Marcus Cook loses USDA License
A Texas-based tiger exhibitor who visited Duluth two years ago has lost his license after a federal judge found him guilty of abusing his animals and violating the Animal Welfare Act.
Marcus Cook, whose exhibit saw the birth and death of four white tiger cubs at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth in July 2007, has “repeatedly endangered the lives of their customers and employees, as well as the lives of their animals,” United States Department of Agriculture Administrative Law Judge Victor W. Palmer wrote.
The ruling, dated Sept. 24, 2008, was made public on the USDA’s Web site last week, said Lisa Wathne of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which regularly monitors the site.
“In addition to the astonishing lack of precaution taken by respondents to protect the public and the animals from harm, respondents also failed to feed their animals properly or provide them with veterinary and other requisite kinds of care,” states the order, which permanently revokes Cook’s Animal Welfare Act license.
The judge’s findings do not mention any abuse while Cook’s tigers were in Duluth.
Wathne, who is PETA’s captive exotic animal specialist, told the News Tribune the charges had been amended before the tiger cubs in Duluth died.
She said Cook has appealed the judge’s decision, meaning he can keep his license to exhibit until a decision on the appeal has been made.
Even if he loses his appeal, Wathne said, Cook still will be allowed to keep his animals as pets.
A USDA spokeswoman and Cook did not reply to requests for comment.
USDA Revokes Texas Animal Exhibitor’s License
5:41 AM Wed, Jan 14, 2009 | Permalink
Based on a decision and order handed down by a federal administrative law judge, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has revoked the exhibitor’s license of notorious Kaufman-based big cat exhibitor Marcus Cook, who does business as Zoo Dynamics and Zoo Cats.
The action follows a USDA complaint against Cook in 2003 that was later amended in 2007. The decision and order states, “Respondents have repeatedly endangered the lives of their customers and employees as well as the lives of their animals. Marcus Cook has a history of deceiving the public, [the USDA], and other law enforcement agencies.”
Cook was found guilty of numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including using electric prods to “control” a tiger during a photo session; numerous counts of handling and exhibiting tigers “in a manner that caused them trauma and behavioral stress with excessive risk of harm to the tigers and the public”; and improper feeding of young tigers, whose appearance indicated that they were suffering from metabolic bone disease caused by a poor diet. Cook was also found guilty of failure to provide veterinary care to tiger cubs, to a tiger with excessive hair loss and weight loss, and to tigers and a lion with protruding hip bones, dull coats, and low energy.
PETA has filed multiple complaints with the USDA over Cook’s long and abysmal record of animal abuse and public endangerment. In July 2007, PETA called on the USDA to revoke Cook’s license after the deaths of four 2-day-old tiger cubs he was exhibiting at a Minnesota fair.
“The suffering and deaths of big cats that Cook caused can never be undone, but by revoking his license, the USDA has a put a crimp in his decades-long reign of terror over these animals,” says PETA Director Debbie Leahy. “Cook’s case only confirms that exotic-animal exhibitors will stop at nothing to make a buck.”
For more information, please visit PETA.org.
Big cat exhibitor continues operation after license revoked
08:24 AM CST on Wednesday, January 14, 2009
By BRETT SHIPP / WFAA-TV
DALLAS – While a North Texas based big cat exhibitor has been accused of repeatedly putting the public’s safety at risk, he still remains in business.
After being stripped of his license, Marcus Cook, of ZooCats and Zoo Dynamics, appealed the decision and is free to continue his business, where he lets the public come in contact with baby tigers.
WFAA first investigated Cook six years ago. He has traveled the state and country for years allowing the public to interact with animals that pose a real danger. And for years, government officials have tried to shut him down, and now they may be about to succeed.
From Six Flags to the mall, the cat handler has taken his pet baby tigers to the public and allowed them to pet the animals for a price. However, even as babies, the tigers pose a threat.
During WFAA’s original investigation back in 2002, video showed one of the tigers bite one of Cook’s trained workers. The video had some concerned the same thing could happen to a child allowed to pet a baby tiger during one of Cook’s exhibitions.
Experts WFAA talked to raised concerns about Cook’s practices and the public’s safety. They were concerns that Cook quickly dismissed.
“Well, it depends on who you ask about public safety,” he said. “It’s totally within the guidelines of the health and humane treatment and the animal care policies and procedures of the United States Department of Agriculture.”
But after six years of observation and evidence gathering, the USDA has finally cracked the whip. It has ordered Cook to stop his exhibition, stripped him of his license and issued him a $100,000 fine.
Administrative Law Judge Victor Palmer ruled that “Marcus Cook has a history of deceiving the public, USDA and other law enforcement agencies.”
Palmer said the operation has “repeatedly endangered the lives of their customers and employees.”
“In addition to the astonishing lack of precaution taken by the respondents to protect the public, they also failed to feed their animals or properly provide them with veterinary care,” Palmer also stated.
Cook declined comment, but his attorney said his client continues to operate as he begins his appeal to a federal court if possible.
And while Cook may still be in business, his critics say they hope the public will see the USDA rulings as evidence that what Cook is doing is dangerous and wrong.
Hold that tiger
Duluth News Tribune – 06/29/2008
If a wild animal exhibitor brings a couple of tigers to town, one of which is very pregnant, and sets up shop at a carnival where the female gives birth to four cubs that he displays publicly only to see them die the next day, should he be welcomed back?
How about if he made the trip last year after being socked with a lengthy complaint from the United States Department of Agriculture alleging Animal Welfare Act violations, as well as a $100,000 fine for fraud from the attorney general of Texas?
Well, sanctions or not, Marcus Cook and his Zoo Dynamics tiger show have been barnstorming the South and Midwest this year with the Mighty Thomas Carnival, which is preparing to set up shop in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center parking lot this week. But hold your horses — or tigers — because this time, the carnies may be stripped of their stripes.
“I’m not sure if the tigers are coming with us or not,” Mighty Thomas co-owner Tom Atkins told the News Tribune ’s editorial page staff early last week, acknowledging that the big cat sideshow had been traveling with the carnival “for a couple of weeks.”
Atkins advised calling back later in the week. In the meantime, the office of Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas, the state where Cook is based, had plenty to report.
“What name is he operating under today?” asked spokesman Charlie Castillo when the newspaper called to inquire about the status of the “Final Judgment and Agreed Permanent Injunction” signed by Cook and the attorney general’s office in February 2007. Asserting that Cook had fraudulently operated various nonprofit entities — ZooCats Inc., Zoo America, and the Kaufman County Humane Society, among others — the ruling enjoined him from ever again establishing a nonprofit in the state, as well as claiming any affiliation with Save the Tiger funds sponsored by Exxon and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
With regard to dangerous animals, the judgme nt enjoined Cook from “misrepresenting or causing confusion … as to Defendants’ safety record … including representing that Defendants have a ‘perfect safety record.’”
It would appear that he does not. In 2005, a woman was bitten in the hand by a tiger cub Cook exhibited at a Florida auto dealership, the St. Petersburg Times reported. A year later, according to numerous news reports, one of Cook’s workers required 2,000 stitches after being mauled by a tiger that had escaped his Texas facility.
In Duluth last year, Cook dismissed the incident, telling the News Tribune the worker was trying to commit “suicide by tiger.” (The worker disputes his claim.) And Cook said the attorney general judgment — which would seemingly enjoin him from making suicide-by-tiger excuses regarding his safety record — wasn’t as severe as it sounded and the fine had been reduced.
Not quite. On Thursday, Texas attorney general spokesman Thomas Kelley gave an update. “Mr. Cook is mistaken,” he e-mailed. “Short answer: yes, the judgment still applies; no, he hasn’t complied with the judgment; and yes, the $100,000 is reinstated.”
It looks like Cook won’t soon be getting any ticket revenue in Duluth to pay down that debt. On Friday, the News Tribune editorial staff called Atkins of Mighty Thomas again to ask if the tigers were coming to town.
“They’re not,” he said, and hung up.
Cook did not respond to requests for comment. His lawyer, Bryan Sample, who also signed the Texas judgment, said of it: “There are ongoing matters that would be improper for me to make any comment.” As for the cause of the tiger cubs’ deaths last year — Cook reportedly sent their remains for a necropsy shortly after the incident — Sample said, “I really don’t know. I don’t believe any criminal charges or charges from the [United States Department of Agriculture] were brought against him or anyone else from the exhibit.”
He’s correct, but the USDA has ot her matters to discuss with Cook in a September hearing on its voluminous complaint against him.
For Duluth and Minnesota, the larger question is what state and local governments can do to control wild animal exhibits gone wrong. A state law passed in 2004 requires residents who own dangerous animals to register them with their counties, but is mum about visiting exhibitors. As for Duluth, city spokesman Jeff Papas was in the process of researching relevant ordinances on Friday when told Cook probably wasn’t coming to town.
