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

Wildlife Rescue and Rehab Vernon Yates

Wildlife Rescue and Rehab Vernon Yates

Vernon Yates Wildlife Rescue and Rehab

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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



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

February 27, 2005
Page: 6



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dilemma!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vernon Yates Calls Commissioner a Liar

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

Vernon Yates Attacks Big Cat Rescue Volunteers

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

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

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

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

Family dispute turns deadly

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

Published January 13, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His other joy was his 1970 Monte Carlo .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiger cub found along Florida interstate

WTVT’s Stan Jason reports on this unusual find

December 28, 1998

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

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

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

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

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

Tiger will get vet checkup

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

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

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

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

Carole Baskin

Buzz on Hunter’s Green panther turns to roar

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


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Rising from the bait, rooster now a pet

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


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2000

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

But it was the trapper who got caught.

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

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

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

And trapper Vernon Yates of Seminole was fuming.

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

2011 Vernon Yates Tiger In Cage Open Jeep

2011 Vernon Yates Tiger In Cage Open Jeep

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

The saga of the rooster began in April.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For vehicle security, get The Cub

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]

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

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

Phil Oropesa

One 4th Street North
St. Petersburg , FL 33713

on his boat.

An unnatural fate

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She weighed 100 pounds.

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

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

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

Yates said Eisenmann told him the tigers had been ill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The challenges grow along with the animal.

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

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

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

One of MacKay’s tigers weighs around 800 pounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wife Shot, Husband Killed When Deputies Enter Fray

By STEPHEN THOMPSON , The Tampa Tribune

Tampa Bay Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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