GROSSE TETE, La. — A captive tiger sits caged on the side of a busy highway. Suffering everyday in an isolated gas station parking lot, with the overpowering stench of fuel and the constant drone of diesel engines.
As a tourist attraction at Tiger Truck Stop, Tony The Tiger has sat helpless in his concrete compound doing the exact same thing every day for the past 15 years, as indicated by a sign on his cage. It is reported that Tony was acquired by Michael Sandlin as a 6-month-old cub from a Texas breeder.
Despite standing offers to be rehoused into several big cat sanctuaries, his owners refuse to give the tiger a proper home. Dee De Santis, a spokesperson for Free Tony The Tiger, told 3MillionDogs that Tony has 4 approximately 20 x 20 ft. cages that he lives in. These cages have concrete floors and chain link walls. With no natural environment to enjoy, Tony does little more than eat, sleep and pace back and forth.
“His gritty truck stop “prison” is an unnatural, unhealthy environment where he is subjected to the noise of trucks, the smell of diesel fuel and the ogling of tourists,” said De Santis.
The Free Tony The Tiger Campaign is dedicated to raising awareness for Tony and supports the Animal Defense Fund’s efforts to secure his release to a reputable big cat sanctuary where he can receive the care, home, diet, enrichment and medical care and respect he deserves, says De Santis.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has made a case for freeing Tony and found the permit issued by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) to be illegal, in turn getting it revoked. LDWF was then blocked from issuing a new permit. Tony’s owner never stopped trying to appeal, but subsequently each appeal was denied.
Michael Sandlin then enlisted his state Senator, Rick Ward, to propose a bill, SB 250, which exempted himself from Louisiana state law banning private ownership of big cats. The bill then passed both the Senate and House and was recently signed by the Governor. The Animal Legal Defense immediately issued a statement saying they would challenge the validity the bill. On June 25, 2014, ALDF filed a lawsuit against the State of Louisiana for violating the Louisiana Constitution by passing a law that exempts a single individual from existing state public safety and animal welfare laws.
You can view a timeline of Tony’s ongoing case here.
Animals rights activists, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), continue to fight on Tony’s behalf. Despite many highs and lows in the case, they remain hopeful that someday Tony will be free. This video from 2011 still contains pertinent information, as the situation has not changed for this captive tiger.
A change.org petition is asking the LDWF to enforce the 2006 law which bans the private ownership of big cats and has just over 51,000 signatures. They are currently asking for 75,000 signatures.
Tony’s case continues to raise awareness on the Captive Wildlife Crisis in the U.S., and the Humane Society Of The United States estimates that there are at least 10,000 big cats living in captivity, often used for profit and exploited for pricey photo opportunities. The late Ron Tilson, Conservation Director for the Minnesota Zoo, stated unequivocally that there are more tigers in backyards across the U.S. than in all of the zoos put together. But how do we change that?
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
-Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
To show your support for Tony and stay current on new information, be sure to sign the petition here, and follow Tony on his many social media support networks.