“That might solve the whole issue completely,” he said.
Maybe this time, but not completely.
Government, experts question tiger breeder’s practices
Photoe Courtesy: Clint Austin, Duluth News Tribune
Marcus Cook, the man who brought a pregnant white tiger to Duluth with a traveling carnival, said it was sad but natural when the tiger’s four cubs died two days after they were born.
He vowed his own veterinarians would look into the case.
“Our team is absolutely explicit,” he said Thursday, the day the cubs died.
Cook, an exotic-animal breeder from Texas, said three veterinarians who work for his company, Zoo Dynamics, “will leave no stone unturned.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is launching its own investigation into the deaths. And this isn’t the first one.
Just two months ago the USDA issued a complaint against Cook for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act.
The department said, in the complaint, there are “repeated instances” of Cook’s failure to provide “adequate veterinary care, food, water, or housing to animals.”
The complaint went on to say those failures “have resulted in injuries to animals and to the public.”
Ron Tilson, a tiger expert at the Minnesota Zoo who advises all accredited zoos in North America, is one of Cook’s many critics.
“It’s immoral, it’s unethical,” Tilson said of Cook’s breeding practices. “Certainly the animal rights and humane societies have come out and said it’s a form of animal abuse, therefore it’s cruel to animals.”
Tilson said he agreed with that assessment and that the mere breeding of white tigers is not natural.
To maintain that color, Tilson said, the cubs have to be inbred, which means they lose genetic protection against a number of diseases.
“And there are many other things, including cleft palates, and crossed eyes, and curved spines, and shortened feet, and all of those things would put a wild tiger at a disadvantage, so it wouldn’t live,” he said.
Tislson said the last white tiger born in the wild was observed in 1951.
In the case of the four dead cubs in Duluth, Cook said Thursday it wasn’t his fault.
“We know that it is not anything that has to do with animal care, or keeper error, or facility structure, anything of that nature,” he said.
Cook didn’t return KARE11’s call Friday.
Cook’s company is based near Dallas.
He also has been sued by the Texas attorney general, and Cook was ordered to stop operating as a nonprofit.
The Texas attorney general called Cook’s business practices “deceptive.”
Tiger exhibit operator faces charges
Brandon Stahl Duluth News Tribune
Published Saturday, July 07, 2007
While the reasons four white tiger cubs died this week at a traveling exhibit in Duluth still are unknown, the operator of the exhibit faces numerous charges by the USDA for mistreating his animals, as well as putting them in a position that has caused injuries to the public.
Marcus Cook, who has told the News Tribune he is both the senior animal specialist and senior zoologist with Texas-based Zoo Dynamics, said Friday that allegations against him are “99.9 percent are completely incorrect, unfounded or misrepresented.”
He also said that he never lets the public handle his tigers.
But a complaint filed in May by the U.S. Department of Agriculture claims Cook has supervised numerous animals that received improper veterinary care and had numerous untreated health problems, and that he allowed the public — including children — to handle tigers. The charges date from 2002 to 2007.
Also, in 2003 the Texas attorney general’s office obtained an emergency court order to prevent Cook and the company he was then associated with, ZooCats, from exhibiting tigers.
The attorney general’s office wanted to stop the company from putting the public in harm’s way for allowing “children and adults to touch and hold them [tigers] without regard for disease or possible public harm,” according to a news release from the attorney general’s office.
The office also claimed that ZooCats lied about connections with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and was set up as a false nonprofit, using publicly donated money for profit-making purposes.
As part of Cook’s agreement with the attorney general’s office, ZooCats was dissolved and Cook must not represent that he has a good safety record. He also must not tell people he has a bachelor’s degree in zoology. He was ordered to pay $100,000.
Cook has denied making any misrepresentations.
Cook’s tigers have been involved in at least three biting or attack incidents, the most recent in June 2006 in Texas when, according to news reports, a Bengal tiger escaped its cage and mauled a yard worker, who required 2,000 stitches as part of his treatment and recovery.
Cook said Friday that the man had a history of mental illness and signed a statement saying he was attempting to commit suicide.
Cook said the two tigers at his exhibit are in good health, but he referred all questions about the cause of death of the tiger cubs that died Thursday to Dr. Kelly Manzer, who he said was a veterinarian with Zoo Dynamics. Manzer did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.
