Lion Bite Warrants Federal Investigation at Roadside Zoo

Visitor Allegedly Told to Lie After Being Maimed by Lion

For Immediate Release:
July 30, 2014

David Perle 202-483-7382

Tawas City, Mich.

Today, PETA sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking for an immediate investigation of theSunrise Side Nature Trail and Exotic Park in Tawas City, Mich., after a lion ripped off part of a visitor’s right middle finger when she was reportedly allowed to enter the animal’s cage and pet him. Representatives at the facilityallegedly told the victim, Renae Ferguson, “not to tell” and “to lie” about the fact that she had been bitten.

In April, the USDA cited the facility after finding that it didn’t have a program of veterinary care for the lion, and the facility has been repeatedly cited for failing to have a responsible adult present to allow the USDA to conduct inspections.

“Caging up big cats and denying them everything that is natural and important to them is like lighting a fuse and expecting it not to go off,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “Allowing a member of the public into or next to a cage with dangerous animals is not only a violation of the law but also a tragedy waiting to happen.”

PETA, whose motto states, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment or abuse in any other way,” maintains detailed records of incidents involving big cats.

For more information, please visit

PETA’s letter to the USDA follows.


July 30, 2014


Elizabeth Goldentyer, D.V.M.
Eastern Regional Director


Via e-mail: [email protected]


Re: Urgent Request for Inspection of Sunrise Side Nature Trail and Exotic Park Following Lion 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 Sunrise Side Nature Trail and Exotic Park (license no. 34-C-0166; “Sunrise Side”) for apparent violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). According to the enclosed article, a zookeeper at Sunrise Side allowed a visitor named Renae Ferguson to approach and possibly enter the primary enclosure of an adult lion over the weekend of July 26 to 27. The keeper reportedly allowed Ms. Ferguson to pet the lion, who ripped off part of her right middle finger. Representatives at the facility reportedly told Ms. Ferguson “not to tell” and “to lie” about the fact that she had been bitten.

Allowing a member of the public to enter or be adjacent to a cage in order to pet a lion 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 Ms. Ferguson entered the cage against staff instructions, as the facility claims, the fact that she was able to bypass the barrier fence and approach the primary enclosure and possibly enter it is evidence that the facility is not using sufficient barriers, in accordance with 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(c)(1).

Given the serious nature of this attack, please promptly inspect Sunrise Side and hold it accountable for any and all AWA violations. Please also ensure that Sunrise Side 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,

Jared S. Goodman, Esq.
Director of Animal Law

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