Serenity Springs’s proposed activities are actually likely to operate to the detriment of endangered species in the wild.

 

  1. a.     The FWS must make an individualized determination as to whether Serenity Springs’s proposed activities are likely to adversely affect the survival of endangered species.

The ESA “requires case-by-case review of exceptions,” which includes “mak[ing] certain findings,” Friends of Animals v. Salazar, 626 F. Supp. 2d 102, 119 (D.D.C. 2009), appeal dismissed, 09-5292, 2010 WL 286806 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 4, 2010) (emphasis added), including that “if granted and exercised [the exception] will not operate to the disadvantage of such endangered species,” 16 U.S.C. § 1539(d)(2) (emphasis added).  The regulations further require the FWS to make an individualized determination that “the authorization requested” does not “potentially threaten[] a wildlife or plant population,” 50 C.F.R. . 13.21(b)(4), as well as to consider “[t]he probable direct and indirect effect which issuing the permit would have on the wild populations of the wildlife sought to be covered by the permit,” id. § 17.22(a)(2)(ii).  Thus, the law mandates that the FWS make an “individualized analysis” of each permit application: including specific findings about specific animals in specific contexts.  See Friends of Animals, 626 F. Supp. 2d at 119-20 (“[T]he text, context, purpose and history of section 10 show a clear Congressional intention that permits must be considered on a case-by-case basis . . . .”).

Accordingly, in considering Serenity Springs’s application, the FWS may not rely on its blanket determination that the taking, transport, shipping, and sale of captive-bred wildlife “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the survival of the species.”  Memorandum from the Chief, Branch of Consultation and Monitoring, Division of Scientific Authority, FWS, to the Chief, Division of Management Authority, FWS (Nov. 17, 2003).  Nor may the agency rely on its earlier, substantially similar blanket determination that there is “no adverse affect,” Memorandum from the Chief, Office of Endangered Species, FWS, to the Chief, Wildlife Permit Office, FWS (Aug. 26, 1981)).

  1. b.     Serenity Springs’s exhibition of animals—and sale of animals for use in entertainment—is particularly detrimental to the species.

 

By breeding and exhibiting captive wildlife, Serenity Springs is not contributing to survival of the species.  By exhibiting captive-bred animals for purposes of “entertain[ing] the public,” App. 30, providing tigers for the entertainment industry, id. at 34, and through its role in “exotic pet dealing and ownership,” id. at 33, Serenity Springs is doing more harm than good to the species.

As discussed previously, Serenity Springs’s exhibition of endangered animals is detrimental to the species because of the serous misimpression it gives the public about the status of the species.  See § III.B.  As Nyhus et al. explain:

 

[Z]oos may actually undermine the continued existence of what they purport to celebrate.

People watch the films, they visit the zoos, and by the mesmeric power of these vicarious

experiences, they come carelessly to believe that the Bengal tiger . . . is alive and well

because they have seen it.
Philip J. Nyhus et al., Thirteen Thousand and Counting: How the Growing Captive Tiger Populations Threaten Wild Tigers, in Tigers of the World, 2ded., pp. 237 (2010); see also id. at 232 (our exposure to tigers as sources of entertainment has led to “the blurring of our awareness of what tigers are and the serious threats wild tigers face to their continued survival”).

This is especially true with regard to the animals bred by Serenity Springs—such as white tigers—that do not even exist in the wild.  Experts agree that people who spend money to see white tigers on exhibit are “actually less—not more—likely to have a meaningful understanding of the real challenges of wild tiger conservation.”  Id. at 237-38.  Nyhus et al. explain, “One logical outcome of the popularity of white tigers is a warped perspective and awareness of what a tiger is and the true threats faced by wild tigers.”  Id. at 234-35.

 

  1. c.     Resources spent by Serenity Springs on captive breeding are better spent on legitimate conservation programs.

Serenity Springs’s captive breeding is also detrimental to the species because it diverts scarce resources from conservation efforts that could have a truly beneficial impact on endangered animals in the wild.  Snyder et al. state that they “have frequently dealt with funding competition between [“in situ efforts” and “captive breeding”] and are acutely aware of how one approach often preempts the other, sometimes to the detriment of crucial in situ needs.”  Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 344 (1996); see also Andrew E. Bowkett, Recent Captive-Breeding Proposals and the Return of the Ark Concept to Global Species Conservation, 23 Conservation Biology 773, 774 (2009) (reviewing the literature); IUCN, The Ethiopian Wolf: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 65 (2002).  This is an especially critical problem given that the cost of captive breeding often exceeds in situ costs “even with intensive protection.”  Andrew E. Bowkett, Recent Captive-Breeding Proposals and the Return of the Ark Concept to Global Species Conservation, 23 Conservation Biology 773, 774 (2009) (citing A. Balmford et al., Parks or Arks: Where to Conserve Large Threatened Mammals?, 4 Biodiversity & Conservation 636 (1995)).

Captive breeding can also be a political, as well as monetary, diversion.  Snyder et al. explain that “[l]ong-term solutions are often politically more difficult than captive breeding solutions, so it is tempting for managers to deemphasize efforts for wild populations once captive populations are in place.”  Noel F.R. Snyder et al., Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery, 10 Conservation Biology 338, 344 (1996).

Clearly, Serenity Springs’s captive breeding does not provide, and will never provide, a benefit to endangered animals in the wild, and thus its application for a CBW permit must be denied.

  1. C.   Issuance of a Blanket Five-Year Permit Would Violate the ESA.

According to the Federal Register notice of Serenity Springs’s CBW permit application, if granted the permit would “cover[] activities to be conducted by the applicant over a five-year period.” Receipt of Applications for Permit, 78 Fed. Reg. 38731, 38732 (June 27, 2013).  Issuing Serenity Springs a five-year blanket permit to engage in activities that would otherwise require individual permits, and without public notice and an opportunity for comment, see 16 U.S.C. 1539(c), would contravene the letter and the spirit of the ESA, which requires that permits be specific and narrowly tailored.  Congress intended for the ESA to prohibit “[v]irtually all dealings with endangered species, including taking, . . . except in extremely narrow circumstances.”  Tenn. Valley Auth., 437 U.S. at 180 (emphasis added).  Accordingly, the ESA grants the FWS limited authority to authorize “any act otherwise prohibited by section 1538 of this title . . . to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”  16 U.S.C. § 1539(a)(1)(a) (emphasis added).  The plain language of § 1539(a)(1)(a) (“any act”) contemplates a single, identifiable performance of taking, delivering, receiving, carrying, transporting, or shipping—not any vague, unspecified series of activities involving captive-bred wildlife performed over several years.  See also 50 C.F.R. § 13.42 (providing that ESA permits are “specific” and should “describe certain circumscribed transactions,” setting forth “specific times, dates, places, methods of taking or carrying out the permitted activities, numbers and kinds of wildlife or plants, location of activity, and associated activities that must be carried out.” (emphases added)).  To broadly authorize Serenity Springs to engage in innumerable unspecified and otherwise prohibited activities with unspecified animals would directly contravene this language and would allow the exception to swallow the rule.

