What Is Best for Tony the Tiger?Posted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on November 7th, 2011
Tony is an 11-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger.
For most of his life, he has lived in a cage at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, Louisiana. He is a roadside attraction.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has sued to get Tony out of that cage. We hope that Tony can be sent to a sanctuary, where he can live out his life in a more natural environment. Last week, we won our lawsuit in the East Baton Rouge District Court. The judge ordered the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries not to renew the annual permit that allows the truck stop to keep him in that cage, and ordered the Department to revoke the current permit.
Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop, thinks Tony should stay at the truck stop. He says that’s Tony’s home and that people like to come and see him.
Many Americans view wild animals as “specimens” to be kept in a jar and brought out for us to gaze upon. There is something inherently wrong with that assumption and, to the extent that we can get inside the mind of a wild tiger stuck in a cage in Louisiana, let’s look at this situation from the perspective of what’s best for Tony.
According to National Geographic, there are only about 400-500 Siberian tigers and less than 2,500 Bengal tigers left in the wild. These sub-species are critically endangered. “Tigers live alone and aggressively scent-mark large territories to keep their rivals away. They are powerful hunters that travel many miles to find prey, such as elk and wild boar, on nocturnal hunts... Despite their fearsome reputation, most tigers avoid humans…”
This is worth repeating: in their natural habitat, tigers travel great distances to hunt and they avoid contact with human beings.
In contrast, let’s take a look at Tony’s environment.
You can see a video of Tony in his roadside cage:
Look closely at Tony. Do you notice the way he walks back and forth? That is called “stereotypic behavior,” repetitive or ritualistic movement, such as pacing or rocking. This is abnormal behavior; it is not the way Tony would act in his natural habitat and it is a sign that something is very wrong.
According to experts, “(p)ossible explanations…include that carnivore pacing represents frustrated escape attempts (to forage, range, reach a mate, or for any one of a host of reasons)” or because species that usually roam over a wide range of land have been “rendered more dysfunctional by captivity…” “Stereotypic Animal Behaviour – Fundamentals and Applications for Welfare” (2nd ed.) – eds. Georgia Mason and Jeff Rushen (CABI, 2006).
Tony is not a play-toy or a stuffed animal or large puppy hoping to get someone’s attention. He’s a tiger and he has been denied the basic right to be a tiger – a wild animal living and hunting according to his natural instincts in his native habitat. Can anyone seriously argue that a wild tiger wants to be spend his entire life stuck in a cage at a truck stop, inhaling gasoline fumes and having to be in close proximity to the human beings his instincts are telling him to run away from? Seriously?
And, while we’re on the subject, there are thousands of other wild animals exploited in this way all over the U.S. Once again, if you look closely, there are visible signs telling us why wild animals should not be in captivity: the recent incident in Ohio, where dozens of wild animals were let loose by their owner and slaughtered by local police; Tyke, the elephant who broke loose after years of performing tricks in the circus. Tyke killed one person, injured several others and was thereafter killed on the streets of Honolulu; Travis, the “pet” chimpanzee in Connecticut who attacked a woman and badly mutilated her face; Tilikum, the captive orca (killer whale) at Orlando’s Sea World, who has killed three human beings so far. These are just a few of the incidents that serve as wake-up calls that wild animals have no place in captivity. Wild animals are being victimized every step of the way – by being removed from their native environments, by suffering in a life of captivity and, if they manage to escape, by being summarily killed.
We want to do the right thing for Tony. He can no longer survive in the wild, but he can go to a reputable sanctuary and live his life with far more dignity and less stress. I urge public officials to stop ignoring the obvious and deal realistically with the problems caused by allowing individuals to keep wild animals in captivity: ban private ownership, sale, purchase, possession and custody of wild animals.
To find out what you can do to help Tony and others like him, visit: http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/.