The owner of a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger in Iberville Parish plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to allow him to retain custody of the animal now that Louisiana’s highest court has refused to consider his case.
Matthew Liebman, attorney for Animal Legal Defense Fund, said Monday that the state’s highest court handed down the decision Friday without comment on why it wouldn’t review the petition filed on behalf of owner Michael Sandlin, who has housed Tony the tiger in an exhibit at Tiger Truck Stop, off Interstate 10, for more than a decade.
Sandlin maintains Tony, now 12, is being properly cared for at the truck stop and taking him away from his home could kill him.
“This is not only a personal loss for us and Tony, but a loss for all Louisiana,” Sandlin wrote in his statement. “We, with our family, our legal team and supporters, are doing everything we can to keep Tony safe here in his Louisiana home where he belongs.
“Tigers and other exotic animals that have been forcibly removed from their homes often die within three months, from shock and grief.”
Liebman said he’s not surprised by Sandlin’s decision to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but he doubts the high court will entertain the case either since no federal issues are at stake.
In 2011, ALDF sued the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, asserting the agency had unlawfully issued Sandlin a permit to keep Tony in the exhibit.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal on April 25 upheld a ruling by state District Judge Mike Caldwell that a 2006 Louisiana law bars the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from renewing Sandlin’s permit to house Tony at the truck stop.
Caldwell concluded the department violated its own rules by exempting Sandlin and Tiger Truck Stop from permit requirements for owners of big cats. The judge ruled that a state permit can be issued only to an individual, not a corporation. Tiger Truck Stop was the permit holder, not Sandlin, he said.
The truck stop’s last annual state permit expired at the end of 2011.
“We hope the department will take this as closure and see that it needs to seize Tony,” Liebman said. “The ball is in their court to see what happens next.”
Sandlin, who has held a federal permit to keep tigers at the truck stop since 1988, also has a lawsuit pending before state District Judge Janice Clark alleging the state’s ban on private ownership of dangerous, exotic animals is unconstitutional.
In previous reports, Sandlin has said he would send Tony to Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla., if he is forced to give him up.
On Oct. 5, a G.W. Exotic employee was attacked by an adult male tiger, nearly losing her arm, the ALDF said in a news release Monday. Several media outlets reported that the woman had stuck her arm in the tiger’s cage, prompting the attack.
According to the release, the Oklahoma zoo has been the target of several undercover investigations regarding animal welfare and safety.
ALDF has asked that the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries ensure that Tony is moved to a legitimate and reputable facility.