Thursday, October 18, 2007

APHIS Seeks Public Comment on the Animal Care Policy Manual

APHIS Seeks Public Comment on the Animal Care Policy Manual


Animal Care   October 17, 2007 


The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) animal care (AC) program is undertaking a review of the existing Animal Care Policy Manual and welcomes public comment. APHIS will be accepting public comments through Nov. 16, 2007.


The policy manual is a guidance document developed primarily for AC field inspectors, and it is also provided to entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). It clarifies, interprets and/or provides examples of how to comply with existing AWA regulations or standards.


APHIS has designated the Animal Care Policy Manual a significant guidance document pursuant to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) “Final Bulletin for Agency Good Guidance Practices” (72 FR 3432-3440). In order to increase the quality and transparency of agency guidance practices, OMB established policies and procedures for the develop-ment, issuance and use of significant guidance documents. Information about APHIS’ significant guidance documents and the agency’s guidance practices is available at .


In keeping with the good guidance practices outlined in OMB’s bulletin, APHIS is seeking public comment on the manual, including recommendations for adding, changing or rescinding any policy that it contains. The AC program has always given due consideration to comments received from the public regarding the policy manual but is doing so now in a more formal manner.


The Animal Care Policy Manual may be viewed on the Web site It will be available for public review and comment through Nov. 16. All comments received by that date will be given due consideration.


Carole’s Note:

Here is the direct link to the 88 page Policy Manual that they are asking for comment on:


Here are Carole’s comments if you would like to use them for reference:


USDA Animal Care Policy Comments


Policy #1


  1. License renewals should meet the same criteria as initial applicants in that no license should be renewed if the last inspection report cited deficiencies that were not corrected within 90 days. 
  2. Denial of a license to those who have been jailed for animal cruelty should also include those who have been jailed for any form of illegal trafficking of narcotics and weapons as these are often the same rings involved in the illegal trafficking of wildlife.
  3. Denial of license to those who are under investigation for animal cruelty should also include those who have been jailed for any form of illegal trafficking of narcotics and weapons as these are often the same rings involved in the illegal trafficking of wildlife.


Policy # 2


Exhibitors should be required to notify USDA ANY time regulated animals are taken off site from the licensed facility, except when they are being transported directly to and from a veterinarian’s office who is licensed in that state. 


Policy #3


The Program of Veterinary Care should require an on site visual inspection of the animals by the attending veterinarian no less than monthly. 


While the AVMA may approve the reduction of canine teeth to address human safety concerns, the purpose of the AWA is to insure the welfare of the animals which is not enhanced by such procedures.  On the contrary, such procedures put the animal at risk of severe pain caused by the exposure of the pulp cavity that may not be readily ascertained by virtue of the fact that wild animals conceal their infirmities.


Policy #5


The AWA should prohibit the exhibition of animals at auctions and other off site venues.  Due to the inherent nature of all wild animals to be stressed by loud noises, confinement, new environments and the close proximity of people, an animal auction, flea market, fair ground, school yard or shopping center parking lot exposes these animals to an unacceptable level of stress.  These situations also expose the public to an unwarranted level of risk, provide no real benefit and should be prohibited entirely.


Policy #6


Traveling acts that use big cats have been banned in other countries and at the local level in the U.S.  There is no way that any traveling display can meet the space and exercise requirements of exotic cats and no way that USDA can effectively monitor the daily requirements suggested by the AWA.  The minimal standards required in the past have never been properly enforced and are detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the animals. 


Every cat that has come to us from traveling acts has suffered from a variety of injuries as a result of the confinement including scarred hips and elbows from hitting the cage walls constantly, missing fur on the nose from incessantly rubbing their faces against the bars, chapped and bleeding feet from being kept on wood or concrete surfaces, poor muscle mass from the lack of exercise, scarred lung tissue from breathing the urine laden air, blindness from repeated photo sessions, broken teeth from biting the cage bars and a host of psychological issues from being forced into close confinement with other cats and the public.  Since there is no way to protect the welfare of these animals while they are on the road and no justifiable reason to continue the activity it should be prohibited. 


If spending money cannot be considered a factor in whether an animal is given proper medical care, then making money should not be a factor in whether or not the animal can be induced to suffer for the purpose of generating income for his owner. 


Cage space in general was not a part of your policy manual, but absolutely should be.  Some states still have no regulations governing the cage size, construction and substrates and in those places rely on USDA’s standards which are cruel beyond description.  Enough space to stand up and turn around, is not meeting the needs of any animal and especially not exotic cats who collectively are designed to roam as much as 400 square miles, leap as far at 40 feet and run at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.   While no cage is suitable for meeting their needs, the minimums should be at least:


The family Felidae
small to medium (under 60 lbs)
large cats (over 60 lbs)
Defined as the following species:
Small Cats

  • Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurusrubiginosus)
  • Flat-headed cat (Prionailurusplaniceps)
  • Black-footed cat (Felis nigripes)
  • Kodkod (Oncifelis guigna)
  • Oncilla/tiger cat (Leopardus tigrina)
  • Sand cat (Felis margarita)
  • Pallas' cat (Otocolobus manul)
  • Domestic cat (Felis catus)
  • Margay (Leopardus wiedii)
  • Marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata)
  • Geoffroy's cat (Oncifelis geoffroyi)
  • Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouroundi)
  • Pampas cat (Oncifelis colocolo)
  • Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)
  • Wildcat (Felis silvestris)
  • Mountain cat (Oraeilurus jacobita)

Medium Cats  

  • Canadian lynx (Lynx Canadensis)
  • Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
  • African golden cat (Profelis aurata)
  • Spanish lynx (Lynx pardinus)
  • Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)
  • Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)
  • Asian golden cat (Catopuma temmincki)
  • Caracal (Caracal caracal)
  • Jungle cat (Felis chaus)
  • Serval (Leptailurus serval)
  • Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx)

Large cats (weighing more than 60 lbs.)  

  • Lion (Panthera leo)
  • Tiger (P. tigris)
  • Leopard (P. pardalis)
  • Snow leopard (Uncia uncial)
  • Jaguar (P. onca)
  • Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
  • Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)
  • Puma (Puma concolor)  

And all subspecies and hybrids thereof
Species Needs
In the wild, all species of small cats are more or less solitary, i.e. intolerant towards adults of the same sex, and exhibit a spatially and temporally dispersed social system.
With one exception, (lions) large felids are solitary carnivores functioning at or near the top of their trophic level.
Felids are predators relying on cover for survival.
Leopard, (P. pardalis); Snow leopard, (Uncia uncial); Jaguar, (P. onca); Cheetah, (Acinonyx jubatus); Clouded leopard, (Neofelis nebulosa); Puma, (Puma concolor) are more secretive animals when compared to lions and tigers and require ample areas of cover.
Felids are inquisitive, exploratory and in the wild are particularly active at night, dawn and dusk.
Felids are primarily carnivorous.
Felids are frequently avid climbers and, if clawed, need trees or wood to shed and sharpen their claws.

Enclosure Requirements


Enclosures for felids shall primarily consist of a mix of natural substrates (e.g., soil, sand, grass, natural rock) that provide good drainage and have an area(s) that can be readily cleaned and sanitized for feeding and resting.

Size & Complexity

  • Enclosures shall provide sufficient mix of cover such as brush, tall grasses, trees, den areas, elevated areas and opportunities to climb. Enclosures shall provide ledges or perches for sleeping and resting.
  • Enclosure size for one or two small animals shall be 400 square feet at a minimum. Each additional animal requires an increase of 25% of the original floor space, (ie. for two animals, the minimum space is 500 square feet).
  • Enclosure size for one or two medium animals should be 600 square feet at a minimum. Each additional animal requires an increase of 25% of the original floor space.
  • Enclosure size for one large animal weighing over 60 lbs., should be 1200 square feet at a minimum. Each additional animal requires an increase of 25% of the original floor space.
  • Of equal importance to enclosure size is the complexity and variability of the enclosure.
  • Enclosures shall be designed to allow terrestrial species the ability to utilize the vertical component of the enclosure by providing aerial pathways.

Enclosure Construction & Elements

  • Most felids are adept climbers and can easily scale a chain link fence and jump from trees and branches to clear a fence. Enclosures shall be designed and constructed to securely contain the species contained therein.
  • Some felids may dig underneath a fence line so for these cats that are individually prone to digging the enclosure perimeters shall have either a concrete footing, horizontal protective mat around the entire enclosure or chain link fence that is buried at a depth sufficient to prevent escape given the composition of the natural substrate.
  • Dens shall be provided and shall be dry, and of sufficient size to make the animals feel secure. In enclosures with multiple animals, there shall be one den space for each animal in the enclosure.
  • Some felids enjoy swimming, and pools of an appropriate size and depth should be incorporated into outdoor enclosures where possible.
  • Arboreal cats as defined herein, shall have places to climb in order to meet their spatial needs and places to lounge above the terrain to meet their emotional needs.


  • The aggressive nature of most felids, and their physical strength and capabilities, demand that care-givers take extreme care when designing enclosures for any felid species, regardless of their size, to reduce the risk of escape or reaching through enclosure fencing.
  • For small or medium felids, enclosure fencing shall be least 8 ft. high with the top protected by either electric wire or a 45-degree 2 ft. inward-facing overhang. Additional local and state requirements may apply.
  • For large felids, enclosure walls shall either be 12 feet high and be some combination of vertical wall with at least a 2 foot back-arm at a 45 degree angle, or be provided with complete tops and at least 10 feet high, or double rows of hot wire will be sufficient for lions and tigers who are not avid climbers. The cage shall be constructed of no less than 9 gauge wire for large felids and no less than 12 gauge wire for small to medium felids.
  • As many felids, especially tigers and jaguars, enjoy water, water moats shall not be used to contain felids.
  • Shift or secondary holding areas shall be provided to allow for safe movement of animals from their primary enclosure into a secure area for cleaning, feeding, maintenance, medical and other necessary procedures.
  • There shall be one holding area for each cat. For small cats, each shift area shall be no less than 2 feet high with a minimum of 4 square feet of floor space. For medium cats, each shift area shall be no less than 2 feet high with a minimum of 6 square feet of floor space. For large cats each shift area shall be no less than 3 feet by 6 feet. Holding or shift areas shall only be used for temporary confinement of animals and for periods not to exceed four hours unless under the direct supervision of a veterinarian for medical purposes.
  • At a minimum, each enclosure shall be equipped with a double door system to prevent escape and the cages should be kept locked. No cages shall be adjoining unless adequate provisions have been made to keep the animals from reaching through or getting a tail or ear into the adjoining cage to prevent injury.