Zoo Dynamics released a statement Friday saying it suspected the tiger cubs’ deaths were caused by congenital defects.
Ron Tilson, director of conservation at the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Zoo, said all white tigers are inbred. Tilson said white tigers can trace their origins to a white tiger captured in India in 1951, which mated with one of its daughters, which had a recessive gene to create another white tiger.
“They’re all so highly inbred almost to the level of brother and sister,” said Tilson who, because of that, believes breeding white tigers is inhumane.
“This is abuse; this is not natural. It’s doing something that is contrary to what nature would order,” he said. “They are producing cubs that are not doing well simply for the sake of making money.”
Tiger cubs born in captivity do generally have a higher mortality rate. Cubs handled by humans have a higher chance of death, said Tammy Quist, executive director of the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn. Wildcat Sanctuary is the only accredited big cat sanctuary in the Upper Midwest.
“A traveling exhibit is not a good situation for tiger cubs to be in,” Quist said. “Who hauls around a pregnant tiger in a trailer from Texas to Minnesota?”
Cook said he never allowed the public to touch or handle the cubs, and he never allows people to touch the adult tigers. People can pay to feed them, but that is done by handing food over a gate with a pair of tongs.
Though Cook told the News Tribune on Thursday that a veterinarian from the Lake Superior Zoo examined the cubs the morning before they died, Dr. Louise Beyea said that was not true.
Instead, she said she saw the cubs only after they died to provide a referral for them to be transported to a facility for diagnostic results.
Beyea did not know where the animals were sent. Beyea also said she did not know what caused their deaths but that, based on a limited observation, she did not see “any abuse or mishandling” on the part of Zoo Dynamics.
Under Minnesota law, municipalities don’t have to examine traveling animal exhibits’ safety records.
Misinformation Fed to the Press About White Tigers by Marcus Cook and his staff (notes are corrections to article)
The stars are the cubs with stripes
Duluth News Tribune
Published Thursday, July 05, 2007
The refrain of “Why can’t we keep one?” was heard Wednesday from the tiger tent at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth, where dozens showed up to ooh and ah over four newborn cubs.
One male and three female royal white Bengal tigers were born Tuesday between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to proud parents Gita and Splash, according to Zoo Dynamic zoo handler Steve Lopez. The cubs were born in a hay-lined, 10-by-10-foot cage in the carnival’s tiger tent.
There are only about 400 white tigers in the world, said Zoo Dynamic senior zoologist Marcus Cook, more than 200 of them living in confinement in the United States.
Senior zoologist Marcus Cook with Zoo Dynamics of Dallas holds a male royal white Bengal tiger cub. The cub was one of four born Tuesday at the Zoo Dynamics exhibit at the Mighty Thomas Carnival in Duluth. There are about 200 royal white Bengal tigers in the United States. (Royal White Bengal Tiger was a name coined by the magic act Sigfried and Roy. There are no purebred Bengal tigers in the U.S. and all white tigers are the product of inbreeding and crossbreeding Bengal and Siberian species)
“All white tigers, wherever you see them, whether in movies or at the zoo, have been born in captivity,” said zoo handler Carlos Lopez. “My goal is to get the word out that these guys are dying.”
He blames the scarcity of white tigers on poachers and the fact that there is no place to reintegrate them into the wild because of deforestation. He added that the survival rate in the wild for white tigers is only 11 years, compared to the 20 to 25 years common in captivity. (There hasn’t been a white tiger spotted in the wild since 1951 and no white tiger has ever lived past kittenhood in the wild)
Although the cubs haven’t been named yet, Cook said two might be called Stars and Stripes for their nearly patriotic birthday.
Each cub weighs between 2 and 2½ pounds and will spend the next six months with its mother.
“By then [six months], each tiger will be about 18 inches high and weigh about 80 pounds,” said Carlos Lopez. “After they are six months old, they will gain one pound per day until they are fully grown.”
Fully grown royal white Bengal tigers can range from 221 to 453 pounds for females and from 419 to 569 pounds for males, according to information from Zoo Dynamic.
For now, the cubs’ only job is to eat and sleep. They won’t open their eyes or be able to walk for nearly two weeks, Carlos Lopez said.
This was Gita’s second litter. Her first two male cubs were born on June 8, 2005, and are living at the Amarillo (Texas) Wildlife Refuge.
“She is a really good mom,” Carlos Lopez said.
Not all animal lovers are enthused about the breeding of white tigers.
