In October of 2016, PETA sued Dade City’s Wild Things and owners Kathryn and Randall Steares in federal court in Tampa. The organization alleged that DCWT’s practice of allowing the public to interact with tiger cubs violates the Endangered Species Act. DCWT advertises a “safari adventure” that lets visitors pet and swim with tiger cubs and other wild animals.
In reality, says PETA, DCWT takes tiger cubs from their mothers at too young an age — as early as three weeks old. When the cats reach 25 pounds, under Florida law they’re too big for photo-ops with the public. At that point, the complaint alleges that DCWT sells the cubs to roadside zoos or consigns them to cramped cages to live out their rest of their lives.
The PETA complaint lays out in heartbreaking detail the alleged mistreatment of the cubs:
Over many months, witnesses observed Dade City’s Wild Things staff repeatedly holding onto and pulling the tiger cubs by the cubs’ tails; grabbing the cubs by the skin on the back of their necks; pulling them by the front feet; pinching their ears and nose; and even slamming their bodies to the ground.
As part of its discovery requests, PETA asked the court to allow it to observe the tiger cubs in their environments at DCWT. The court ordered such an inspection to occur in July 2017 — and that’s when things went sideways.
Before PETA arrived, DCWT moved its tigers from Florida to Oklahoma. They did so despite an emergency motion prohibiting DCWT from relocating the animals. During this hot, thirsty, 1,200-mile and 18-hour road trip, one female tiger gave birth — and all three of her cubs died.
According to Magistrate Judge Amanda Sansone, immediately after receiving PETA’s request for a site inspection, the Stearns “began a calculated and deliberately deceptive process of disposing of their twenty-four tigers designed to frustrate the site inspection and eliminate evidence.”
Apparently, there was even evidence offered that Kenneth Stearns bragged in a Facebook video: “Even with all their money, and we’re broke, sometimes somebody outsmarts your a**. With no tigers, how they gonna prove tiger abuse?” according to The Tampa Bay Times.
In March 2018, noting DCWT’s’ “flagrant disregard” for the court’s order, Sansone ordered a default judgment that granted PETA a victory in its underlying lawsuit. Sansone ordered the Stearnses to pay PETA’s legal fees, and dismissed DCWT’s counterclaims against PETA.
However, Sansone’s ruling won’t be final until a U.S. district judge adopts it.
In the meantime, PETA moved to amend its complaint to incorporate evidence of the tigers’ transportation and subsequent death of three cubs. The court granted this motion on June 6, 2018.
“That’s not a zoo, that’s animal cruelty,” Laura Hodge, who lives across the street from Wild Things, told WFLA. “There’s no habitat. If you go to Busch Gardens, they live in a habitat. Here, there’s nothing. They live in a cage. ”
Representatives from DCWT, of course, don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. In fact, they feel victimized by PETA.
“These are people who are passionate about big cats in general and take wonderful care of these animals,” Gus Centrone, attorney for DCWT, told WFLA. “And PETA has chosen them as a target and have beat them up on multiple fronts including in federal court and state court. And it’s pretty ridiculous. It’s getting absurd.”
But it doesn’t look like PETA’s wrong — not even a little. Obviously, Magistrate Judge Sansone didn’t buy their shenanigans. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is well acquainted with this place.
A 2015 USDA complaint pursued DCWT for a variety of Animal Welfare Act violations, including:
“Multiple failures to handle animals carefully and to provide access for inspection.”
Keeping a young tiger in a pool, despite the tiger’s obvious discomfort — as exhibited by the tiger’s vocalizations and repeated attempts to exit the pool.
Lowering a young tiger into a pool by the tail, pulling the cub’s tail in order to restrain it while it was in the pool and pulling the young tiger out of the pool by the animal’s right front leg.
Allowing a reporter from “Good Morning America” to handle a young tiger in a manner that caused the tiger to become visibly stressed, as exhibited by the tiger’s repeated attempts to leave the pool; and the reporter repeatedly pulling the tiger back into the pool.
While we wait for the final ruling on the PETA lawsuit, DCWT continues to advertise public swims with young tiger cubs.
DCWT also takes pot shots at bad reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, proclaiming:
There is no ruling and we have tigers and the Oklahoma facility is being investigated not us for the transport as he did the transport – the tigers were given to the facility as many animals go from us to other facilities. . and there never was any orders preventing us from rescuing or giving tigers away.
Are you shaking your head? You’re not alone. Truly, this place just doesn’t get it.
With any luck, a federal judge will soon approve Magistrate Judge Sansone’s decision and end DCWT’s ability to make money from abusing tigers.
This article was first published by Care2.com on 18 Jun 2018.
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