  • Natural substrates shall be cleaned and maintained according to the Animal Waste Removal and Sanitation Plan.


  • Some tropical species of small cats as well as temperate ones can tolerate a fairly wide range of temperatures, but it is necessary to acclimate them slowly to lower temperature ranges.
  • Although large felids may originate from all manner of climates, most are tolerant of wide temperature extremes, at least during the daylight hours. When acclimated, most adults require only unheated shelter at night.
  • Clouded leopards are more sensitive to cold temperatures and shall be protected from cold temperatures.
  • If temperature extremes exceed those of a felid’s native habitat, then shelters shall be provided with space heaters for use in winters and cooling systems for summer to bring the ambient temperature into accordance with the cat’s native habitat. Heaters and cooling systems shall be properly designed and situated to prevent destruction by the felid.


  • Felid diets shall be based upon commercially available beef or horse-based diets or custom-made diets which contain all necessary vitamin and minerals. Custom-made diets shall be reviewed by the attending veterinarian and/or veterinary nutritionist.
  • Whole animal carcasses (rodents, rabbits, or fowl) may be substituted as feed on occasion to vary the diet and shall be limited to fresh or thawed carcasses, the remains of which shall be removed prior to deterioration or spoilage. All food shall be handled according to the guidelines set forth in the USDA Handbook.
  • Diets containing high percentages of all muscle and organ meat or high percentages of fowl by-products such as chicken or turkey necks are nutritionally unbalanced and shall be avoided due to inadequate levels of vitamins and minerals.
  • Communal feeding is discouraged for most felid species to prevent aggression or other dominant behavior among animals. If communal feeding does occur, weights and conditions of all animals shall be closely monitored.
  • Large felids may be fasted one day per week. Felids weighing less than 15 lbs. shall not be fasted.
  • Bones, especially those from joints or knuckles, should be given at least once a week.
  • Feeding large felids carcasses obtained from road kills or donations is not recommended because of the potential for contamination; and use of feed animals selected from such sources shall be inspected by the attending veterinarian to insure they are free of disease.
  • Some felid species routinely defecate in the water. Raising the primary drinking water bowl above the tail of the cat may help prevent contamination of water source. The water bowls should be cleaned daily and kept full at all times. The bowls must be species appropriate in size and construction so that the cat doesn’t chew up and digest a plastic bowl. Cool fresh water shall be available for the cat to drink at all times.
  • Milk substitutes used to hand rear infants shall be specifically formulated for felids and approved by the veterinary staff. Milk replacers shall contain appropriate levels of vitamins, minerals and other ingredients to prevent developmental and other medical problems. Kittens and cubs should never be born in a sanctuary, but if they are, every attempt should be made for the mother to raise her own offspring. Proof of the cat’s inability to raise her own offspring must be in writing by the attending veterinarian.


Social, Psychological, Physical and Behavioral Well-Being  

  • Where a microchip transponder is used as a means of identification, it shall be placed at the base of the left ear.
  • The unique veterinary concerns for felids shall be addressed by the veterinarian and shall include:
    • Preventative heartworm medication shall be given to all felids housed in areas where this parasite is prevalent, and an occult heartworm test performed periodically.
    • Periodic (at least yearly) fecal examinations shall be required to check for parasite infestation, and appropriate parasite therapy instituted as necessary.
    • Unless recommended differently by the attending veterinarian, all felids shall receive annual prophylactic vaccinations for protection against feline distemper (panleukopenia), rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus (FVRCP), annually. Only Killed Virus (KV) products shall be used. Felids shall be vaccinated against rabies annually using KV products. Felids are also susceptible to non-specific diseases such as tuberculosis and should tested when practical
    • Kittens shall be vaccinated with KV FVRCP (fel-o-vax) vaccine at 6-8 weeks, and receive a series of four immunizations every three weeks as well as when 6 and 12 months of age. A killed rabies vaccine shall be given at 4 months of age and annually thereafter.
    • Fleas can be a problem in some areas and shall be controlled by spraying the enclosure with an approved commercial insecticide. Topical insecticides as approved by the attending veterinarian as safe for feline species may also be used if necessary.
    • Some felids may benefit from companionship with other felids, even if this is not natural for them in the wild. Newly introduced animals may fight to establish the hierarchy. All introductions must be done carefully and animals must be closely monitored during the introduction phase.
    • Each enclosure shall have an accessible device to provide physical stimulation or manipulation compatible with the species. Such device shall be non injurious, and may include, but is not limited to, boxes, balls, bones, barrels, drums, rawhide, pools, etc.
    • Felids are intelligent animals and easily bored. Enrichment that is appropriate to the species shall be provided no less than weekly in a form that is different from their daily use of toys and cage furnishings.