Issuing such a broad permit would also directly contravene the public’s right to information under § 10(c) of the ESA.  Section 10(c) mandates:

The Secretary shall publish notice in the Federal Register of each application for an exemption or permit which is made under this section.  Each notice shall invite the submission from interested parties, within thirty days after the date of the notice, of written data, views, or arguments with respect to the application; except that such thirty-day period may be waived by the Secretary in an emergency situation where the health or life of an endangered animal is threatened and no reasonable alternative is available to the applicant, but notice of any such waiver shall be published by the Secretary in the Federal Register within ten days following the issuance of the exemption or permit.  Information received by the Secretary as part of any application shall be available to the public as a matter of public record at every stage of the proceeding.

16 U.S.C. § 1539(c) (emphases added); see Friends of Animals v. Salazar, 626 F. Supp. 2d 102,  113 (D.D.C. 2009); Cary v. Hall, No. C05-4363 VRW, 2006 WL 6198320, at *11 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 30, 2006).  Bypassing the act-by-act assessment mandated by the ESA in favor of blanket permission to engage in any and all captive-breeding-related activities over a five-year span deprives the public, including PETA, of information to which it would be entitled “as a matter of public record at every stage of the proceeding,” 16 U.S.C. § 1539(c), but for the FWS’s issuance of the blanket permit.

  1. D.   Should the FWS Nevertheless Issue Serenity Springs a CBW Permit, It Must Be Limited to One Year Given the Pending Enforcement Action for AWA Violations.

 

If, despite the abundant reasons in favor of denying Serenity Springs’s CBW permit application set forth here and supported by the accompanying exhibits, the FWS decides to grant Serenity Springs a CBW permit, such permit should be limited to a term of one year, given that Serenity Springs has an enforcement action currently pending with the USDA.  See Letter from Anna Barry to Ferdinand Hantig (Aug. 20, 2012); USDA Compl.; E-mail from David Sacks, USDA, to Teresa Marshall, PETA Foundation.

  1. I.               Conclusion 

For all of the reasons detailed above, PETA urges the FWS to deny Serenity Springs’s application for a CBW permit and urges the FWS to launch an investigation into Serenity Springs’s apparent violations of the ESA and CWSA, as well as its submission of false material information to the agency as part of its application.

Pursuant to 50 C.F.R. § 17.22(e)(2), should the agency decide to issue the permit despite our objections, we hereby request notice of that decision at least ten days prior to the issuance of the permit via e-mail to DelciannaW@petaf.org or telephone to 202-309-4697.

 

 

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Nick Sculac of Big Cats of Serenity Springs Wildlife Center Faces Prison

In 2010 their website claims they house 120 big cats and this 2010 article says they house 138 big cats.  Most of these pseudo sanctuaries continue to buy, breed and “rescue” big cats despite their inability to care for the ones they already have.

Gets 6 years with community corrections

Big cat sanctuary co-founder guilty but avoids 6 years prison time

 

October 27, 2010 8:36 AM
THE GAZETTE

Nick Sculac, co-founder of the Calhan-area big cat sanctuary Serenity Springs Wildlife Center, was led out of court in handcuffs Tuesday after being sentenced for theft.

But his stay behind bars will be short. Under the terms of a plea agreement, he was sentenced to serve six years at community corrections, a halfway house. His attorney said Sculac could be allowed to live outside the facility within six to eight months.

Sculac, 60, pleaded guilty to bilking a volunteer at the center out of $40,500. The volunteer was mauled by a tiger, and Sculac falsely claimed the money was needed to pay fines related to the attack, according to  court documents.

“You’ve been a con artist,” 4th Judicial District Judge David Gilbert told Sculac, noting his two prior felony convictions. “You’ve been misusing people. You’ve been picking on people who are in a vulnerable state.”

The sanctuary is one of the largest in the state, and it exists largely on donations – $122,358 in 2007, according to tax records.

The judge said Sculac used peoples’ concern for the 138 big cats at the sanctuary to get money from people and line his own pockets.

“It’s criminal, but it’s just plain wrong. It’s immoral,” he said.

Gilbert also noted Sculac has done good work at the sanctuary, caring for animals that might not otherwise have a home. He said community corrections was appropriate, but added: “If you find yourself back in front of us again, you’ll be looking at spending potentially the rest of your life in prison.”

Sculac was silent during the sentencing. His attorney, Mark Menscher, told the judge Sculac was worried about being fined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and losing the sanctuary.

“He did tell (the volunteer) he had already been fined and he was wrong to do so,” Menscher said. “He was worried about getting closed down.”

The USDA is still investigating the April 2009 mauling and has not issued a fine. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the sanctuary $7,000.

The volunteer, Michael McCain, traveled from the Western Slope to testify Tuesday.

“We did not want anything to happen to the sanctuary, so I accepted all responsibility (for the mauling),” said McCain, who was in an area volunteers were not supposed to visit when a tiger grabbed his arm, pulled him against a cage and bit.

“(Sculac) had the chance to reel me in and he did because he knew how much we loved the animals,” McCain said.

McCain said he would have preferred Sculac spend time in prison, but he was still satisfied with the sentence.

Sculac was ordered to pay the money back.

The six-year sentence was the maximum under the plea agreement – he could have received two years…

Read more: http://www.gazette.com/news/sculac-106960-sanctuary-theft.html#ixzz13f0h0PMj

 

founder of a big-cat sanctuary faces up to six years in prison
10/4/2010 COLORADO SPRINGS — The co-founder of a big-cat sanctuary faces up to six years in prison after he admitted stealing from a volunteer who was mauled by a 400-pound Bengal tiger.

 

 

Nick Sculac, 60, of the Serenity Springs Wildlife Center in Calhan pleaded guilty in July to bilking a volunteer for $40,500 after the volunteer followed an employee into an off-limits area and was bitten on the arm.

 

Sculac told the volunteer he owed the $40,500 for “his share” of a federal fine over the mauling. After the volunteer paid Sculac the money, the volunteer discovered that a fine was under investigation but hadn’t been imposed.

 

The sanctuary later was fined $7,000, though the sanctuary is contesting the fine.
Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16245274?source=rss#ixzz11PFyVgYq

 

 

 

Big cat sanctuary co-founder accused of theft

 

Nick Sculac, of Serenity Springs in Calhan, to be sentenced Tuesday

October 04, 2010 8:40 AM

R. SCOTT RAPPOLD

THE GAZETTE

NOTE: A previous version of this story stated the Colorado Division of Wildlife allows breeding of exotic animals. More accurately, the DOWrecognizes that Serenity Springs’ licenses and permits allow the breeding of some animals at the facility.

 

At the Serenity Springs Wildlife Center, a big-cat sanctuary near Calhan, donations keep the 100-plus tigers, lions and other animals alive. Most of these wild predators have been rescued from appalling circumstances, and live in enclosures on the generosity of others.

The public has responded to many pleas over the years  (including in The Gazette)  for volunteer work and donations — $122,358 in 2007, according to tax records.

But when a volunteer was mauled by a tiger last year, co-founder Nick Sculac bilked the man out of $40,500 by falsely claiming — according to court documents — that he faced fines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that amount was “his share.”

Sculac is scheduled to be sentenced in court Tuesday after pleading guilty in July to one count of theft. He also faces an unrelated misdemeanor citation from the Colorado Division of Wildlife for illegally keeping bear and tiger cubs off the Serenity Springs property.

