Victory! The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted partial summary judgment in favor of PETA in our Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit against Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed, Inc. (WIN), Tiger King villain Tim Stark, and Stark’s ex-wife Melisa Lane. The judge issued a permanent injunction barring Stark, Lane, and WIN from allowing big-cat cubs to interact with the public, separating mother cats and their infants, declawing big cats, and possessing the tigers, lions, and tiger/lion hybrids on Stark’s premises who were unlawfully taken in violation of the ESA. We must and will submit a motion within 30 days relating to the placement of the big cats at reputable sanctuaries.
The court found that Stark’s declawing procedures (about which he said he didn’t “give a sh*t what [a veterinarian’s] opinion” was) were “a gross failure to meet the accepted standards of medical care,” that premature separation “deprives [cubs] of vital components that help develop a healthy immune system,” and that cub petting “also subjects cubs to extreme stress.” The court also held Stark, Lane, and WIN responsible for the maternal separation of cubs they acquired from other traffickers, because cub-petting events “created a demand for young [c]ubs.”
“PETA thanks the court for recognizing that Tim Stark must no longer be permitted to abuse big cats and flout the laws designed to protect them,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. “This historic decision is a warning to the entire big-cat cub-petting industry that its days are numbered.”
The decision also placed a target on the backs of other roadside zoos by rejecting a number of defenses offered by Stark, Lane, and WIN—such as that the proprietors and staff of a roadside zoo like WIN had any useful expertise to counter PETA’s experts and that “[s]imply saying ‘other zoos do it too’ is insufficient” to evade liability.
Stark and WIN are still being sued by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office for allegedly violating state nonprofit laws. And in February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture permanently revoked Stark’s license and ordered him and WIN to pay a total of $340,000 following a lawsuit alleging more than 120 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act between 2012 and 2016. The court’s decision also referenced a 2013 incident in which Stark bludgeoned a leopard to death with a baseball bat.
Jeff Lowe, also of Tiger King and the operator of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (G.W. Zoo) in Oklahoma (the roadside zoo formerly owned by “Joe Exotic”), is also a defendant in PETA’s lawsuit, and the case against him continues.