A program of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, called the Save the Tiger Fund, points out on its Web site that the tiger species survival plan “has condemned breeding white tigers because of their mixed ancestry.”
A white tiger can be born only when both parents carry a gene for white coloring, which occurs naturally only once every 10,000 births, according to lairweb.org.
“To produce white tigers … directors of zoos and facilities must continuously inbreed, father to daughter, to granddaughter, and so on,” the Save the Tiger Fund Web site states.
Save the Tiger Fund says that the issue “is a contradiction of fundamental genetic principles… [which is done] for economic rather than conservation reasons.”
But Cook has a different point of view.
“People that believe that are anti-zoo people and need to do the research,” he said. A lot of the inbreeding took place in the 1950s, he said, when people still thought it was OK to hunt tigers because they weren’t endangered. Since then, zoos have been trying to fix the problems of endangerment and inbreeding, Cook said.
“Gita and Splash are five generations back and clean on the tree,” Cook said. He said breeders are using new technology to correct mistakes of the past.
One of the ways they are doing this is through out-breeding, he said — mating animals less closely related than the average of the population. (This outbreeding is the cross breeding of Bengal and Siberian lines which creates a hybrid that is not of any conservation value to either the Bengals or the Siberians in the wild. Much like breeding a Doberman to a Poodle.)
But carnival visitors Wednesday weren’t thinking about the tigers’ biological issues.
“Tigers are amazing,” Cook said. “We often refer to them as edutainment: both educational and entertainment.”
And the viewers had the same opinion.
“I think they are really cute and cuddly,” said 8-year-old Dalton Levy of Duluth. “And I think they have really cool colors.”
He said he learned lots about cats and a little about tigers at school, but in real life, “they are really cute.”
His cousin agreed.
“My favorite thing about the tigers is that they are big and fast,” said 7-year-old Jantzen Levy.
The tigers will be at the carnival until Sunday and, though the cubs get their nourishment from their mother, the public is allowed to feed Gita and Splash for an extra few dollars.
Kendra Lisdahl and Crystal Starstead both fed the tigers pieces of raw pork and couldn’t contain their excitement.
“I like tigers,” Starstead said, “and the babies are beautiful.”
Man on the mend after tiger attack
By Kent Miller
The victim of Friday’s tiger attack at a private facility between Terrell and Kaufman is recovering at Methodist Medical Center at Dallas after being flown there by air ambulance after the attack.
Don Roberts was mauled Friday by a Bengal tiger that had escaped its cage when an electric fence failed at Zoo Dynamics located on River Oaks Drive of off State Highway 34. Roberts said he was attacked while attempting to warn a Zoo Dynamics employee that the exotic cat was loose.
“The tiger jumped me as I ran to a nearby cage where the employee was working,” Roberts said in a prepared statement. “I’ve worked there before and know that being cautious and following safety guidelines are important. I’m very aware of their [large exotic cats] awesome power and have a healthy respect for the dangers they pose. Accidents sometimes happen.”
Roberts continues to recover at Methodist Medical Center but hopes to go home soon.
“The healing process may take a little time but I’m comforted to know my actions stopped the attack and may have helped others escape injury,” the statement read. “I look forward to returning home and getting back to my normal routine.”
The tiger, which was housed with other exotic cats at the facility, apparently jumped a failed electric fence and attacked Roberts on the grounds between the caged tiger habitat and a perimeter fence on the outside edge of the property, according to a Kaufman County Sheriff’s report.
Sheriff’s department spokes-woman Sharlie Davis said the facility also houses panthers, leopards and other exotic animals.
She said the facility, to her knowledge, has never had one of the cats escape.
The tiger was being held in quarantine at the facility for observation.
Man recovering in Dallas from tiger attack
DALLAS — A man who was attacked by an escaped Bengal tiger at an animal sanctuary last week was in good condition at a Dallas hospital Wednesday.
Officials said Don Roberts, a part-time employee at Zoo Dynamics, was doing yard work between two fences at an exotic animal facility in Kaufman County when he noticed the escaped tiger.
Roberts said the tiger pounced on him as he ran to get help.
“The healing process may take a little time,” said Roberts, who remained at Methodist Dallas Medical Center after he suffered numerous claw marks and cuts that required about 2,000 stitches. “I look forward to returning home and getting back to my normal routine.”
According to the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Department, the tiger escaped when power at the facility failed and the tiger was somehow able to leap an electrical fence.