It will be the latest in a long string of court appearances for the 60-year-old Sculac, who founded the sanctuary with his late wife, Karen, in 1993. Court records show he was charged with theft in 1984, 1991, 1993, 2001 and 2002, and he has repeatedly battled with creditors.

Now he faces 2 to 6 years in prison and up to $500,0000 in fines. Neither Sculac nor his attorney responded to interview requests for this story.

Tiger bite

Michael McCain admits it was his fault.

“It was stupid on my part,” he told an El Paso County Sheriff’s Office investigator, according to a sheriff’s case report. (Read the entire report by clicking on the link on the upper right of this page.)

A Telluride-area resident, he came to Serenity Springs to volunteer after a mountain lion he and his wife had helped raise at another facility was moved here.

On April 24, 2009, he followed an employee into an area off-limits to volunteers, where gates to the pens have 12-inch openings. McCain strayed too close to one opening, and a 400-pound Bengal tiger reached through, grabbed his arm and pulled him against the cage in a manner he described as “playful.” When he tried to pull his arm out, the tiger bit in.

Employees hit the tiger with a shovel until it let go, and McCain was treated for wounds to his wrist, forearm, bicep and tricep, according to the sheriff’s office report.

A month later, recovering at home, his arm still in a cast, he got a message from Sculac, which he later played for a sheriff’s office detective. According to an arrest affidavit, Sculac told him he had to pay a fine by Friday. McCain returned the call.

According to the affidavit, Sculac told McCain the U.S. Department of Agriculture had fined him $40,500. He had the money in escrow, but he would lose his house if he used that money, and the sanctuary would be shut down and the animals killed.

The next day McCain, pooling money from his business and friends and family, wired Sculac the money. When he called the USDA a few weeks later, he was told the investigation was under way, but a fine had not been imposed, the affidavit states.

He called the sheriff’s office. On June 22, a detective confirmed with the USDA that no fine had been issued. Sculac was interviewed July 16. He said while no fines had been issued, he expected the sanctuary would be fined, and that he told McCain $40,500 was “his share” in order to come back to Serenity Springs, according to the affidavit.

Asked how much of the money was left, Sculac said $15,000.; the rest was spent to improve and pay off the property.

Sculac was arrested Dec. 7, and is free on $10,000 bail. (Read the entire arrest affidavit by clicking on the link on the upper right of this page.)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued Serenity Springs a $7,000 citation July 14, 2009. Serenity Springs is contesting the fine.

The USDA has not issued a fine. An agency spokesman said the investigation into the mauling is ongoing.

McCain declined to be interviewed, citing the sentencing, where he plans to testify.

Past offenses

The Sculacs’ wildlife refuge started small, just a handful of animals on the Sculacs’ ranch. But as sanctuaries around the country closed, and the number of people adopting big cats they couldn’t handle increased, so did the number of cats.

Karen Sculac handled the financial and business side of the sanctuary, the Sculacs told The Gazette in 2002. That’s the year Nick Sculacwas arrested on four counts of theft, accused of taking money for projects in his contracting business and not carrying out the work and also taking payment for medical supplies in another business and not delivering. A deputy requested bail to be set at $100,000.

“(Sculac) has shown proficiency in obtaining large sums of money by deception, (Sculac) made it clear to victim in one case that he has a .44-magnum that he carries and can use it,” the deputy wrote.

The charges were eventually dropped and Sculac paid restitution.

Karen Sculac died of a sudden illness in 2006, and Nick Sculac decided to keep the sanctuary going. But his financial and legal problems continued. He was sued in 2007 by a former attorney, who claimed he owed $5,794 in legal bills. In 2008, Memorial Hospital sued him for $2,700 over unpaid medical bills. In April, a motorcycle he bought for $14,000 was repossessed. The property has been in and out of foreclosure several times.

It is unclear how the theft case will affect the sanctuary, one of the largest in Colorado.

Sculac no longer owns the property, following a series of real estate transfers. The name was changed from Big Cats of Serenity Springsto Serenity Springs Wildlife Center, formed in 2008 by Julie Walker, who owns the home on Constitution Avenue that Sculac listed as his home address in court records.

The most recent tax return available, from 2007, lists Sculac as president, with three other family members on a six-person board of directors. He also continues to write in the sanctuary’s newsletter, and a former employee said Sculac is heavily involved in fund-raising for the center.

Not an accredited sanctuary

The center has a valid USDA permit, issued in August and good for one year. It has a zoological permit and an exhibitor’s permit from the ColoradoDivision of Wildlife, said agency spokesman Michael Seraphin.

Sculac is also scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for the misdemeanor citation of keeping animal cubs off the sanctuary property, issued in December.

The sanctuary is not listed as an accredited facility by the American Sanctuary Association, said association director Vernon Weir, because the association disapproves of breeding, which apparently goes on at Serenity Springs. Serenity Springs’ permits allows some breeding of animals.

“Legitimate animal sanctuaries are taking in these animals because there’s nowhere else for them to go,” Weir said. “It’s to keep them from being killed, but they’re not in favor of private ownership. Wild animals belong in the wild, not in peoples’ backyards.”

The association also questioned if Serenity Springs was financially stable, he said.

Despite Sculac’s legal and financial troubles, the sanctuary seems to be doing OK. It offers tours of the sanctuary for $10 a person, takes photos with cubs for $25, and receives food donations regularly. Its Facebook page has 897 people who like it.

“Due to our generous donors, our meat freezers are full,” says a voice message on the sanctuary’s phone line.
Read more: http://www.gazette.com/articles/big-105633-cat-center.html#ixzz11PJBbMO5

 

 

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Posted on Apr 15, 2013 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Karl Mitchell All Acting Animals AKA Big Cat Encounters

Karl Mitchell All Acting Animals AKA Big Cat Encounters

Karl Mitchell All Acting Animals AKA Big Cat Encounters

Bad News for Karl Mitchell, Good News for Big Cats as Appeal Falls Flat

Pahrump, Nev. — After receiving information from PETA, Big Cat Rescuers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Nye County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) today upheld the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission’s (RPC) February 13 unanimous vote to revoke notorious animal abuser Karl Mitchell’s conditional use permit (CUP) to keep exotic animals in the jurisdiction. Mitchell, who owns a disgraceful tiger menagerie called Big Cat Encounters and had appealed the RPC’s permit revocation, has been exhibiting big cats, even though he has not held the requisite USDA license since his was permanently revoked in 2001. These violations of federal law mean that Mitchell should never have been issued a CUP by the county.

 

“Karl Mitchell’s days of terrorizing big cats in Nye County are numbered,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Delcianna Winders. “PETA thanks the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners for making clear that animal abuse and defiance of the law will not stand.”

 

In February 2012, PETA called on the USDA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to file criminal charges against Mitchell for exhibiting tigers and transporting them across state lines without a license. The federal investigations are still pending.

 

Over the years, Mitchell has been cited repeatedly by the USDA for a litany of Animal Welfare Act violations. They include—but are not limited to—failing to provide animals with adequate veterinary care, living conditions, and palatable food and water; cruelly withholding water as a training technique; and continuing to exhibit big cats illegally. He has also been slapped with three cease-and-desist orders—which he failed to comply with—and more than $100,000 in fines.