  • Large felids shall not be handled except for medical purposes.


  • New felids arriving at the sanctuary shall be quarantined for a minimum of 30 days.
  • Footbaths shall be used prior to entering and exiting all quarantine felid enclosures, or areas containing quarantined animals. Each shall be filled with a disinfectant and its use strictly adhered to by all personnel.
  • Upon arrival, all felids shall undergo quarantine according to protocol as established by the attending veterinarian. All felids shall be tested for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), and Toxoplasmosis prior to placing the animal with or near other felids.


Policy #8


USDA should be required to seize and place animals when they have suspended or revoked a license and the former licensee continues operations in violation of the order.  There is no reason for anyone to subject themselves to licensing under the current situation where there is little or no enforcement or penalty for acting outside of the law.  Fines against the indigent are of no value.  Big Cat Rescue is currently in the process of rescuing 6 lions and tigers who were still being used for a tiger-tamer camp several years after USDA suspended and then revoked the license of Diana McCourt.  She was able to continue endangering the animals and the public with flagrant disregard for USDA’s ruling because there was no disincentive to her.  It wasn’t until the county stepped in and seized the big cats that any relief could be provided to the animals. 


Policy #11-#20


All research facilities should be required to post their activities regarding regulated animals on the Internet in a manner that is easily accessed by the public.  This would end much of the pain and suffering that animals endure due to the duplicative procedures being carried out behind closed doors.  At the time that the AWA was written we did not have the scientific tools we have today which are far more effective and do not require the use of animals.  The very term “Animal Welfare” runs contrary to anything being done to animals in research facilities in the name of science.  By revealing these activities to the public you would enhance collaborative efforts for the common good.  The social pressure to find alternatives could take us from the dark ages to an age of discovery for cures that continue to elude us because we keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.  Einstein defined that as insanity. 


Policy #25


No animal that dies of unknown causes (regardless of the suspected cause) should be fed to a captive feline.  Whether the prey animal died in the field, was so sick it was killed, was found alongside the road or was purported to be killed by a hunter, there is no way to ensure the quality of the dead animal as food for a captive cat.  Roadkill and animals killed by hunters could also have been poisoned and there is no way to ensure that the carcass has not been contaminated or left exposed long enough to harbor an excessive bacteria count or worm infestation. 


While the policy of requiring that cats not be starved more than 2 days is a good one, it is impossible to regulate unless there is a quantifiable formula such as how many pounds of food is consumed in a day per animal vs receipts for the appropriate amount of food to have been available to the cats.  When an inspector only comes along once a year or so, there is no other way they can insure that the cats have not gone through long periods of starvation. 



Another policy that needs to be added is that of handling big cats and their babies.  The primary reason for the over abundance of big cats in private hands is that they are bred for photo ops, petting sessions, public appearances and hands on training camps.  As long as there is any window of time in which the public may have contact with baby big cats, there will be those who will breed for that market and discard or warehouse the animals when they outgrow the time frame or weight requirement.


There is no benefit to the animal and no legitimate benefit to society to allow contact between exotic cats and the public.  To allow photo sessions, even with the restriction of non contact, will only perpetuate the problem as there will never be enough USDA inspectors to be at every photo shoot for the entirety of the session to enforce the rule.  Prohibiting these practices will protect the public and will prevent the unscrupulous breeding of big cats.  There is a federal bill pending now, called Haley’s Act, HR 1947 that would ban this activity and requires that USDA not issue any new permits until they promulgate the rules to enforce this new law.  USDA should be proactive and ban this practice immediately.  In order to keep licensees from exploiting a loop hole in the rule, the public should be defined as anyone other than the licensee or their full time, paid employees for the purpose of this rule. 



Freedom of Information.  USDA is running three years behind in answering freedom of information act requests and that effectively inhibits any real ability to garner information necessary to protect animals and the public.  All licensee records should be available via the Internet to any member of the public at all times.  This transparency alone would greatly enhance USDA’s ability to police licensees because public scrutiny is the only kind that gets results.  We live in a digital age where documents can be scanned and filed for public record in a matter of seconds.  If information is available for a fee it is public record and if it is public record it should be available to the public in a timely manner that does not require exhaustive efforts on the part of the public to cajole the government into providing the information.  A little effort at the front end of the process will save countless man power hours in gathering and providing information by the USDA on the back end. 



Last, but not least, there should be a requirement that all exotic animals be regulated by USDA whether they are officially considered an exhibit or not.  In twenty years of experience in the exotic animal industry I have never seen a case where a person purchased an exotic cat for any truly non commercial purpose.  Whether the animal is held for the purpose of skinning for her fur, which would then be sold (commerce), or as a pet which is always bought to show off to others (exhibition) or held in a sanctuary (non profits are owned by the public by definition) the animals are always held captive for some commercial purpose despite heated debate to the contrary. 


The captive animal doesn’t discern the difference between being kept in a cage as a pet, a product, a rescue or an exhibit and the Animal Welfare Act shouldn’t exclude protection based on those uses either. 



