‘Tiger King’ Villain Tim Stark Keeps Hitting New Lows, and PETA Keeps On Winning

Published by Katherine Sullivan.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana has just ordered Tiger King villain Tim Stark and his now-defunct roadside zoo, Wildlife in Need (WIN), to pay $733,997.70 to PETA in attorneys’ fees and expenses relating to our successful Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit against the big-cat tormentor. Because Stark and WIN already owe us $19,234.40 in unpaid fee awards, we’ll be seeking to recover a total of $753,232.10.

For years, Stark cruelly tore big-cat cubs away from their mothers, removed their claws, and used them as photo props to make a buck, but now the law has caught up with him. We look forward to collecting our due, and other sleazy roadside zoos should consider this a warning: You could be next.

As part of our victory in the ESA case, 25 big cats were transferred from Stark and his former business partner Jeff Lowe—both of whom were featured in Tiger King—to accredited sanctuaries. Stark, his ex-wife (Melisa Lane), and WIN were also permanently barred from owning or possessing big cats without court approval as well as from prematurely separating cubs from their mothers, declawing them, and using them in any cub-petting enterprise. The U.S. Department of Justice has cited PETA’s victory in its own ongoing litigation against Lowe.

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,” said PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet at the time of the August 2020 decision. “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.

Earlier this year, an Indiana state court ruling also permanently banned Stark from “acquiring, owning, and exhibiting any exotic or native animals, including all mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.” He is facing multiple criminal charges, too, including battery of an Office of the Attorney General of Indiana lawyer, and a hearing to bar Stark from owning firearms because he’s a “dangerous person.”

In February 2020, 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 separate 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.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind