PETA Calls On Authorities to Investigate Former Drug Kingpin for Allowing Potentially Deadly Close Contact With Dangerous Animals
For Immediate Release:
October 7, 2014
David Perle 202-483-7382
West Palm Beach, Fla. – Today, PETA sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking for an immediate investigation of the Zoological Wildlife Foundation’s (ZWF) Jupiter, Fla., facility after a tiger reportedly bit off the thumb of a construction worker who had put his hand or arm in the tiger’s cage. ZWF owner Mario Tabraue is a chronic violator of the federal Animal Welfare Act, and photographs posted to ZWF’s website and Facebook page reveal that the facility has dangerously allowed patrons to engage in direct contact with tigers and bears. Tabraue has previously admitted to making false and inaccurate claims to federal authorities about his animal dealings.
“Tigers are apex predators, and they cannot be treated as if they are cuddly stuffed animals to be kept in a box,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “Allowing anyone to have close access to stressed and agitated wild animals is a tragedy waiting to happen.”
Tabraue has a long criminal history as a former drug kingpin that includes convictions for racketeering and narcotics violations. The case was called “Operation Cobra” in reference to Tabraue’s exotic-animal business that served as a front for his drug ring. In 1989, Tabraue was given a 100-year prison sentence, but he was freed after 12 years after becoming an informant. He promptly resumed his animal enterprise.
PETA, whose motto states, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment,” maintains detailed records of incidents involving captive big cats.
For more information, please visit PETA.org.
PETA’s letter to the USDA follows.
October 7, 2014
Elizabeth Goldentyer, D.V.M.
Eastern Regional Director
Re: Urgent Request for Inspection of the Zoological Wildlife Foundation Following Report of Tiger Attack
Dear Dr. Goldentyer:
I am writing on behalf of my client, PETA, to request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) promptly inspect the Zoological Wildlife Foundation (ZWF; license no. 58-B-0306) for apparent violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). According to the enclosed article, around 1:46 p.m. on October 6, a construction worker who was on ZWF’s property, located at 19000 S.E. Mack Dairy Rd., Jupiter, Fla. 33478, was allowed to “put his hand or arm in a tiger cage and was bitten” by a tiger, who reportedly ripped the victim’s thumb off. ZWF Property Manager Jason Frein reportedly told a second news source that he was with the victim “the whole entire time” and that the victim “just happened to put his finger in the wrong place.” See Video 1. Frein also reportedly claimed that ZWF had signs posted stating, “Do not approach the cage.”
Allowing a member of the public to put his or her hand or arm inside a cage confining a tiger apparently violates 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(c)(1), which requires that “[d]uring public exhibition, any animal must be handled so there is minimal risk of harm to the animal and to the public, with sufficient distance and/or barriers between the animal and the general viewing public so as to assure the safety of animals and the public.” The USDA has determined that this regulation prohibits public contact with big cats because “there is an inherent danger present for both the viewing public and the exhibited animal[s].” USDA, “Big Cat Question and Answer” 1 (undated). Even if the victim ignored a caution sign as the facility claims, the fact that he was allowed to approach the primary enclosure—while an employee was with him the “whole entire time”—is evidence that the facility is not using sufficient barriers or a perimeter fence, in apparent violation of 9 C.F.R. §§ 2.131(c)(1) and 3.127(d). See USDA, Inspection Report for James Svoboda (31-C-0166) (July 31, 2014) (citing exhibitor under 9 C.F.R. §§ 2.131(c)(1), 3.127(d), and 3.132, after a lion bit off a woman’s finger when the woman was allowed to put her hand in a cage holding a lion).
Given the serious nature of this reported attack, please promptly inspect ZWF and hold it accountable for any and all AWA violations. Please also ensure that ZWF is meeting the employee knowledge and training requirements prescribed by 9 C.F.R. §§ 2.131(a) and 3.132. Please inform me of the complaint number that the USDA assigns to this correspondence. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Very truly yours,
Brittany Peet, Counsel