For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457


Sign our petition to protect tigers here:



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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Got a tiger living next-door? State says you don't need to know

South Florida


Got a tiger living next-door? State says you don't need to know


October 16, 2007


By Jennifer Hobgood


If your neighbors are keeping a tiger or a bear in their backyard, wouldn't you like to know about it?


Hundreds of people hold permits to possess exotic wildlife in Florida. Yet, last month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided that exotic animal owners don't have to let neighbors know about their animals -- even if the animals are extremely dangerous.


A rancher in Okeechobee had asked the commission to require such disclosure because she was shocked to learn that her neighbor was keeping a tiger and five bears on his property. An Ohio woman learned the hard way that her neighbor kept bears. Last year, one entered her home, attacked and nearly killed her.


When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992, thousands of exotic animals suddenly roamed loose. The escapees included boa constrictors, baboons, iguanas and wallabies.


Despite these serious risks, the commission ditched a proposed requirement to notify neighbors when a person acquires a dangerous animal. Under the commission's proposal, immediate neighbors would be notified only if an animal escapes. But notifying next-door neighbors about escapes is simply not good enough: I think all of us would like to know if we live two houses -- or two blocks -- away from a lion, and if that lion gets loose.


Beyond the captive wildlife notification rule decision, there's another question about the cruelty of keeping wild animals as pets. The federal government and other states are taking steps to curb the exotic wildlife trade, and Florida should follow suit. The state already prohibits Floridians from keeping certain exotic animals as pets, but it doesn't go far enough.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently began implementing the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which Congress passed in 2003 to prohibit interstate movement of lions, tigers and other big cats as pets. People buy the cats as cubs and are then not equipped to care for them as they grow larger.


Congress is now considering the Captive Primate Safety Act to provide the same protection for monkeys, chimpanzees and other primates, and the Humane Society of the United States urges swift passage of the act.


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is currently taking public comment on the issue of captive exotic wildlife. This is an opportunity to remind the commission that citizens deserve to know what dangerous exotic animals are lurking in their neighborhoods.


It is also time for us to address larger concerns: Florida bans some dangerous animals as pets, but allows others. In the end, the best way to protect the public and animals is to prohibit private individuals from importing, trafficking or possessing wild animals.,0,1546870.story

Friday, October 12, 2007

Wildlife smuggling

South Florida Sun-Sentinel


Wildlife smuggling awareness campaign welcome, but laws and enforcement must also keep pace with poachers


South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board


October 12, 2007


ISSUE: Exotic species threaten native wildlife.


South Florida has invested plenty in Everglades restoration efforts, a wetlands reclamation project largely aimed at protecting the sawgrass prairies, mangrove forests and hammock oases of the famed River of Grass. But maybe it's time to focus more attention on the plight of native species.


A videotaped, almost made-for-YouTube encounter between a python and an alligator a couple years ago, plus the gruesome discovery of the carcasses of another python and alligator last year, raised awareness of what could be an ecological nightmare. Namely, exotic species invading turf needed by threatened and fragile native animals.


Floridians, and U.S. taxpayers, are painfully learning how vulnerable some ecosystems are. The Everglades and surrounding wetlands are among the most sensitive, and the introduction of even minimally competitive foreign animals and plants could cause chaos in the food chains.


How does exotic wildlife get a foothold? The suspicion is the foreign species are legally bought by pet owners, who then carelessly and recklessly let them loose in the wild once they can't maintain their upkeep. There are also folks who obtain their exotic pets illegally from smugglers.


The State Department's public awareness campaign is welcome. But it's evident that tougher regulations and enforcement is necessary.


For starters, it's time state and federal laws ban the legal sale of some species to the public, and better regulate others. Second, Washington has to increase the number of agents it has on guard at key entry points, such as South Florida's ports. It would also help if Congress revisited federal laws against wildlife smuggling to stiffen fines and punishment against those who smuggle exotic animals and reptiles into the United States.


Greater watchfulness would allow U.S. agents to snag crooks smuggling poached products, including turtle eggs, setting a standard for the rest of the world. That would help State Department efforts to get other countries, including China, to improve their wildlife policing efforts.


BOTTOM LINE: Public awareness efforts necessary, along with stricter laws, enforcement.,0,475331.story


Thursday, October 11, 2007

CEO Magazine profiles Carole Baskin

She's a Tiger


By Pegi Dahl


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue


Haley had worked diligently for the yearbook staff since 7th grade and now that she was entering her 12th school year she would be helping to prepare the most important one, her senior yearbook. And more importantly, she wanted her own photo as exciting as those she'd handled for other seniors in their yearbooks, and she especially liked the photos where seniors posed with exotic animals. After all, it would be her last high school picture.


Unfortunately, it was. For on the warm, sunny morning of August 28, 2005, bright and bubbly 17-year-old Haley Hilderbrand, a pretty girl who teachers said was a "joy to teach" and who "always smiled" was mauled to death while posing with a Siberian tiger. "It was near the end of the photo session. Haley was sort of standing in a straddled position over the lying tiger when he licked her foot" said a friend who witnessed the event. Startled, Haley yanked her foot away and squealed, causing the massive 550 pound animal to stand, knocking the teenager to the ground then instinctively locking his massive jaws around the back of her neck, snapping her spine.


