For Immediate Release:
March 10, 2021
David Perle 202-483-7382
Davie, Fla. – This morning, PETA sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Director of Animal Welfare Operations Robert M. Gibbens, urging the agency to revoke the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) license of Michael Poggi, who recently pleaded guilty to two violations of Florida wildlife laws after a leopard mauled a visitor at his sham “sanctuary” in Davie. The “full contact” encounter—for which the guest paid Poggi $150—left the man with an ear torn in half and part of his scalp hanging from his head.
“Reputable sanctuaries do not offer hands-on experiences that spook dangerous wild animals and leave guests bloodied and on their way to the hospital,” says PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Michelle Sinnott. “The USDA needs to terminate Poggi’s license immediately—before someone ends up dead.”
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
PETA’s letter to Gibbens follows.
March 10, 2021
Robert M. Gibbens, D.V.M.
Director, Animal Welfare Operations
Re: Request to Terminate Michael Poggi’s Animal Welfare Act License
Dear Dr. Gibbens,
I am writing on behalf of PETA to request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) terminate Michael Poggi’s Animal Welfare Act (AWA) license (license no. 58-B-0595) because he pled guilty to criminal charges pertaining to the welfare and ownership of animals.
The USDA may terminate a license for any reason that would require it to deny an initial license. 9 C.F.R. § 2.12. Those reasons include, if the licensee “has pled nolo contendere (no contest) or has been found to have violated any Federal, State, or local laws or regulations pertaining to the transportation, ownership, neglect, or welfare of animals.” Id. § 2.11(a)(7).
On August 31, 2020, Michael Poggi allowed a member of the public to enter a full grown adult leopard’s enclosure for the sole purpose of engaging in a direct contact encounter with the animal. Ex. A (Incident Report). As soon as the guest entered the leopard enclosure, he was attacked and sustained serious injuries. Id. According to a witness, part of the guest’s scalp was “hanging from his head and his right ear was torn in half.” Id. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) criminally charged Poggi for two violations of Florida wildlife laws that prohibit full contact with leopards, who are classified as extremely dangerous wildlife under state law. Ex. B (Charging Documents).
On February 18, 2021, Poggi plead guilty to both counts. Ex. C (Poggi Final Disposition). As part of the plea, Poggi was ordered to complete a year of probation and pay a fine to the FWC. Id.
Not only was this incident a violation of state law, it also violates the AWA. The USDA considers adult big cats dangerous and the AWA handling regulations prohibit direct public contact with these animals. As evident by the serious injuries the guest sustained, direct contact with an adult leopard is extremely dangerous and 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.” By allowing a guest to enter the leopards enclosure, Poggi’s actions also appear to violate 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(d)(3), which requires that “dangerous animals. . . be under the direct control and supervision of a knowledgeable and experienced animal handler.”
Please exercise your discretion to immediately terminate Michael Poggi’s license.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Very truly yours,
Michelle Sinnott, Esq.
Associate Director, Captive Animal Law Enforcement