Why is Gloria Johnson of Cougar Ridge trying to discredit Big Cat Rescue?
As of 2011 there is no longer a USDA license in her name.
I had contacted Gloria Johnson after a complaint came in from Tallahassee about her backyard zoo. As someone who started out as an ignorant exotic pet owner myself I figured that Gloria did not mean any harm to the cats, but that she just had not experienced as much of what I had seen. I believed that if she were to see the evolution that many of us go through she might begin to question the propaganda being fed to her by those who had used her to help them use big cats. I remember a time when all of the animal people who surrounded me were breeders, dealers and ill informed exotic pet owners. If Gloria had a chance to meet people, like our 100+ member volunteer team, who know from 14 years experience that breeding and selling exotic cats never works out well for the animal she might continue more swiftly on her path of enlightened thinking. I bought her a plane ticket to come visit Big Cat Rescue, but she refused to come.
To my knowledge, no one ever grew in the opposite direction. A lot of us who now understand that you can’t exhibit a dangerous exotic animal like a pet (whether in person or in photos of us touching the animal) without causing people to want one too. Most people who run accredited sanctuaries started out as buyers and breeders and thought we were doing a good thing, but learned that we were not. I can’t name a single person, who started out knowing what we know now, and practicing that belief, that then went backwards and decided it was okay to breed, buy or sell wild animals for life in cages. People either mature to the belief that these animals are too magnificent for lives of deprivation and confinement, or they just don’t grow at all. Gloria is passionate and I wanted to see her really make a difference for the cats.
The following is not intended as an attack. I would still like to help Gloria on her path to a better understanding of what her actions do to the animals. I do not doubt her sincerity, only her understanding. The information here is mostly her own words as of 2006 and is posted only to illustrate why she is angry that we are active in Tallahassee. She even posted a blog site that is called the Animal Rights Activists Slammer Blogsite where she encourages people to rail against anyone who would speak out to protect animals. Big Cat Rescue is working hard to stop the breeding, selling, buying, trading and public contact with exotic cats so that places like ours do not have to exist.
Gloria Johnson has a pet white tiger and two pet cougars. She claims to have bought them for education purposes, but to show others your pets and tell them they shouldn’t buy big cats as pets is not an effective way to curb the problem. She claims to have rescued Casanova pictured here, but she told Der Spiegel that she mortgaged her house to pay Robert Baudy $5000.00 for him because white tigers usually sell for $15,000.00. Gloria wrote to me on 3/1/06 saying Cassanova was not given to her but rather, “I worked hard at raising the money from donations for a discounted price Baudy quoted me.” She bought Cassanova at a time when Robert Baudy was under investigation by USDA for the death of a volunteer and his killing of a tiger. Just a few months after defending her purchase from Savage Kingdom, Robert Baudy’s license was permanently revoked by USDA.
This is what she says on her web site about acquiring her white tiger: “Casanova was facing the possibility of not finding a home when the breeding center where he was born began the process of ceasing operations. After spending 3 whole days with him there, Gloria Johnson called all of the tiger lovers she knew while in Casanova’s cage and raised enough money to take him home and give him as happy a life just like her cougars!”
In the photos below you can see the kind of education she does; walking a 6 month old tiger on a leash outside, on the school lawn and within a few inches of children, many of whom where confined to wheel chairs. USDA does not consider a leash a proper restraint for a big cat and Florida state law prohibits contact with a Class I cat. Der Spiegel reported that the cat weighed 100 lbs at the time. Anyone could have reached out and been bitten in the following scenes that occurred at the Gretchen Everhart School in Tallahassee, FL on Nov. 2, 2005. The bigger issue here however is the message being conveyed. Telling children that big cats make bad pets while walking them on leashes and bottle feeding them in front of everyone is not only a hypocritical message, but also does nothing to teach children about the true nature of these animals in the wild. No wonder so many people are mauled and killed each year when they see this sort of activity. More on the number of people mauled and killed here: https://www.bigcatrescue.org/big_cat_news.htm
Florida boasts the best laws in the nation regarding captive wildlife, but they can’t be everywhere preventing this sort of activity and when they do discover it, there is little they are willing to do about it because there is no where for the animals to go and if they confiscate and kill it is political suicide.