It was fast. And eerily similar to what happened to Roy of Siegfried and Roy's famed Las Vegas show. Roy Horn swears the white tiger he raised from a cub would not have intentionally harmed him, although he remains in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed with brain injuries after this "pet" attacked him, and dragged the entertainer off stage with massive jaws clenched onto Roy's neck. A 2-year investigation by the USDA concluded in a 233-page report that despite Horn's claim the tiger did, indeed, attack him and concluded that the attack was without provocation.


"The tiger did what tigers do," testified Haley Hilderbrand's mother before a Congressional committee. She, like so many loving parents, was shocked to learn that her daughter's big cat tragedy was only one of over 50 documented cases in the last five years in the US alone. Over 800 big cat incidents and more than 68 reported fatalities have occurred since 1990.


"There are countless reasons why big cats should not be bred for life in cages and no reason other than human ego for allowing the practice," says Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, as she details the exploitation of these majestic animals by backyard breeders, roadside tourist traps, flea market attractions and people who charge a fee to drag a leashed lion or tiger into a classroom or party and call themselves educators. "Many claim to have sanctuaries or training facilities (like the one where Haley was mauled to death) but they do not. They make their money charging the public to feed, pet or pose with the cute cubs. But a cub will grow quickly into a dangerous and expensive big cat, so a new litter must be cultivated every few months. Without a legitimate market, these older cats are most often disposed of or driven to emotional distress spending years in cramped cages, left to face a cruel and languishing death."


So, with what began simply as a local movement to protect other children, the family, friends and townspeople whose lives were touched by Haley Hilderbrand's unnecessary death have continued their pursuit. They seek an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act that will ban the public from direct contact with big cats and big cat babies. And they are doing so with the help of big cat experts like Carole Baskin.


When you meet Carole your first question is immediately obvious. How does a woman so pretty and so gentile-looking as this lady, a 5'6" slender blond with butter-cream skin, alluring azure eyes, a soft-spoken demeanor and demure smile, ever become a leading authority on the behavior of a mighty 550 lb. Siberian tiger? Hardly easy. To become an authority in the same manner as Carole, you'd first have to turn 45 acres of raw land into the largest accredited wildcat rescue facility in the world, develop a website which attracts over 30,000 page views a day and then write a paper outstanding enough to become published text at Cambridge University. And you'd have to do it the hard way.


Once a successful real estate investor, Carole could have retired to a life of leisure. But that wasn't her calling. Something snapped on a crisp, cold day in 1993 when Carole and her late husband visited a Minnesota breeder to purchase a bobcat as a pet. This breeder turned out to be a fur farm. "The cats were in cages several inches deep with layers of fur and feces." Carole recalls. "The flies were so thick in the metal shed that we had to put hankies over our faces just to breathe without inhaling them. On the floor was a stack of partially skinned bobcats, Canada lynx and Siberian lynx. Their bellies had been cut off, as this soft, spotted fur is the only portion used in making fur coats. In horror and disbelief.I couldn't speak.and now the pile of dead cats in the corner hit me with the reality of a freight train."


Even worse, Carole recalls "was the sight of 56 lynx awaiting slaughter (often by thrusting an electrocution rod into their anus) that made me throw caution to the wind and bring them all home. My life changed forever that day. We bought every carrier, basket, toolbox or bucket that you could put a cat in and bales of hay for nesting for the ride from Minnesota to Florida. As my husband drove, the rest of us tended to babies that had to be fed every two hours for the next two months. It was many months later before any of us slept through the night because we didn't know what we were doing and there was no one to turn to for advice. We dealt with every imaginable sickness plus the increasing demands on our time from these carnivores that rely so heavily on their mothers for the first one to three years of life."


Of that catalytic event, Carole reflects, you discover "something has happened inside you. It's more of an internal event than an external one. It's not entirely about what you see happen in the world, but about strength you see inside yourself. It's not learning something new about a problem but rather learning something new about your unique ability to contribute to it's solution."


"Initially we brought the cats to our home" she remembers. "Then we started building cages on the current site of the sanctuary.that began long hours, hard work, learning, sometimes by trial and error.and much heartbreak over what we found other animals enduring." Ironically, the narrow road to Carole's home, and now her life's work, was named "Easy Street".


Easy Street is a compacted nature trail of a lane that brings visitors to the main gate at Big Cat Rescue. It spills from a small hole in the woods unto the bustling 6-lane thoroughfare across from Tampa's busy Citrus Park Mall.


 "Don't be scared by the dirt road", quipped a visitor from Buford, GA. "Perseverance will be rewarded. I had never been so close to wild big cats.fascinating. A knowledgeable guide takes a small group of visitors around the grounds showing the beautiful cats housed in secure enclosures. Sometimes the cats are hiding and that's okay. This place exists for the animals, not the public, which suited me perfectly. Each cat is presented with its unique personality and characteristics along with its origin. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. The people who run the place obviously care a great deal about their rescued cats and do their best to provide the best life possible. It's not's for rescue, conservation and education. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to visit this place."


