Tiger Claws Volunteer at Horseshoe Creek

The Ledger

Published: Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tiger Claws Volunteer at Davenport Sanctuary

Injuries aren’t serious, county agency says.
By Shoshana Walter

DAVENPORT | It’s not what he needed.

That’s what Darryl Atkinson said as he spoke of the latest incident at his Horseshoe Creek Wildlife Foundation in Davenport. About noon today, a volunteer was clawed by a tiger while cleaning out its cage, said Gary Morse of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The injuries were not serious, according to Polk County Fire and EMS, and Atkinson said the volunteer, Brenda Chapman of Kissimmee, would be “just fine.”

The commission’s investigation is ongoing, Morse said.

“We don’t know what caused it. Whether it was playing or it was actually going after her leg,” he said.

Atkinson said the tiger, named Kheira, was playing. Chapman, a trained volunteer, got swiped when she stepped too close, he said.

The incident comes on the heels of Atkinson’s Feb. 1 arrest on charges of grand theft and signing a forged instrument. The commission said it found Atkinson accepting money from people on court-ordered probation in exchange for signing off on community service work they did not do. Atkinson stepped down Feb. 2 as president of Horseshoe Creek, which he founded.

He said he expects the commission to send him a citation for Saturday’s incident, review Kheira’s medical history and put her in quarantine.

Morse said a citation is possible.

“That’s just not what I need with all this other stuff,” Atkinson said.

Although the foundation has long been plagued by funding problems, he said he intends to keep the sanctuary open. Atkinson said he has too many animals to care for and is working on relocating some of them. He said he has already relocated at least five big cats in two years.


Darrel Atkinson of Horseshoe Creek Arrested Again

TBO Staff Report

Published: February 2, 2008

The founder and operator of the controversial Horseshoe Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is in trouble again.
Darrel Atkinson, 51, of Davenport, was arrested Friday on fraud charges.

An undercover state wildlife officer, posing as someone who needed to work off community service hours, went to the sanctuary and asked Atkinson for work, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Atkinson offered to sign off on the officer’s community service hours in exchange for $400, without the undercover officer actually putting in the work hours, the FWC reported.

The officer was investigating a complaint related to an earlier arrest, the FWC reported.

Atkinson was arrested in September of 2006 on accusations of keeping a Bengal tiger in a cage that was too small and not strong enough to contain it. He pleaded no contest to 12 counts of maintaining wildlife in unsafe conditions and was fined $267.The FWC said Atkinson has violated his plea agreement by taking in additional animals and could face additional legal action.

Atkinson has had more than 39 wildlife citations since July of 1993.

“The sanctuary is open to the public, which makes the facility popular, but not necessarily safe,” said Capt. Andy Krause of FWC’s Investigations Section. “It is important that we make sure the animals are properly cared for, and they won’t become a threat to anyone.”

Approximately 40 tigers are kept at the sanctuary, in addition to many other large and lesser cats and other wildlife species.


See video of the horrific conditions at this facility HERE and HERE

DAVENPORT — Wildlife caretaker Darryl Atkinson is in hot water with the law

— again.

Published Thursday, September 7, 2006

Wildlife Group Founder Jailed Over Tiger Cage

By Gabrielle Finley gabrielle.finley@theledger.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Ledger

On Tuesday, the 50-year-old founder of the Horseshoe Creek Wildlife Foundation was arrested on charges of keeping a Bengal tiger in a cage that is too small, said a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrest report.

Atkinson also was charged with keeping the tiger in an unsafe cage, the report said.

Since 2003, Atkinson has been cited more than 20 times for not having large enough cages for animals kept on the animal farm west of Davenport.

He was cited an additional four times in December 2005 on the same charges, the wildlife commission said.

The citations usually result in a fine, but Atkinson faces 11 first-degree misdemeanors because of the numerous previous charges he has racked up over the years.

He could face a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for each charge.

Atkinson is scheduled for a pretrial hearing Friday, said Chip Thullbery, spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office in Bartow.

Last year, supporters of the foundation donated $5,000 for bigger and better cages, according to a December 2005 Ledger article.

A fundraiser also was held in January to support the organization.

Kody Atkinson, Darryl Atkinson’s nephew and vice president of the foundation, said Wednesday the money was used to get better cages and build new tiger yards, where the animals have space to run.

For 23 years, his uncle has supervised the foundation, which cares for about 80 mostly injured exotic and domestic animals on five acres of land, Kody Atkinson said.

The foundation cares for lions, tigers, bears, leopards and even a retired circus pony.

Tuesday’s arrest stems from charges that the Bengal tiger was kept in a cage that was too small and that the structure of the cage was unsafe, two sides of which were made from 111/2 gauge wire, which was not strong enough.

Under Florida law, the tiger’s cage should have been larger and made of stronger 91/2 gauge wire, wrote Lt. Steve Delacure in the commission’s arrest report.