Italicized words are not Gloria’s.
You may recognize her and Casanova as the blonde with the white tiger in a 6 foot square cage outside the Tallahassee Capitol building in the winter of 2006. She sat with the cat in her lap sucking a bottle while she told passerbys that they shouldn’t do this.
The following are Gloria’s own words about how she came to own these cats and what her attitudes are toward those who would stop the breeding, buying and selling of exotic cats.
Sent: Sunday, May 29, 2005 12:05 PM
Subject: Confusion and Frustration
After I spent most of the afternoon thinking and writing to you, I turned on the TV just in time (by accident) to see “growing up tiger” about a sanctuary out west somewhere and it documented the 2 babies from birth to their first birthday. The husband/wife team just talked documentary style while the babies ran around the house or took bottles. The tears poured down my face as I remembered how many times that was me – I just can’t seem to let go – right now if I were to be honest with you I would tell you that what would make me the happiest person would be to have some tiger babies to raise. Its the empty nest syndrome I guess. I literally feel it in my stomach and ache for a baby.
When the show was over I pulled out my own video of Sasha and Sergei, just one pair of the many tigers that have lived with me. It was an hour long and it upset me when it was supposed to bring happy memories. I miss them so much. Carol, I can’t let go! I’m not Christian, although I am religious, and that bond that is formed when those little babies are in my arms, to me, is something god-given. It transcends all that is material in this world. Yes, it even transcends love between a man and woman. (Feeling that, that is why my man of 11 years broke up with me)
Okay, now I’ve purged a little and cried a little over my coffee, I feel a bit better. Thanks for listening, I know you understand. What really set me off this morning (I slept until 10:30!), was, after going out to say good morning to Sugar and Lakota as I always do even before dressing or making coffee, I then got the Sunday paper. I read about St. Francis Wildlife Refuge raising $28,000 at an event last night! It made me sick. In this town people just blindly give St. Francis support when all they know is that he (Jon) saves wounded wild animals (squirrels, skunks, raccoons, ducks, baby birds, turtles, etc., etc, but mostly birds). Last year when I desperately needed some money I worked for him (he’s 10 minutes or less away). I was appalled!! Half the birds in outdoor “huts” (all dark, no sunlight) are completely rehabilitated, can fly perfectly and should have been released ages ago.
Inside the place is filthy, when I picked up an aquarium full of hatchlings to eye-dropper feed them, underneath were, I swear, hundreds of german cockroaches. They even crawled up my arms. Every cage and every pile of newspaper for lining the cages is swarming in roaches. When we washed the towels in hot water and bleach it didn’t even kill them. They just jumped right out when you got the towels out for the dryer. He has domestic dogs and cats that belong with the Humane Society. I’ve been in the cages with the dogs, they’re healthy, playful and friendly. He’s always crying for money and giving fundraisers where he brings birds of prey and people just fork out the money. If they would just go and look they would probably file complaints.
And here I am, our properties almost adjoining and I can’t get any recognition for what I do. Yes, I admit this is partly jealousy, but its just not fair and there’s not a thing I can do about it. If I came out, by name, with bad words about St. Francis all of Tallahassee would hate me. (Jon didn’t even send me my last pay check after asking twice I gave up). This is a good example of the press screwing things up, they “slant” him to be a “savior.”
When I was just learning from Baudy and there were “glamorous photos” of a blonde with full grown tigers, they did an article on the Sunday front page and inside were about 8 full color large photos – this was nothing more than “Lobbyist falls for Big Cats.” (the title proves it was for pure sensationalism) I didn’t have Cougar Ridge Center then, which has a real purpose! Sure people tell me its wonderful what I’m doing, but can I get any press coverage now to start raising funds? Hell No!
2/28/06 Gloria emailed saying “You took a photo of me and “Nadia” in a lovely pose, and in big bold letters with an arrow, said NOTE TIGER CHAINED DOWN. You know that is a lie. That was simply her hook from her collar to her leash which was in my hand.” Note: USDA’s policy does not consider a leash to be a proper restraint. Pound for pound a tiger is 12 times stronger than a man. She went on to say, ” It’s time Carole, remove that crap, ALL OF IT ABOUT ME, or you will pay the consequences.”