April 16, 2013  For more information, please visit PETA.org. Contact:  David Perle 202-483-7382

 

Animal Intervention Show

 

Karl Mitchell was featured on Animal Intervention in the fall of 2012 thumbing his nose at USDA and proclaiming that federal laws don’t apply to him.  http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/wild/animal-intervention/videos/heidi-fleiss-and-the-big-cat/

That landed him back in court in Nye County where they are considering the fact that his failure to maintain a USDA license is cause for revocation of his permit to keep dangerous carnivores in his back yard.  Read the USDA’s letter to Nye County and stay up to date on the pending hearing in February.

 

Karl Mitchell All Acting Animals AKA Big Cat Encounters

Karl Mitchell All Acting Animals AKA Big Cat Encounters

Despite Pahrump’s long-held reputation as a haven for oddballs, hermits, malcontents and rugged individualists, I will say this for the folks who live there — they most certainly are a forgive-and-forget kind of crowd. Especially the “forget” part.It is astonishing, even by Nye County standards, that elected officials and government regulators could pretend to know little or nothing about the violent and tortured history of infamous animal trainer Karl Mitchell. Mitchell is the human equivalent of the herpes virus. He keeps resurfacing, a crusty canker sore that scabs over but never really goes away.

 

Now he’s back. To be honest, I can’t imagine why he would even bother to ask Nye County for permission to set up an exotic animal sanctuary. Mitchell has shown contempt for government authority and law enforcement for decades. He’s been arrested, fined, shut down, thrown into prison, exposed by media, hounded by animal-welfare agencies and organizations — and none of it has mattered to him one bit. No matter what an entity like Nye County decides regarding his sanctuary, he will do exactly what he wants and thumb his nose at everyone.

 

If the name Karl Mitchell sort of rings a bell, allow me to reintroduce him. I’ve been reporting on his outrageous exploitation of exotic animals since the mid-1990s. Back then, a Las Vegas animal-lover named Linda Faso told me about what she said was Mitchell’s inhumane treatment of numerous animals, including big cats, at a ramshackle compound in Pahrump. I checked it out and found despicable conditions for several tigers and other cats, including endangered species crammed into tiny cages, eating rotten food, tormented by flies and piles of feces and deprived of water in the brutal heat of summer. Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued 45 citations for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

 

Mitchell never missed a beat. In 2001, the USDA formally revoked his license to exhibit exotic animals, but Mitchell declared himself to be beyond the regulatory reach of USDA and continued to operate, charging visitors to see his animals, advertising them for use in film and photo shoots, squeezing every last dime he could get out of the magnificent animals. In 2010, a federal hearing officer ruled that Mitchell is not, in fact, above the law and fined him a whopping $68,000, which was added to a $27,000 fine assessed in 2001.

 

Oh, but his sordid history goes back much further. He’s been arrested at least a dozen times in Nevada and California, including a bust in California for trying to flatten two Fish and Game officers who suspected he was dealing in black-market exotic animals. California officials described Mitchell as a “threat to both animals and humans.”

 

In the weeks leading up to Mitchell’s appearance before the Nye County Commission, various officials in Pahrump have made statements that are simply jaw-dropping in their ignorance. Animal-control officials say they have no record of problems with Mitchell’s treatment of his critters, and the Planning Commission gave its preliminary approval to an exotic animal compound that would be home to eight tigers, a liger and other animals, saying they don’t see how it could pose a danger to anyone. Oh, really?

 

His previous Pahrump compounds scared the crap out of everyone who lived within a mile of his place. In 2002, Mitchell shot and killed one of his tigers because it got out. In 2004, his then-girlfriend had one of her fingers bitten off by one of Mitchell’s cats. Although he has no permits of any kind for exhibiting his animals, Mitchell has continued to charge $500 for an hour of close contact with his cats. His website still advertises the opportunity to “swim with tigers” or “romp with baby tigers.” He even refers to his place as a “unique tourist destination,” and his web page is packed with photos of dim-bulb celebrities who have lent their names and faces to promoting his pathetic paean to animal exploitation, including the likes of Paris Hilton and Megan Fox.

 

But here’s the topper. Hase everyone in Nye forgotten that Mitchell was hired as their head animal-control officer, and how that ended? Despite all of his problems and arrests, he got the job in 2000. Mitchell was arrested three times in one month while running animal control, was accused of stealing $40,000 worth of checks and was sent to prison for two years for stealing a vehicle from the county. I mean, does any of this sort of ring a bell, folks?

 

“I am always appalled whenever Karl Mitchell has anything with a heartbeat, because of his history of neglect and abuse,” says animal activist Linda Faso, who is once again asking animal groups to focus on Mitchell.

 

It boils down to this. Tigers and lions do not belong in tiny cages in a hot, dusty compound for the amusement of visitors just because Karl Mitchell can’t figure out any other way to make a living. Tigers and humans should not swim together, and if you think these wild animals can be trained to be perfectly safe, have a chat with Roy Horn. It is furthermore disgraceful to treat exotics this way, whether it’s tigers in Pahrump or elephants in a circus.

 

Mitchell was denied his conditional use permit because the commission deadlocked 3-3. How he could get three votes is befuddling, but it happened. He can appeal the vote in 30 days, though, the reality is, Mitchell doesn’t think he needs permission from Nye or anyone.

 

http://www.lasvegascitylife.com/articles/2012/06/21/opinion/knappster/iq_54432325.txt

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at gknapp@klastv.com

 

 

Exotic animal owner applies for new tiger sanctuary permit

 

 

The Nye County Planning Department is recommending approval of Karl Mitchell’s request for a conditional use permit for an animal sanctuary for tigers at 6061 N. Woodchips Rd., which is up for consideration at the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission meeting today.

 

The planning department said the Nye County Code allows special conditions for animals and animal sanctuaries in a rural homestead zone with minimum 4.5 acre lots. The property owner is Ray “The Flagman” Mielzynski, the parcel is 20 acres.

 

The planning department report said Nye County Animal Control inspected the premises and found the property to be secure.

 

Raymond and Rose Leach, of Phoenix, feel the sanctuary would have a negative impact on their vacant property down the street. They referred to the highly publicized incident last year where an exotic animal owner in Ohio committed suicide and let his wild animals run loose.

 

Walter Jervis, a property owner at 6101 N. Alanjay Ave., within the 300 foot notification area of the application, said: “does this imply that my property will be within an area that is now considered dangerous to children or pets? Will there be special provisions made to sequester the animals within the permit area that includes special fencing and noise abatement requirements? How does this affect the saleability of my property?”

 

Patsy Junker of Mesquite, who owns property at 5920 Acacia Ave., said the facility would depreciate her property so badly she could never sell it or live there.

 

 

The county zoning code requires animal sanctuaries to comply with all federal, state and county regulations; requires all animals to be treated in a humane manner; allows code compliance officers to enter the property when they have reason to believe the conditional use permit has been violated; requires the animals to be registered with Nye County Animal Control; requires permits from the Nevada Division of Wildlife or U.S. Department of Agriculture to be kept on file at the animal control office; and requires annual inspections by a national or regional organization or Nye County Animal Control.

 

The special conditions of approval require the sanctuary won’t be open to the public, with no exhibiting of animals on the premises. If that’s the case, Mitchell may want to update his Internet site for Big Cat Encounters. It advertises a “once in a lifetime, one-on-one personal encounter with one of the planet’s most powerful, precious and dangerous species.”