The visitor is right. It requires over 100 caring, giving volunteers to tend the nearly 150 wildcats at the sanctuary. You'll see lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, bobcats, lynx.16 species and sub-species in all, the largest variety assembled anywhere on earth. "We purchase, prepare and distribute over 500 pounds of meat a day," says Scott Lope, Big Cat Rescue's Director of Operations and one of only eight paid employees. Then there is the cleaning of the Cat-a-tat compounds, maintaining the grounds, ponds, shelters and fencing, providing an onsite medical facility, guiding tours, operating the gift shop and much, much more. The volunteers are totally dedicated.


Carole herself feels very strongly about the intention of her people. ".a small group of committed people and a powerful idea can lead to big change. All successful human endeavors begin with the assumption that change is possible. We all want to live a life of value; to repair the world and to right the wrongs of the less enlightened. This is the work of a heroic people. This is the work of people like you (volunteers and staff) who dared to see what you could do to get involved.I live in gratitude." What a powerful attitude for any CEO.


When asked what it is like to run a sanctuary, Carole is fast on the answer. "Emotionally, it is like standing under a waterfall of suffering creatures and having to make the agonizing choice of who you will rescue and who you will turn away." Folks have no idea how many captive big cats are living as pets, perhaps as many as 15,000 in the US with Florida having the highest concentration of breeders. The Palm Beach Post reported 1455 tigers live as pets in Florida. When a cub bought for $200 turns into an adult requiring $7,500 a year to feed and care for, the pet owner turns to people like Carole to take the "problem" off his hands.


"Each year we were in business the requests to take cats doubled," she claims. "By 2003 we had to refuse 312 unwanted cats. We just cannot become a dumping ground for irresponsible breeders and pet owners as that only enables the practice to continue. So we turned our focus to education and legislation to stop the abuse at its source."


"Haley's Act is the most important piece of legislation we can pass," states Carole emphatically as she hands over a binder she and her team have generously stuffed with documents and information supplicating the necessity of passing bill HR1947. "It will stop 90% of the problem." Haley's Act is now before the House Agriculture Committee so she and her husband, Howard Baskin, have been in Washington DC all week trekking down Senate corridors, going office to office impacting opinion. Howard, a graduate of Union College, University of Miami School of Law and Harvard Business School was semi-retired from management consulting and strategic planning when the couple married four years ago. Now he helps with the lobbying efforts in Tallahassee and Washington DC, handles finances and fundraising for the sanctuary and distributes cow ribs on bone night. "I'm just looking forward to the day when the sanctuary is financially self-sustaining and I can take a half day off for golf," he teases. Now that's dedication.


Help Carole and the dedicated folks at Big Cat Rescue continue to take a bite out of animal abuse through legislation and educational programs. Visit their many videos and resources online at or experience the intrigue of the big cats live by taking a guided walking tour.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is there a tiger living next door?

Is there a tiger living next door?


Wildlife commissioners ruled against notifying neighbors when large animals are kept next door, so Carole Baskin took matters into her own hands.


Baskin is founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. She supported a proposal to require anyone who obtains or changes a Class I wildlife permit to notify neighbors and emergency responders.


The permits are required for owners of big cats such as tigers, large primates such as baboons and other large wildlife including elephants, bears and rhinoceroses.


Permit holders raised privacy concerns about the notification requirement. As a result, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to move forward a rule requiring notification only in the case of escapes.


So Baskin took matters in her own hands, obtaining a list of the state's 362 Class I permit holders on her own. Last week, she sent out more than 1,500 letters to all their neighbors she could find.


"I intend to continue notifying neighbors when it is an issue that concerns them as no one else bothers to do so," she said in an an e-mail.


At a meeting in Gainesville this week about the notification plan, wildlife owners expressed outrage about the letters. One owner equated the move to terrorism. Others expressed concern their animals would be shot or stolen.


There are 27 holders of Class I permits in North Central Florida. Do you think their neighbors should be notified?


Post a comment below.


-- Nate Crabbe



  Posted October 10, 2007 10:08:54 AMPermalink: URL: | Add CommentPosted By: Karen Sidley (10/10/2007 12:17:53 PM)


Comment: Medical laboratories must submit a list of every chemical present in their labs to the fire department. This is so that in an emergency, the fire department knows what chemicals are present and the potential dangers of each. It is ludicrous that neighbors would not notify each other (especially the abutters) and all emergency personnel of their large cat ownership. Not only is it common courtesy but their are major safety and possible escape concerns as well. Please require neighbors with big cats to tell other neighbors and emergency personnel. It is for the safety of everyone involved!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Carole's Comment Letter to the FWC on Neighborhood Notification

October 8, 2007


Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

620 South Meridian Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600


Attn:  Captain Linda Harrison


RE:  Neighbor Notification Draft


It is apparent that the FWC staff has made some common sense recommendations in their current draft of 68A-6.003.  The common sense comment is that if you have to ask the question, you already know the answer. 