Where did all of those tigers she raised end up? The above was a letter she sent me just before she went out and got Casanova She said she had to sell her car because she can’t make ends meet, but took in a cat that will cost her 8,000. a year to care for if she does it right. Where will these cats go when she can no longer care for them?
Poster Child for those who circumvent pet laws by getting a USDA license
The Christian Science Monitor
Trouble at wild-animal parks? Study cites lax US regulations for private exhibitors.
By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor August 31, 2006
The grainy picture, taken at a private wild-animal park, shows a girl reaching out to pet, or grab, the tail of a full-grown leopard. How will the leopard react?
As the debate over private ownership of exotic pets intensifies in the US, attention is also beginning to fall on private wildlife exhibits that display “big cats” like lions, tigers, and leopards.
TIGER HUG: Gloria Johnson with Casanova at her Havana, Fla., farm.
As states ban private custody of exotic pets, some owners seek USDA licenses.
Licensed by the US government, these parks are required to put “significant barriers” between visitors and big cats. But there’s enough gray area in the law so that some facilities permit close contact with the animals, including touching them – sometimes with tragic results.
In the year since 17-year-old Haley Hilderbrand was fatally mauled while posing for her senior photo with a leashed tiger at a Kansas wild-animal park, pressure has grown at federal and state levels to explicitly ban public contact with big cats at facilities that are licensed and regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In April, Kansas became the first state to ban direct contact between humans and potentially dangerous animals at wildlife exhibits. It also joined 21 states that prohibit private ownership of certain big cats.
Last month, Rep. Jim Ryun (R) of Kansas introduced legislation in Congress to beef up the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which governs animal safety at USDA-regulated facilities. His bill would prohibit direct contact between big cats and the public and require the USDA to write public-safety regulations for exhibitor licensees.
Activists say AWA rules are too weak to ensure that the animals are securely kept and well maintained – or to protect humans from the animals on display. “We’re not even that critical of the USDA because it doesn’t really have the authority it needs to deal with the public-safety problem,” says Greg Wetstone of International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a Yarmouth Port, Mass., animal rights group.
About 5,000 lions, tigers, and other big cats are kept by nearly 700 USDA big-cat licensees in the United States. Someone seeking a license to exhibit tigers is subject to requirements similar to those for someone seeking a goat license, IFAW reported last week, after a year-long investigation of such facilities.
As a result, in states where private ownership of exotic animals is banned, people can legally keep their animals by getting a USDA license as an exhibitor. In a rising number of cases, license applicants are mom-and-pop outfits building animal collections.
“These animals are dangerous, and it takes a lot to contain and feed them,” says Mr. Wetstone of the IFAW, which included in its report the grainy photo of the girl touching the leopard. “So some folks decide to make a few bucks and escape state rules barring them as pets. They go get a USDA license.”
The IFAW report – which looked at 42 wild-animal exhibits in 11 states, all USDA-licensed – cites these problems.
• Most of these big-cat facilities are “structurally unsound.”
• Most allow public contact between people and big cats.
• “Vermin and grossly inadequate sewage disposal” are often evident. Meat fed to big cats is often rotten.
• Many facilities have no attendants at big-cat exhibits, and some “allowed children to work as attendants.”
In the past decade, there have been 13 big-cat-related incidents in Florida, 12 in Texas, six in California, and five each in Illinois, Nevada, Minnesota, and Kansas. Since 1990, 13 people have died in these incidents, IFAW says.
A USDA spokesman says AWA regulations are adequate to keep the public safe and are zealously policed by its team of inspectors.
“There is no public-safety crisis,” says Darby Holladay with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “Whenever any incident occurs, the USDA animal-care program looks into it. If there’s a possible violation of the Animal Welfare Act, enforcement action is taken.”
The process can be slow. In the case of the park in Kansas where Hilderbrand was mauled, the USDA has yet to decide on whether to revoke the operator’s big-cat license.