Officials at Zoo Dynamics, which has maintained exotic animals on the property for about 15 years, said they were investigating. The business provides exotic animals to zoos.
The facility currently has eight tigers and three other big cats behind fences up to 18 feet tall, operations director Marcus Cook said. The escaped animal was captured and remains under quarantine.
Tiger attacks worker at Zoo Dynamics
KAUFMAN, Texas A tiger chased down and mauled a man at an animal sanctuary in Kaufman County last week.
It happened Saturday, and witnesses say the man is lucky to be alive.
Donnie Roberts says he was doing landscaping at the animal sanctuary when the 300-pound Bengal tiger got Roberts’ arm in its jaws.
He says the tiger threw him down on his hip and got on his neck.
Roberts says he thought the tiger would kill him, but managed to stay calm. He prayed and was somehow able to get the tiger off him.
The tiger ripped off his ear and left claw marks over his body.
Roberts says he believes he has about two thousand stitches.
Now the animal is being quarantined.
Man mauled by tiger remains hospitalized
DALLAS, June 21 (UPI) — A man remained hospitalized in Dallas Wednesday after being mauled by a Bengal tiger at a facility that supplies exotic animals to zoos and exhibitions.
The incident happened last Friday at Zoo Dynamics. Part-time employee Don Roberts was mowing a strip of grass when the 300-pound tiger jumped a fence and attacked him, The Dallas Morning News reported.
The sheriff’s office told the newspaper a power failure allowed the animal to jump an electrified fence. Roberts said the tiger attacked as he ran to warn another employee it was on the loose.
The company, which has had exotic animals on its 5-acre property for 15 years, said it is investigating how the mauling occurred.
A hospital spokesman said Roberts was in the intensive care unit through the weekend and was in good condition Tuesday. He lost an ear, had claw marks all over his body and needed thousands of stitches.
The tiger is under quarantine and the victim reportedly does not want to press charges against the facility
(but he just changes names and comes back again, and again, and again…)
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has obtained an emergency court order in Kaufman County to stop a traveling hands-on exhibit featuring wild jungle cats and cubs.
Abbott on Friday said the action was taken to prevent harm to the public from exhibits put on by ZooCats Inc. The nonprofit organization brings animals such as tigers, leopards, lions and cougars to exhibit at children’s birthday parties, weddings, commercial and media events and educational settings.
In addition to the emergency court order, the charitable assets of ZooCats and related nonprofits, as well as operator Marcus Cline-Hines Cook, have been frozen. District Judge Howard Tygrett also named Dallas attorney Robert Trimble as temporary receiver.
Trimble will oversee placement of the wild cats and other animals in the professional care of the International Exotic Feline Sanctuary in Boyd, northwest of Fort Worth .
“This operator deliberately downplayed the potential danger of these animals, as well as the group’s safety record and trainer qualifications, letting children and adults touch and hold them without regard for disease or possible physical harm,” said Abbott in a statement. “This dangerous deception against the public, and the organization’s false assertions about its charitable intentions, led our legal experts to conclude that we needed to act quickly.”
ZooCats officials were not immediately available to comment.
ZooCats has exhibited the animals at the Mesquite Rodeo, Six Flags Over Texas, the Dallas ArtFest and various private schools. It has also set up show booths at a number of events in North Texas where children and adults may hold and feed the animals and have their pictures taken for a fee.
The principal facility housing the animals, which also include wolf pups, a bear and a zebra, is near Kaufman. ZooCats obtains its animals through donations from zoos, sanctuaries and refuges, but the group also buys them from exotic breeders.
Cook has made public claims about his group’s perfect safety record. But, according to Abbot, ZooCats has been cited numerous times by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violations such as failing to keep the adult animals under the control of a trained animal handler and for failure to maintain structurally sound facilities to prevent escape.
The attorney general said the organization also falsely claims to be distributing charitable funds it collects for its services. It purports to represent, and donate funds to, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Save the Tiger Fund, and wildlife programs underwritten by Irving-based Exxon Mobil Corp.
But, said Abbot, these organizations claim no affiliation with ZooCats and have not given Cook permission to use their logos or trademarks in exhibits. Cook also has falsely claimed an affiliation with the Dallas World Aquarium, the attorney general said.
Abbot said he also suspects that Cook has misappropriated charitable assets for personal use and will ask the court to correct this abuse of public funds.
The state will request civil penalties under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Nonprofit Corporations Act. Also requested are attorneys’ fees and reimbursement of investigative costs associated with the case.