But Kody Atkinson said the Bengal tiger has a broken leg, so it wouldn’t have been much of a danger to anyone.

“Having a broken leg would’ve made it pretty hard for the tiger to get away,” Kody Atkinson said.

Darryl Atkinson remained in the Polk County Jail on Wednesday on $1,000 bail.

Gabrielle Finley can be reached at gabrielle.finley@theledger.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 863-802-7590.

Note:  Darryl Atkinson previously boasted that he has bred more than 60 leopards at Horseshoe Creek.  None of these cats are genetically pure and cannot be used for conservation despite his claims to the contrary.  This is also the same facility that provides baby tigers for a photo booth at the Kissimmee Skycoaster.  Recent visitors have complained about untreated wounds on the cats that smelled of rotting flesh.  When I last visited, the cages were far too small, side by side, sharing common walls, so that a tail or paw could easily pass to the wrong side and be bitten off.  The purpose of my visit was to document that a tail had been bitten off a leopard in one of these little, barren cages and wasn’t being treated.

Wildlife sanctuary facing charges for not making improvements

an ABC Action News report – 09/06/06

DAVENPORT – A Davenport man faces charges after wildlife officials make what they say is a dangerous find.

Agents say Darryl Atkinson failed to properly cage animals at the Horseshoe Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.

Nearly 90 wild animals call the sanctuary home.

But the Florida Wildlife Commission says some of the cages and enclosures don’t meet state requirements and are unsafe for the animals and the people that visit them.

The sanctuary’s owner, Darryl Atkinson, says that is simple not true.

“It’s definitely a blatant effort to close me up. We’re a non-profit rescue, we take in animals that have no where else to go,” says Atkinson.

Investigators say it’s vital Atkinson makes the requested repairs, especially with so many kids going there to learn about the animals.

The Florida Wildlife Commission says that more than 90% of the supplies needed to make those changes are already there on the grounds – and they also feel they’ve given the owner more than enough time to make the improvements.

This reporter failed to note that Darryl claims to have bred more than 60 leopards in recent years and no one seems to know where they have gone. Most reporters don’t know a sanctuary from a road side zoo or privately owned menagerie that has no conservational value and is not truly a sanctuary. Darryl breeds tigers to be used for photo ops at the Kissimmee Skycoaster each year and then drives them out of state when they are too big to use any more according to his undercover volunteers.  Where do all of these animals end up and why can’t Florida do anything about it?

Animal Cages to Improve

Davenport wildlife caretaker facing charges plans renovations.

By Jason Geary The Ledger

BARTOW, FL– With a new year just around the corner, a Davenport wildlife caretaker is thankful that people have donated $5,000 so he can better cage his exotic animals.

But Darryl Atkinson, founder of Horseshoe Creek Wildlife Foundation, isn’t grateful that he also picked up an additional four citations on Dec. 6 from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for having animals in cages that are too small.

In total, the New Jersey native and former elephant trainer now faces 10 counts, which are firstdegree misdemeanors, each punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Atkinson is scheduled for arraignment on his newest charges on Jan. 12, 2006, court records show.

For about 22 years, Atkinson’s nonprofit facility on Horseshoe Creek Road has been home to a variety of injured, abused and abandoned animals, including leopards, tigers, lions and bears.

Cage dimensions are specified for such animals under Florida law.

Since 2003, Atkinson, 49, has been cited more than 20 times for not having large enough cages for some of his animals, court records show.

These violations usually result in a fine, but Atkinson has pleaded no contest to so many similar charges in the past that his pending 10 charges are first-degree misdemeanors.

Atkinson said he has been trying to fix the problems with his cages over the years.

“It’s not like we’re not trying,” Atkinson said. “We are trying to comply, but they are piling more on top of it.”

Using donations, he hopes to break ground right after New Year’s on a large exercise yard for his big cats to use.

His lawyer, Julia Williamson, said the timing of the Dec. 6 criminal counts seem suspicious.

The newest counts came after Atkinson spoke to local newspaper and television reporters about his case.

“It sure reeks of being retaliatory,” said Williamson, who is handling Atkinson’s case for free.

But Gary Morse, a commission spokesman, denied the accusation.

Morse said it is “standard operating procedure” for inspectors to go back to check to see if people who are cited are making necessary changes.

Morse said there are no signs that Atkinson isn’t taking care of his animals. However, the cage requirements are designed for the animals’ welfare, he said.

When state law changed to increase the size of cages, Morse said, small wildlife sanctuaries did struggle to make necessary upgrades. Some had to shut down when they couldn’t afford to renovate the cages, he said.

In Atkinson’s case, Morse said, inspectors have been trying to work with him for years to fix his cages.

“He has had time to get the cages up to snuff,” Morse said.

Atkinson claims he has been making renovations to his cages, but has been hampered by lackluster fundraising.

His lawyer said she is trying to reach a plea deal with prosecutors, but also is preparing for the possibility of taking Atkinson’s case before a jury.

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