Critics of the IFAW report say it fails to deliver specific violations at specific facilities. “I don’t think it’s a well-informed report,” says Marcus Cook, spokesman for the Feline Conservation Federation, which represents big-cat exhibitors. “If they know something, let’s report it. If you’ve got a valid complaint, let’s make it to the USDA. Don’t just throw a bunch of numbers out there.”
An IFAW member says the group has more than 2,000 photos documenting the violations cited in its report. “Our staff member was at [one] facility when a leopard bit the finger off an untrained worker,” says Josephine Martell, a principal author of the report. “You can’t just say, ‘here’s the tiger. Take care of him. I’m going to get some coffee.’ But that’s what’s happening.”
On Dec. 4, 2006 Der Spiegel used Gloria Johnson as an example of how Americans expose school children to deadly animals in the name of education. More Here
From her wish list on her web site as the thing she most wants:
Wish List as of 1/06:
- Our first goal is to get a new Florida Panther baby (cost $500-$1000). This will also require funding for food, vitamins and medical care.
No reputable person would be breeding and selling baby Florida Panthers so to have what she wants she will have to support the pet trade.
Gloria was appointed to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Captive Wild Animal Technical Assistance Group. Her quote from the first day of sessions sums up the attitude of the majority of the committee when she said in defense of creating regulations that would serve her and other exotic animal owners and violate the publics’ safety, “We shouldn’t have to cow-tow to the public.”
Sent: Sunday, May 29, 2005 9:12 PM
Subject: Re: FWC letter
BTW, all State Agencies promulate their own rules by Adivosry committee advice or testimony from the public. If there is a committee I will do everything to be on it. I think the makeup should be a majority of animal people. The general public knows squat about these important issues!
Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 12:41 PM
Subject: Re: Baby lion
Carole, I don’t see anything bad in this story. We all know that these cats are extremely fragile, more so than domestic cats and we all have lost one (or more) before despite our best efforts. I’m finding myself spending hours trying to “read between the lines” on what you want. True you did send me rules with supposed Big Cat Rescue suggestions. But those suggestions were already law. After I saw a few like that I didn’t finish reading because it was too confusing. I’m having to guess where you want to go and that is a waste of time.
What if we don’t agree at all? Do you still want to sit down with me? I believe in compromise and get the impression that you are a caring individual capable of it. But also, I know many “animal rights activists” who you can talk to until you’re blue in the face and it is a total waste of time. Please don’t take offense, try to put yourself in my shoes. I just need concrete statements of what you want to do/change. Could you just send me a simple list. Forget about Rule or Statute numbers just tell me simply: I want: – this – this and – this. And then we will really know if we are on the same page.
I’m starting to have some concerns. I definitely will not condone anything that is a “ban”. Also, you will feel much better if you stop focusing on the sensationalism of news articles. Get out and find all the many, many people like me who love and enrich their animals lives.
PETA believes that there should be no captive bred wild animals – a good example of why I strongly disagree is that, for example, I was never born in a mansion on Palm Beach, so I’m happy with what I have.
These animals have wild instincts but they are not wild animals. There is an important distinction here.
p.s. I don’t know Marcus Cook, but I do know that all little babies rub their noses against the walls and look “beat up”. This happens even when their in their home cat-a-tats. Its a baby thing and they obviously don’t hurt themselves because they do it again. FCF does many wonderful things to help teach and actually work in native lands to preserve endangered species.
She was referring to this photo that she defended.
by Gloria Johnson
My 4 year old female cougar, Ashukalee (Sugar) was very sick as a baby and was never socialized (by my choice) to do public appearances away from home. Therefore to do the educational programs I so wanted I needed a baby. This is why I came to own Lakota. He came from C.W. Wathen’s Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Georgia .
When I first saw him, he seemed so fragile I was almost afraid to pick him up. It was as if I’d never done this before. Lakota was only 4 weeks old – so young! This was my baby and I would not be giving him back as I do the tigers I work with for Robert Baudy. I had also never had a single baby. With no sibling, he looked to me for everything. And I fell into a paranoid “new mom” syndrome that had me stressed at every hiccup. Fortunately I had friends from the FCF, like Bobbie and Jessica Bean, Mindy Stinner, Lynn Culver and Tracy Wilson, who were always there to take my calls and reassure me.