 

The advertisement was for Mitchell’s last compound with five acres of grassland on the south side of Pahrump. He listed eight tigers and a liger, a cross between a lion and tiger. The ad says visitors can pet the tigers, swim with them and romp with the baby tigers, who Mitchell said are as playful as kittens. He requested $500 donations for one person to interact with one of the tigers for an hour and $250 each for additional persons.

 

Mitchell was fined twice by the USDA for exhibiting animals without a license, in violation of the Animal Welfare Act, for $27,500 in May 2001 and $68,625 in September 2010. During the later hearing, Administrative Law Judge Victor Palmer fined Mitchell for exhibiting tigers without sufficient space and barriers and refusing to allow his facilities to be inspected. The judge said Mitchell failed on 12 occasions to obey two cease and desist orders previously entered against him.

 

Mitchell claimed his Big Cat Encounters, which he described as an animal rescue organization, was exempt as a non-profit corporation. The federal judge disagreed and said they were being shown for compensation.

 

Mitchell has shown his baby tigers to everyone from attendees at a Pahrump Valley Chamber of Commerce function in February 2009 to a celebrity Paris Hilton reality show that June.

 

In December 2009 the RPC denied Mitchell a permit to keep seven Bengal tigers on Manse Road, in front of 90 people in the crowd.

 

 

If tonight’s meeting is a repeat of that RPC meeting, this last appearance featured supporters who talked about the unique experience of posing with tigers and workers who say they’ve never been injured. They were countered by neighbors who were afraid of their safety. Mitchell was criticized for inadequate fencing at that meeting, the RPC also received a petition with 87 signatures from Escapees Co-op RV Park opposing the conditional use permit.

 

In September 2010, Mitchell ended up in Pahrump Justice Court fighting eviction from a property on Homestead Road, just north of Terrible’s Lakeside Casino filed by Desert World Realty.

 

Still further back in history, Mitchell won a contract to operate the county animal control department in October 2000 after animal advocates were afraid the contract would go to an out-of-town company, Dewey Animal Care Center. But county commissioners repealed the contract eight months later, after Mitchell was arrested three times in one month.

 

Nine charges were dismissed against him, involving theft of animals and possession of a controlled substance. But Mitchell was eventually convicted in the theft of a GMC Suburban and accusations he stole $40,000 in three checks after he stopped operating the county animal control program. He served over two years in prison from July 2004 to September 2006.

 

While in prison, his exotic animals were seized and taken to an animal sanctuary in Texas.

 

Posted on13 June 2012.

 

By Mark Waite http://pvtimes.com/news/exotic-animal-owner-applies-for-new-tiger-sanctuary-permit/comment-page-1/

 

Fined $68,625.00 by USDA in 2010

 

All Acting Animals (Mitchell, Karl) 
USDA License #88-C-0076
6941 Oakridge Rd., Pahrump, NV 89048

All Acting Animals has failed to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has filed formal charges against All Acting Animals for chronic, serious violations that include failure to provide animals with drinking water, failure to provide wholesome, uncontaminated food, failure to provide shelter from the elements, failure to provide adequate space, and failure to maintain enclosures and for threatening and harassing USDA officials. The USDA has cited All Acting Animals for failure to provide veterinary care and for filthy and unsanitary conditions. Karl Mitchell has been arrested numerous times and charged with burglary, carrying loaded guns in public, assault, felony stalking, auto theft, and evading arrest. The California Fish and Game Department considers Mitchell a danger to both people and animals. Contact PETA for documentation.

Animals in 2010 inventory: 12 tigers, 2 ligers, a lion, a kangaroo, and a camel according to news reports and Mitchell’s statements.

July 8, 2011:  Karl Mitchell is still openly advertising on his website bigcatencounters that he will let anyone with pet a tiger for $500.00 per person per hour.  ”Children welcome,” he claims.

September 17, 2010: Mitchell was ordered to leave the property by Justice of the Peace Gus Sullivan from Beatty as the result of an eviction proceeding in which he had failed to pay rent since June.

September 9, 2010:  Despite losing his USDA license, Karl Mitchell has been caught by USDA exhibiting in 2004, 2008, and 2009.  A federal judge finally fined him $68,625.00 and yet again issued a third cease and desist order demanding that he quit exhibiting big cats.

February 5, 2001: According to a KLAS-TV Las Vegas, Nevada, news report covering Mitchell’s controversial hiring as head of Nye County Animal Control, “California Fish and Game  has seized animals from Mitchell, denied him permits for others, and characterized him as ‘a dangerous person and a serious liability to any person or animal he’s involved with.’  [Mitchell has been arrested for] burglary, carrying loaded guns in public, [and] assault. In Nye County, he was busted a dozen times in just six years, for, among other things, pointing a loaded gun at a person and trying to intimidate witnesses. In a 1996 interview, Mitchell’s then-wife  said he started beating her shortly after they were married. The last time, he sent her to a hospital with broken ribs. Mitchell was busted in Clark County for felony stalking of his estranged wife.”

The newscast also stated that Clark County officials reported Mitchell had sewn shut a snake’s mouth using a needle and thread-and no anesthesia-to keep the animal’s mouth closed during use on a movie set.

January 18, 2001: The USDA filed charges against All Acting Animals for violating the Animal Welfare Act .  USDA investigators found that on several occasions, Mitchell had interfered with, threatened, abused, and harassed USDA officials in the performance of their duties. In addition, investigators have documented that Mitchell has failed to:

· allow officials access to his facilities, animals, and records
· maintain required records
· maintain enclosures
· adequately store supplies of food so as to protect them from deterioration or spoilage
· provide sufficient shade to protect animals from direct sunlight
· provide shelter from inclement weather
· house animals in outdoor facilities with a proper perimeter fence
· construct perimeter fencing that restricts the entrance of other animals
· provide animals with sufficient space in which to make normal postural and social adjustments
· provide food that was wholesome, palatable, and free of contamination
· provide animals with water as often as necessary for the health and comfort of the animal
· maintain an effective program for the control of pests
· properly clean and repair premises

September 14, 2000: The USDA cited All Acting Animals for failure to correct previously identified violations of not providing adequate shelter from the elements, failure to repair enclosures and fences, and poor housekeeping.  The inspector discussed watering regulations after Mitchell stated that he withholds water as a training technique . This practice may lead to dehydration and cause serious damage to internal organs.  The USDA inspection team requested and received an escort from the Nye County sheriff’s office.

July 24, 2000: The USDA cited All Acting Animals for failure to correct previously identified violations of not providing adequate shelter from the elements, failure to provide minimum space, failure to provide animals with drinking water, filthy conditions, and failure to repair enclosures and fences .  The inspector wrote, “Animals appeared crowded and unable to receive the exercise required for healthy young animals. . Several enclosures had a buildup of old, soiled, and damp straw bedding. . [A]ccess to residence was repeatedly denied by licensee, Karl Mitchell. When asked if animals were in the house, he stated that there were ‘no cats in the house that we want to see.’”

