Senate stalls tiger bill

The Louisiana Senate refused Monday to step into a legal battle over whether Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete can continue to keep a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger.

Truck stop owner Michael Sandlin already has lost one court fight, which went to the state Supreme Court.

Another lawsuit is active.

State Sen. Rick Ward III, R-Port Allen, asked the Senate to approve legislation that would allow Sandlin to keep the tiger through an exception in state law governing ownership of big exotic cats.

The Senate voted 18-19 for the measure — two votes short of the majority needed for passage of Senate Bill 250.

The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has the authority under state law to control and regulate the possession of big exotic cats.

Exceptions are provided for those held by colleges and universities, animal sanctuaries, zoos, wildlife rescue centers, scientific organizations and “owners who can prove previous ownership.”

Ward said the legislation sought to “clarify” the definition of previous owner to include anyone who obtained their animal legally and has been in continuous possession and ownership since Aug. 15, 2006. The exception would apply retroactively and fit Sandlin’s Tiger Truck Stop situation.

“Many of you drive up and down I-10,” Ward said. “It’s a very nice facility .... He (the tiger) enjoys his area. In fact, he even has an air conditioned home.”

But state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said the truck stop is not a place for a Siberian-Bengal tiger. He said it is not accredited by the agency that has given the seal of approval to LSU’s Mike the Tiger digs and others accommodating the large cats.

“We are talking about a truck stop along a highway that family and kids enjoy,” Morrell said. “No one at this truck stop is prepared to deal with any dangerous situation whatsoever if and when this tiger gets out and injures someone.”

Ward said truck stop owner Sandlin has had tigers since 1984. “There’s never been a safety incident. I don’t think there’s going to even be a safety issue,” Ward said. “He’s followed all the guidelines necessary and will continue to do so.”

Four Louisiana residents filed suit wanting the tiger, Tony, moved to a secure accredited wildlife sanctuary. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a district court decision that found that state law banned the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from renewing Sandlin’s permit to house the tiger. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Sandlin has a civil lawsuit pending on another issue dealing with permitting.