He was a happy baby, playful and energetic and very affectionate and as the weeks passed, I saw him change quickly. He came home with little nubby ears, like a teddy bear. Soon afterwards his ears were bigger than him! At 7 lbs. he ruled the roost. Since he had proved he knew how to use the litter box, I let him roam the house. He loved my house cats and he loved to sleep with me.
Lakota was very smart. His bottles were heated in the microwave and any time he heard it beep he would come running in anticipation of food. He took to the harness and leash very easily and fell in love with Sugar when he met her.
Our first visit to a school was to a private school for gifted children – the brightest of the bright. I was as very nervous but they were warm, polite and helpful and he was very well behaved and sweet. He got in my lap and hung his little paws over my knee and watched them all very fascinated. I left so fulfilled! They made me feel so appreciated and they understood the message I was trying to share with them. I received the most beautiful thank you letters too.
Our next class visit would require a three hour drive and an overnight stay. My mother went with us to help drive. The previous April I had been diagnosed with a broken L5 vertebrae and was healing from a bone graft and I still was having severe and constant pain. This appearance would involve about 5 times as many students as our first time but also went very well.
After my surgery in April, it had been Sugar who inspired me to get out of bed. Pain was relentless. It was worse than before the surgery. The only thing that gave me any solace was to lie with her. To be close to her, to feel her warmth and hear her purr, as if she knew I was in pain and not feel I was a burden to her as I felt I was to all of the people in my life. But try as I might I felt myself slipping quickly into the deep depression that comes from chronic pain. I was definitely at the end of my rope. Yet I kept trying to keep up with my school programs, training of Lakota and writing my book which has been purchased by Lyons Press. I had responsibilities that must be met for my life to be complete. But truthfully, I didn’t know if I could. Even in the best of times pain was stealing all of my joy.
In November the annual Thomasville Plantation Wildlife Arts Show was coming to Georgia . Mark Kelso, one of my favorite painters, would stay with me so he could photograph and sketch Sugar and Lakota. C.W. would also stay with me because he was providing all the animals for Jim Fowler and I would help C.W. take care of and show the animals. I would once again be reunited with my favorite white tiger who used to sleep in my bed, but was now 350 lbs. I should have been thrilled, but wrenching pain just the week before had me on the floor in tears wondering how I would ever manage to perform all the duties of hostess, animal keeper, trainer, exhibitor and teacher. I prayed this weakness would pass and I would find the old me again. All of my guests arrived as planned and the first day showing the animals with Jim Fowler was a huge success. As Jim spoke C.W. and I arose out of the ground on a rising stage behind him in with surprise animals. The white tiger, of course, was the exciting finale!
According to an email that Linda Hunnicutt sent out by accident to the entire Yahoo list (when she thought she was only sending it to a friend of hers named Karen) Gloria Johnson is the person responsible for funding a web site that is devoted entirely to disseminating false and misleading information about Big Cat Rescue. The following is the entirety of that email:
—– Original Message —–
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 3:11 PM
Subject: Re: [monkeyyardsale] Caorle Baskins.
No Vernon didn’t I did… with Vernons information..lol…. and with all the messages we have sent out, (you and me) she is being removed from the commission board and they will be doing a TV expose’ on her next week.. the tv crew is out at Vernons now.. he keeps calling me and having me speak to the reporter on behalf of simply simian… so we are in the forefront anyway…. Gloria is the one that wanted the website.. she is our ace in the hole, a professional lobbyist.. doing a crack up job at it too.. and she is thinking we are angels as we put that site up for her.. she was supposed to send you a check for the cost a few days ago.. so when you get it that is what it is for… not a membership… from Gloria Johnson…
I thought this was going to Karen please you guys keep this quiet…
Monkey Transport Fund ( March 2006)
SIMPLY SIMIAN INC.
Grannys against Peta
Warrior Grannys strike against Peta.
Check for yourself to see if Gloria Johnson meets the sanctuary standards for an accredited animal refuge.
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