ZooCats related nonprofits, which are also named in the lawsuit, include Zoological Studies Group, ZooCats Zoological Systems, Specialized Species Humane Society Inc., Zoo America Inc., and Technology Specialities and Research Group Inc.
2003 American City Business Journals Inc.
ZooDynamics Exhibitor Has Abysmal History of Mistreating Animals, Endangering Public
August 11, 2005
Amy Rhodes 757-622-7382
Miles City, Mont. – Today, PETA sent an urgent letter to the Eastern Montana Fair president, urging the implementation of a strict policy prohibiting exotic-animal displays at the fair, which opens on August 25. PETA’s request comes after the group learned that the carnival booked for the fair, Thomas Carnival, includes an attraction called Zoo Dynamics (formerly called ZooCats). Zoo Dynamics, owned by Marcus Cook, has been cited numerous times by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), and the big-cat display has resulted in injuries to members of the public.
In 2003, the USDA filed charges against Cook for alleged AWA violations including using a cattle prod to stun a tiger as a means of discipline, exposing young animals to excessive handling, causing animals trauma and harm, unsupervised public contact, mishandling an injured zebra, dozens of instances of unsafe handling of dangerous animals during public exhibition, allowing a bear cub to be teased with a stick, filthy enclosures in disrepair, exposing animals to extreme heat and inadequate ventilation, failing to provide minimum space, food and water, and failing to comply with veterinary care requirements.
Cook was recently charged with unsafe handling by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after one of his tiger cubs bit a woman at a car dealership in Tampa . PETA filed a formal complaint with the USDA after obtaining photos of two of Cook’s tiger cubs at the dealership with bloody abrasions around their noses and eyes. Another cub used by ZooCats bit an employee while on display at Six Flags Over Dallas in 2002 and the exhibit was later removed from the park.
Animals used for photo ops are often still babies and are typically forcibly removed from their mothers, causing extreme stress to both mother and baby. When they outgrow their “cuteness,” exotic animals are often sold at auctions, where they may be purchased by “canned-hunt” operators or people who kill them illegally for their body parts.
“The Eastern Montana Fair would do the animals and the public a favor by banning exotic-animal acts,” says PETA Director Debbie Leahy. “Tearing babies from their mothers for stressful and potentially dangerous public contact isn’t wholesome family entertainment.”
PETA’s letter to the Eastern Montana Fair president is available upon request. For more information, please PETA’s Web site WildlifePimps.com.
Big-cat exhibitor Marcus Cook of ZooCats and Zoo Dynamics is traveling the country with Thomas Carnival, which operates at local and state fairs. Cook charges a fee for visitors to have their photos taken with tiger cubs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees animal exhibits, filed charges against Cook, in part for allegedly failing to handle animals safely, failing to protect animals from temperature extremes, and using a cattle prod to stun a tiger as a means of discipline during an exhibit.
In February, Cook was charged by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission with unsafe handling of wildlife after it was revealed that a visitor to an exhibit at a car dealership was bitten by one of his tigers. Another cub used by Cook bit an employee while on display at Six Flags Over Dallas in 2002
Group Sends USDA Photos of Displayed Cubs With Bloody Facial Sores
For Immediate Release:
March 10, 2005
Amy Rhodes 757-622-7382
Tampa, Fla. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched an investigation of exotic-animal-trainer Marcus Cook for possible violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. PETA contacted the USDA about a woman who was reportedly bitten on the hand by one of Cook’s tiger cubs. According to news sources, on February 12, Sandra Hopps-Caraballo received two puncture wounds on her hand during a controversial photo op with the cub at the Tampa Bay Auto Mall on Tampa Road. Cook, who does business as Zoo Dynamics, was exhibiting two adult and two baby tigers at the dealership when the incident occurred. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission charged Cook with unsafe handling of captive wildlife.
PETA also complained to the USDA that the two cubs had bloody abrasions on their noses and around their eyes and provided photos of the tiger cubs’ marred faces to aid in the investigation. PETA has asked the auto mall to ban exotic-animal displays from its properties.
Cook has been cited by the USDA for failure to provide veterinary care, failure to provide shelter from inclement weather, inadequate ventilation, filthy cages, failure to provide minimum space, and improper handling during public exhibition. In 2002, Six Flags Over Dallas dismissed Cook’s tiger exhibit over concerns for public safety. In August 2004, Cook was charged in federal court with conspiring to violate laws pertaining to wildlife. Cook was named, along with eight others, in a 55-count indictment that alleges that the accused bought or sold more than $200,000 worth of endangered or threatened animals between 1999 and 2003, violating interstate provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act.