All Acting Animals was also cited for giving a kangaroo drinking water that was “totally fouled, red in color, and opaque.” The kangaroo enclosure had a buildup of fecal material and soiled straw. A young camel had no ventilated shade to provide relief from heat. All Acting Animals was cited for failure to provide wholesome, palatable, and uncontaminated food and failure to maintain records of acquisition and disposition.  The inspector also noted that Mitchell was instructed to remove a sign identifying the facility as a “USDA Government Facility.”  The USDA inspection team requested and received an escort from the Nye County sheriff’s office.

June 29, 2000: The USDA cited All Acting Animals for failure to correct a previously identified violation of refusing access to the premises . The inspector wrote, “Mr. Mitchell denied access to his facility for an inspection on June 29, 2000. He did not provide a reason for not allowing us to inspect. He refused to sign the inspection report and walked away.”

May 16, 2000: The USDA cited All Acting Animals for failure to correct a previously identified violation of not providing animals with adequate shelter from the elements .
A lion named Nala was not provided minimum space. The inspector wrote, ” Enclosure has inadequate space as evidenced by poor coat condition and abnormal behavior patterns (i.e., stereotypic pacing) .”  The facility was cited for failure to provide animals with water. The inspector wrote, ” When released, [a tiger cub named Valentino] drank thirstily for several minutes .”  The USDA cited All Acting Animals for filthy conditions. The inspector found enclosures with a buildup of fecal material and old, soiled, and damp straw bedding.  All Acting Animals was also cited for failure to provide access to records, enclosures in disrepair, and improper food storage.

April 11, 2000: The USDA cited All Acting Animals for failure to correct previously identified violations of not providing animals with adequate shelter from the elements and direct sunlight as well as for poor housekeeping .  All Acting Animals was also cited for unsanitary conditions and inadequate pest control.

January 20, 2000: The USDA cited All Acting Animals for failure to have a responsible person available for inspection. The inspector noted, “Unauthorized public would have easy and immediate access to enclosures housing large exotic felids. . [I]nspector observed enclosures in disrepair and without adequate shelter.”

December 7, 1999: All Acting Animals was cited for failure to provide veterinary care to a lion with a weak and wobbly gait , failure to have a current veterinary care program, failure to maintain records of acquisition and disposition, failure to secure enclosures to prevent unauthorized access, improperly constructed enclosures, failure to provide shelter from the elements, inadequate perimeter fencing, failure to provide a veterinarian-approved diet, and poor housekeeping.

January 7, 1999: The USDA cited All Acting Animals for failure to have a local veterinarian and failure to provide minimum space to a tiger named Diva.

September 9, 1998: AWA Docket No. 97-0028.  Decision and Order filed September 9, 1998.  in re: KARL MITCHELL d/b/a ALL ACTING ANIMALS.  Cease and Desist Order – Civil Penalty – Filing License Application and PVC Form Falsely Purporting to be Signed by Applicant and Veterinarian.  Chief Administrative LawJudge Victor W. Palmer found that Respondent violated the Animal Welfare Act and a regulation issued pursuant thereto by submitting a license application and a Program of Veterinary Care form (PVC) which were purportedly signed by the applicant for the license and the veterinarian who completed the PVC form, which instead had been signed by the Respondent. Chief Judge Palmer imposed a $750.00 civil penalty and a cease and desist order. In determining the penalty, Chief Judge Palmer noted that the violation did not endanger the welfare of animals and was unlikely to recur.  Donald A. Tracy, for Complainant.  Benjamin Zvenia, Las Vegas, NV, for Respondent.  Decision and Order issued by Victor IV Palmer. Chief Administrative Law Judge.  For the reasons hereinafter stated, an order is being issued requiring Respondent to cease and desist from violating the Act and the regulations and assessing a civil penalty of $750.00.

June 30, 1998: The USDA cited All Acting Animals for failure to correct the previously identified violations of not properly disposing of food and animal waste and poor housekeeping .
All Acting Animals was also cited for using soiled bedding material, enclosures in need of repair, and a cluttered food preparation area.

May 13, 1996: All Acting Animals was cited by the USDA for giving animals contaminated drinking water in dirty receptacles, filthy enclosures littered with several days of feces and food waste , failure to adequately train employees, failure to make transport enclosures, program of veterinary care, and acquisition and disposition records available for inspection, inadequate pest control, and grounds and food storage area scattered with trash.

August 3, 1993: The USDA sent certified mail to All Acting Animals cautioning the facility that its repeated failure to construct a perimeter fence could result in legal action.

August 1, 1993: According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal , Mitchell acquired two “liger” (tiger and lion crossbreed) cubs from Jordan Circus after they were born on the road. Mitchell claimed that the cubs make “good pets.”

July 13, 1993: The USDA cited All Acting Animals for failure to correct a previously identified violation of not constructing a perimeter fence . The facility was also cited for improper fencing and fencing in disrepair, algae buildup in the tigers’ water receptacle, and poor housekeeping.

July 11, 1990: According to the Las Vegas Sun , Karl Mitchell stored a 5-year-old tiger in a garage for nearly three months. Mitchell was asked to remove the tiger when he failed to provide proof of insurance to the owner of the garage. The tiger was relocated to a bookmobile.

June 24, 1985: The San Diego Union-Tribune reported, “Following a wild chase, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies booked Karl Mitchell, 33, for investigation of evading arrest, assault against an officer, auto theft, possession of a concealed weapon, damaging a state vehicle, and possessing a tiger without a permit.”

 

Check for yourself to see if they meet the sanctuary standards for an accredited animal refuge.

 

Mitchell faces USDA fine, eviction

Posted on 24 September 2010 By MARK WAITE

Shaquille the Leopard Was Beaten in the Face by Mitchell

Shaquille the Leopard Was Beaten in the Face by Mitchell

Pahrump exotic animal owner Karl Mitchell, owner of Big Cat Encounters, has been battling the law on the federal and local level recently.

Last month, Victor Palmer, an administrative law judge for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, slapped $68,625 in fines and a cease and desist order on Mitchell for exhibiting his animals in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

Now Mitchell is fighting eviction in Pahrump Justice Court at his latest home on Homestead Road, just north of Terrible’s Lakeside Casino.

Palmer’s order, following a hearing in Las Vegas in April, fined Mitchell for exhibiting tigers for compensation without a license, exhibiting the tigers to the public without sufficient space and barriers for the public and refusing to allow his facilities to be inspected by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service APHIS.

The judge said Mitchell also failed on 12 occasions to obey two cease and desist orders previously entered against him by the Secretary of Agriculture.

The USDA revoked Mitchell’s Animal Welfare Act license in 2001, and levied a $16,775 penalty following a cease and desist order. Mitchell continued to violate the order, exhibiting tigers in 2004, 2008 and 2009, the USDA said, including a tiger brought to a Paris Hilton reality show in June 2009. People were allowed to pet the tigers tethered to a chain for a fee, but it wasn’t separated by a barrier.

Mitchell claimed Big Cat Encounters, as an animal rescue organization, was exempt as a non-profit corporation. The federal judge disagreed, saying the exhibition of his animals to the public was for compensation.

The judge cited a case involving The International Siberian Tiger Foundation, which illustrated the dangers of allowing the public to come in close proximity to tigers, even when they are declawed, chained and controlled by two trainers. In that case numerous people were bitten, one person required 50 stitches.

