‘Wildlife in Need’ Veterinarian Admits Illegal Declawing of Cubs

In First-of-Its-Kind Litigation Settlement, Dr. Rick Pelphrey Admits to Violating the Endangered Species Act

For Immediate Release:
October 23, 2018

David Perle 202-483-7382

Charlestown, Ind. – PETA has secured a first-of-its-kind agreed-upon judgment in its lawsuit against Dr. Rick L. Pelphrey, a veterinarian who admitted to declawing lions and tigers illegally at a Charlestown roadside zoo quite accurately named Wildlife in Need.

“Declawing” refers to amputating the first digit of an animals’ claws, including bone and muscle tissues, in a manner that permanently injures animals and leaves them with a lifetime of chronic lameness, pain, and psychological distress. This historic federal court order creates a precedent that declawing endangered or threatened exotic cats without medical necessity violates the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As part of this settlement, Dr. Pelphrey may no longer declaw or give any kind of veterinary care to any endangered or threatened species of big or exotic cats.

“Dr. Pelphrey had no specialized training to care for big cats, and animals were left bleeding and in pain from his unnecessary and illegal amputations,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. “PETA’s settlement will spare other big and exotic cats a similar fate and make it harder for Wildlife in Need to find any veterinarian willing to declaw lions, tigers, and hybrids illegally for its cruel photo op stunts.”

PETA notes that Dr. Pelphrey declawed approximately 12 big cats, without any pain medication, at Wildlife in Need over the past three years even though the American Veterinary Medical Association condemned declawing big and exotic cats eight years ago. A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection report indicates that two of these cats had “[s]evere complications” from the amputations, leaving them bleeding, hesitant to walk, and in apparent pain. Both cubs subsequently died.

PETA’s lawsuit against the owners and operators of Wildlife in Need for alleged violations of the ESA is ongoing. In February, PETA won a preliminary injunction under the act stopping Wildlife in Need from declawing big cats and from separating them prematurely from their mothers and using them in “Tiger Baby Playtime” events, in which cubs have been handled roughly, hit, and dragged.

For more information about PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—please visit PETA.org.

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Media Response Team.


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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