Tiger cubs used in traveling acts are prematurely removed from their mothers, denying them proper nutrition and maternal care. If the animals survive the stress of transport and handling, exhibitors typically dispose of them a few months later when they become more difficult to handle, replacing them with new cubs. Since 1990, there have been at least 177 dangerous incidents involving big cats in 36 states.
“Besides the cruelty of taking baby tigers away from their mothers, these cats become ticking time bombs when constantly subjected to handling and stress,” says PETA Director Debbie Leahy. “The best way to protect the cats and the public would be to revoke Cook’s license to operate.”
The Federal Wildlife Officer
Nine Individuals Indicted on Wildlife Related Charges
Minneapolis – In a 55-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury, a Racine, MN, couple faces additional charges related to their operation of an animal park and animal brokerage business. In addition to the charges against Kenneth G. Kraft and his wife, Nancy L. Kraft, seven others were charged with various wildlife related charges.
The grand jury charged the Krafts will conspiring to violate a number of laws including the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. The Endangered Species Act generally makes it unlawful to buy/sell in interstate commerce animals that have been designated as either endangered or threatened. The Lacey Act generally prohibits the interstate sale or purchase of endangered or threatened animals with a market value in excess of $350, and it also makes it unlawful to make and/or submit a false record or label for any endangered or threatened animals in interstate commerce from 1999 to 2003.
The other individuals charged by the grand jury on wildlife-related charges were: Robert E. Baudy, age 80, from Bevilles Corner, FL; Marcus Cook, from Dallas, TX, and the operator of Zoocats, Inc.; Troy Allen Hyde, from Bozeman, MT, the operator of Animals of Montana, Inc.; Hans Jakob Lueck, age 50, from Shoreline, WA, the operator of Wild Eyes Animal Adventure and Photography in Montana; Merle Multhauf, age 50, from Emerald, WI, Craig Perry, from Center Point, IA, the operator of Perry’s Wilderness Ranch & Zoo; and James F. Rienow, age 55, from Suamico, WI, an animal broker and taxidermist.
According to the indictment, the Krafts advertised their interest in buying, selling, and trading exotic wildlife, including endangered and threatened animals through several means, including the Internet and a national exotic animal publication “Animal Finders’ Guide”. The Krafts bought and sold numerous protected animals, including tigers, grizzly bears, and leopards. They had sources and customers around the country, including, but not necessarily limited to: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The indictment alleges that at the same time the Krafts were illegally buying and selling protected wildlife from their property in Racine, MN, under a number of different names, they also operated an animal park called BEARCAT Hollow. BEARCAT Hollow stands for Beautiful Endangered and Rare, Conservation and Therapy. The Krafts solicited donations, memberships, and other forms of sponsorships for BEARCAT Hollow by representing that the funds raised would go to feed and otherwise support the animals of BEARCAT Hollow, but they failed to disclose that the animals at the Racine, MN, property were regularly bought and sold as inventory of Kraft Game Farms or Kraft’s Animal Escapades.
Because protected wildlife may not generally be offered for sale, bought, sold, or transported in interstate commerce, the Krafts allegedly made false records and false identifications of the wildlife involved in the transaction on forms of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the indictment, Nancy Kraft told at least one person that, for instance, the Krafts would make an illegal sale of a protected grizzly bear appear lawful by declaring the animal to be a “Syrian grizzly,” believed by the Krafts not to be protected, on the federal APHIS Form 7020. The Krafts are also alleged to have falsified records in order to hide their illegal activity by claiming the transactions were a “donation” or “breeding loan” instead of the sale or transfer of animals.
The indictment also charges Kenneth Kraft with witness tampering for allegedly instructing a person to lie to federal officials and maintain that animals he bought from Kenneth Kraft had been illegally donated rather than illegally purchased.
If convicted on the conspiracy or wildlife-related charges, the Krafts and the other defendants face a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. If convicted of tampering with a witness, Kenneth Kraft could face a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Any sentences would be determined by a judge based on the federal sentencing guidelines.
The case is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Koch is prosecuting the case. Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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.”
Check for yourself to see Marcus Cook meets the sanctuary standards for an accredited animal refuge. Read USDA’s 41 page complaint against Marcus Cook HERE