On this third cease and desist order against Mitchell, it includes for the first time his organization, Big Cat Encounters. But the judge fined Mitchell half of the maximum penalty for handling violations, since no one was hurt. He also assessed half the penalty for failing to allow an inspection of his facilities, since there was no evidence of mistreatment of the animals.

A sentence of $1,500 was levied for each of the 12 occasions when Mitchell failed to obey previous cease and desist orders.

USDA spokesman Dave Sacks said Mitchell has yet to pay the fine. Mitchell appealed the decision Sept. 9; the Pahrump Valley Times filed a U.S. Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of his appeal.

In an e-mail response, Mitchell said: “The USDA was seeking $1.5 million in fines. So the government overreached by 98 percent. The rest is up for appeal. The USDA has not replied, so we shall see.”

Nye County has also been dealing with Mitchell.

In December, Mitchell was denied a conditional use permit to keep seven Bengal tigers at his sanctuary on Manse Road by the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission.

Neighbor Gene Lovas, in a letter to the editor, said he was startled after Thanksgiving 2009 to find the most dangerous animals on the planet were being kept in his neighborhood. Doug Howard, president of Escapees Co-op RV Park, presented petitions with 87 signatures opposing the permit.

Desert World Realty filed an affidavit to evict Mitchell from his latest residence on Homestead Road Aug. 27.

According to justice court minutes, the landlord testified at a Sept. 13 hearing Mitchell signed a six-month lease Feb. 5 and was given a $5,000 credit to fix up the property. Mitchell also agreed to get a conditional use permit allowing him to keep his big cats on the property, but failed to do so. The landlord also complained Mitchell hasn’t paid rent since June 1.

The Nye County Code Compliance Department has an open case on Mitchell’s Homestead Road property.

Mitchell was ordered to leave the property by Sept. 17 by visiting Justice of the Peace Gus Sullivan from Beatty, according to court minutes.

Mitchell filed a motion to stay the eviction Sept. 17, pending a hearing last Monday, the minutes state.

During the latest hearing on Monday, Mitchell told Pahrump Justice of the Peace Kent Jasperson he didn’t have the money to move numerous big cats, but will be receiving money for the airing of a television program within 30 days.

“Mr. Mitchell stated he has located a place to rent but does not have the money to move unless the landlord returns the $8,700 owed for the repairs,” the court minutes state.

Exotic animal owners Zuzana Kukol and Scott Shoemaker, 1211 Arnold Ct., who have drawn praise from officials for their elaborate shelters housing lions and tigers on the northwest side of Pahrump, complained to Nye County Commissioners Tuesday about a rezoning that will bring a new road close to their cages.

The commission approved a zone change of 80 acres from an RE-2 zone to RE-1 at 4751 W. Adkisson Street and a tentative map application to subdivide it into 50 residential lots and 10 open space lots for the Sunset Valley Subdivision.

The Pahrump Regional Planning Commission recommended approval Aug. 11, on the grounds the project complied with the Pahrump master plan. Previously, a landowner was given a conditional use permit to house up to 12 exotic animals on this property in March 2009, but the RPC cancelled it on June 9, 2010.

A special condition was imposed by the RPC to require the developer to disclose to any lot buyer there are special condition animals in close proximity to the subdivision.

Mitchell to appear of Animal Planet TV

Exotic animal owner Karl Mitchell will be featured on one of the episodes of a five-part series on The Animal Planet television network entitled “Fatal Attractions.”

The series debuts at 9 p.m. Oct. 8. A description of the series on The Animal Planet website states the series shares cautionary tales of people who live with wild, exotic animals, despite the often deadly consequences.

The advance on the series states Mitchell, a Vietnam veteran and professional exotic, wild animal trainer for years no longer considered it just his job, but began interacting with tigers on an intensely personal level.

“They’re deadly, yes,” Mitchell said. “But they keep me going.”

Mitchell told the network the tigers help relieve him from the anxiety he still suffers from serving in combat in the Vietnam War.

The series includes a woman who brought a lion and tiger cub to her Harlem apartment and was nearly killed. A 74-year-old woman who was killed by her collection of bears is profiled.

(If you saw the Fatal Attractions piece, then you saw Karl Mitchell punching the big cats in the nose to subdue them.)

 

Karl Mitchell / All Acting Animals big cats go to San Antonio

By Angie Wagner

ASSOCIATED PRESS

1:37 p.m. March 2, 2005

 

PAHRUMP, Nev. – Down a quiet gravel road lined by homes, six tigers and two leopards live amid the roosters and cats in a small back yard. They are hungry and dirty, and their owner can no longer care for them.

Carol Asvestas is tired of seeing the same scene played out across the country. Big cats are taken in as pets or kept in so-called sanctuaries, but then are neglected by owners who become overwhelmed.

Many big cats, like the ones here, will end up with Asvestas at her San Antonio , Texas , Wild Animal Orphanage.

Animal protection groups want private ownership of big cats outlawed. They say that with an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 large cats kept as pets in the United States , the problem is out of control.

Just last week, authorities shot and killed a 425-pound tiger that had been roaming the hills near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Los Angeles . Where it came from and who owned it is unknown.

State laws vary on owning exotic animals such as tigers, wolves and alligators. Just 14 ban private ownership altogether; eight have a partial ban on some species, 13 states regulate exotic animals and 15 states, including Nevada, have no regulations of many exotic animals, according to the Animal Protection Institute.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires licenses for exhibitors, dealers and researchers, but not private owners keeping a big cat as a pet.

“It’s a huge public safety risk that is 100 percent preventable,” said Dr. Kim Haddad, a veterinarian and manager of the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, made up of more than 20 animal protection groups, sanctuaries and zoos.

“The solution is so easy. You just cannot have these animals as pets.”

Sure, tiger cubs are cute and cuddly. But when they reach 600 pounds and eat 20 pounds of meat a day, owners often find themselves in over their heads. And it’s often Asvestas who comes in to help.

Such was the case in Pahrump, a dusty desert town near the California border, where a woman decided she couldn’t care for her back yard tigers and leopards anymore. One pet leopard was quarantined after it bit off the tip of the woman’s finger last week.

Asvestas and the International Fund for Animal Welfare organized a rescue mission Tuesday, at the owner’s request. She and helpers tranquilized, then loaded the skinny and mangy cats one by one into a trailer for the trip to Texas . There, they will be among 700 animals, 200 of them big cats. In the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson on Wednesday, the group collected two tigers, three lions and four wolves from another private owner.

Animal groups cite numerous incidents of big cats getting loose or harming someone.

- A 600-pound tiger belonging to a former Tarzan actor escaped in Florida and sent authorities on a 26-hour hunt before the tiger was shot and killed last July. The state does not monitor the keeping of exotic animals as pets.

- A 10-year-old boy at a relative’s house in North Carolina was killed by a tiger that pulled him inside its cage in December 2003. The next month, a tiger mauled a 14-year-old girl taking pictures in a tiger’s cage at her father’s farm. There is no state law about owning exotic animals.

- In April 2003, authorities found 58 dead tiger cubs stuffed into freezers, 30 dead adult tigers, and two alligators in a bathtub at a California home. California has one of the strictest exotic pet laws in the nation, but critics say enforcement is a problem.

- Pet owner Antoine Yates was bitten on the leg in 2003 by the pet tiger he kept in his New York apartment, a building where children also lived. New York now bans possession of many wild animals, though it doesn’t apply to current owners.

The popularity of owning big cats prompted Congress to pass a law in 2003 that makes it illegal to sell or ship lions, tigers and other big cats across state lines without permits. But animal welfare groups want an outright ban, saying the 5,000 to 7,000 privately owned tigers probably exceed the total number in the wild.

“It is an odd phenomenon where people are setting up, essentially, personal zoos,” said Chris Cutter, spokesman for the IFAW. “For some people, it’s a status thing.”

The call for an end to private ownership is not unanimous. Patti Strand, president of the National Animal Interest Alliance, said her organization supports regulation of exotic pet owners, but said people who can handle the animals should be able to have them.

“There is a growing body of animal groups that do nothing but exploit rather than try to solve problems because there are fund-raising dollars to be made by the sensationalism that goes along with that,’ she said.

The tigers in Pahrump, kept in cages behind a tan-colored trailer home, were part of a defunct animal sanctuary, said Steven A. Benson, who identified himself as a board member.

“There’s just too many cats to take care of,” Benson said. “It’s overwhelming.”

Animal groups say many big cat owners set up as a nonprofit sanctuary as a front to get money and really aren’t capable of caring for the animals.

“You have a lot of facilities out there who call themselves sanctuaries or rescue facilities,” Haddad said. “For the most part, a lot of these people, these animals are their pets and they keep collecting them.”

Big cats kept and bred in captivity can never be released in the wild because their fear of man is gone, and often their genetics are upset through inbreeding. As long as animals are kept in back yards, Asvestas will likely keep getting calls.

“I get tired,” she said. “I can’t take them all. We just turned down five animals last week.”

EDITOR’S NOTE – Angie Wagner is the AP’s Western regional writer, based in Las Vegas .

 

 

Big Cat Rescue Note:

Shaquille, the black leopard and Dara, the cougar were rescued from Karl Mitchell many years ago.  They had been beaten unmercifully and Dara (who is gone now) had a brain infection from the severity of her blows to the skull.  For years when we would tell people about Shaq’s story people would ask, “Why can’t someone shut him down!”  It wasn’t until the owner was sent to jail for stealing a car that anything could be done to save the animals.

 

March 4, 2005

Exotic animals in town rescued

MITCHELL’S TIGERS, LEOPARDS HEADED TO SAN ANTONIO REFUGE

By DOUG McMURDO PVT

HORACE LANGFORD JR. / PVT

Norma Lagutchik of Animal Sanctuary of the United States helps Chuck Tay and Trey Alecio (not pictured) carry a sedated tiger to a trailer designed to transport the big cats from the far western Pahrump compound of Karl Mitchell, now imprisoned on theft charges.

Karl Mitchell, the former Pahrump and Amargosa Valley animal control contractor, might still be in the pen but the tigers and leopards he kept for years at a compound in extreme western Pahrump were freed Tuesday, in a sense, when members of the Animal Sanctuary of the United States arrived to haul off six tigers and two leopards to the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio.

According to Josephine Martell, Sandy Allman contacted the group last week and asked for assistance. Martell said the exotic cats were living in deplorable conditions.

Martell, a captive wild animal specialist with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said Allman, who last week had the tip of her index finger bit off by a leopard, had tried in vain to care for the tigers, but “she was barely hanging on. The animals hadn’t seen a vet in more than a year. They were covered in feces and had urine burns … the conditions were just really filthy.”

One of Allman’s neighbors called the newspaper Tuesday to say he was happy the cats were being taken away, but fretted over the large number of dogs still on the property. “They are all in bad shape,” said the man, who spoke on condition his name not be used. “They’ve been hauling stuff to the dump for days now, but that place is in bad shape. What are they going to do about the dogs?” Allman is Mitchell’s former partner.

Mitchell is one of Nye County ‘s more controversial characters. He is now in prison following a theft conviction last year related to a Suburban he failed to return to the dealership after its lease expired and he awaits sentencing on additional theft charges after he cashed three checks totaling more than $40,000. The checks were mistakenly sent to Mitchell after Nye County Commissioners terminated his animal control contract in 2000.

In 2001 the United States Department of Agriculture revoked Mitchell’s All Acting Animals license to own exotic cats after it was determined he didn’t provide minimal care per federal standards.

Where they are going is going to seem like heaven. According to Martell the Wild Animal Orphanage will treat and “immediately vet” the cats, they will be put on a diet and will see a veterinarian regularly. “It’s a big, natural habitat,” Martell said of the orphanage. “There will be no contact with humans, and they’ll be neutered so no breeding, but they will be able to live out their lives in peace.”

Martell said the no breeding rule is included in sanctuary standards, and is used to spot illegitimate sanctuaries that would exploit the animals for profit.

“After getting the tigers and leopards from All Acting Animals some much-needed veterinary care, I greatly look forward to releasing them in to spacious, naturalistic enclosures,” stated Carol Asvestas , executive director of the Wild Animal Orphanage.

Martell said the group was at Betty Honn’s Animal Adoption Ltd. in Henderson on Wednesday to rescue eight tigers, three lions, two leopards, four wolves, and four monkeys. The taking was necessary, said Martell, in light of Honn’s death and the subsequent insolvency of her sanctuary.

The leopard that bit Allman last week remains penned up on the Pahrump property. It is in quarantine.

http://www.pahrumpvalleytimes.com/2005/03/04/news/sanctuary.html

To: National Desk

Contact: Chris Cutter, 508-737-4623 or ccutter@ifaw.org , Kerry Branon, 508-744-2068 or kbranon@ifaw.org , both of the International Fund for Animal Welfare

YARMOUTH PORT , Mass. , March 1 / U.S. Newswire/ — Thirteen big cats and their neighbors will be safer thanks to the help of IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org). Over the next two days, an IFAW-funded sanctuary, the Wild Animal Orphanage (WAO) is moving three lions, two leopards, four wolves and eight tigers from two separate homes near Las Vegas to a suitable sanctuary in Texas .

“Keeping lions and tigers as pets is a growing phenomenon that is causing a huge public safety and animal welfare issue,” said IFAW’s Josephine Martell, “It’s a bad idea for animals and people.”

The number of Americans keeping tigers and other big cats as pets continues to grow. IFAW estimates that there are 10,000 tigers being kept as pets in the U.S. , double the amount left living in the wild in the entire world. Since 1990, tigers have killed 11 people and injured 60 others. Just last week, a tiger escaped and was roaming the neighborhoods of Ventura County , near Los Angeles before it was shot and killed by authorities.

“Many of the animals are living in filthy conditions. They are malnourished, without water and standing in their own excrement in cages that are too small,” WAO’s Carole Asvestas said. “With IFAW’s help, we will provide them with the care and facilities they deserve.”

Across the country, legislators have realized that private ownership of dangerous animals is a national public safety threat. State legislation is currently being considered across the country including Washington , Maryland , Arkansas , Iowa , Ohio and Missouri . Although the passage of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act outlawed the selling and shipping of big cats across state lines without permit, there is no federal ban against owning a tiger, lion or another big cat as a pet.

 


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Posted on Feb 14, 2013 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Dade City Wild Things – Kathy Stearns

Dade City Wild Things – Kathy Stearns

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:  http://www.CatLaws.com

 

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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