Of course there should be a requirement for safety entrances on all exotic wildlife cages and of course there should be at least an 8 foot fence around the perimeter.  Of course neighbors should be notified before someone moves in with dangerous wild animals, they should be notified if they are already in the area and they should be alerted immediately upon the escape of any of them.  Of course these animals should not be kept in residential neighborhoods and if a public safety rule applies to a new applicant it should apply to an existing one.  It only makes sense that these rules should apply to all of the animals in each class, no matter what age or species. 


That is the short and simple answer.  It is the answer you would get if the public really knew what is going on. 


As more and more reporters are becoming interested in this topic (largely because of the increase in killings, maulings and escapes by captive wild animals which are daily in the headlines now) people will know and will respond predictably.  There are only 21 accredited zoos and 3 accredited sanctuaries in FL and most of the rest of the licensees (did you guys say 8,000?) are people who fit a certain profile according to all of the reporters I have been talking to. 


They say that they find the person who has a captive wild animal as a pet is usually the illiterate, social misfit who defines themselves by the kind of animal they own.  They invariable believe that they are special because they believe they have a bond with a wild animal that others do not.  The very fact that they perceive themselves to operate outside of the unwavering laws of nature illustrates that they are delusional.  They do not want their neighbors to know what they are doing because they know that it isn’t right.  When people are proud of something, they want everyone to know.


Until now they have been able to hide the suffering that is inherent in keeping wild animals captive and they applaud the FWC and USDA for enabling them to meet the most minimal of standards, which cannot be enforced effectively, because it adds credibility to their activities to be able to say that they are permitted by these entities.  The public then assumes that the FWC and USDA have the funding and staffing necessary to ensure that these animals are not mistreated but the videos I have been sending you and publishing online show that isn’t true. 


If you find the common sense answers in the first couple of paragraphs sufficient for making my case, you can ignore the following detailed reasons.  They are numbered like your draft.


68A-6.003 (1)  Safety entrances to wild animal enclosures are standard operating procedures for any responsible facility and the only requirement that I did not see addressed, which seems like a common sense issue, but if you don’t spell it out then it isn’t a violation until it fails.  The safety entrance should be constructed in such a way that at least one door is fully shut and latched before the other is opened.  I have seen people build the doors too close together and when they can’t get a carrier between the doors will just leave both standing open. 


There was no mention of barricades around the cages, but this becomes the same issue.  Your language says that the barricade shall prevent contact, but a line in the sand works until someone steps over it.  If people who cannot even spell barricade are going to be issued permits to own big cats then the regulations should be idiot proof (to the greatest extent that is possible.)


(2) (a) I know you crossed this off, but my guess is that the public outcry is going to put it back on the list, so, for the record;  Applicants should not only have to notify their neighbors before moving in, but the neighbors should actually have some recourse provided to prevent the facility from setting up shop.  To just require notification and not give the public any real right to prevent the introduction of dangerous wild animals to their community serves no purpose other than to look good on paper that you required it. 


If the intent is more than just to make it look like you considered public opinion, then it stands to reason that you should require what we did at Big Cat Rescue.  We applied for a rezoning and went through the entire process necessary for any non conforming use that included notifying the neighbors, having the county decide if this was appropriate for the area and zoning and then two public meetings where comments were heard before the Board of County Commissioners approved the plan.  This would mean that the FWC would have to allow cities and counties to decide if they wanted this in their area and allow them to enact more stringent requirements than those imposed by the FWC.  We both know that if you do that there will never be another back yard breeder approved in this state, so I am not optimistic that the FWC will embrace this idea.


Everyone knows that people don’t want these places next to them and that there is no reason they should be.  If the FWC doesn’t give the public what they want, their only option is to support a constitutional amendment that turns the decision making process over to people who are elected into office.  This is the plan for 2008 as there has been so little progress by the FWC and the glaring gaps in the draft indicate that the real issues are not being addressed adequately. 


2.  This is another case where it would be a good thing for licensees to be required to notify neighbors and the FWC of an escape, and at first blush it may look good on paper, but I see nothing in the language that requires the local authorities be notified or that emergency response personnel be notified, or any sort of requirement that the licensee keep an updated list of contacts for any of these people or what would constitute notification.  After an escape is not the time to be trying to find out the names and phone numbers of your neighbors.  The adjacent neighbors are a good start, but by the time you walk next door your big cat could be several miles away, so how far is far enough?  I am all for the notification requirement, but again, it needs to be something real and not just something that looks good on paper. 


2. c.  I understand the intent of most of this and agree.  I did not understand why, if the property is owned, there is a requirement that it “shall not be comprised of more than two (2) parcels”.  Our 45 acre property is four parcels because I have been adding on.  The first two were ten acres each, then I bought 2.5 acres and then I bought 3 acres.  The shortest boundary any of them share is over 300 feet, so why would that be prohibited in your language?  I donated all four of them to the non profit, Big Cat Rescue.  I think the intent was somehow just misconstrued in the language. 


5.  I love number 5.  It is like the current application question where you look at the application and think that zoning could preclude a wild animal menagerie just like it can keep a CPA from opening up shop in a residential neighborhood, but it doesn’t really give zoning any sort of power over the situation.  In this new version it says “zoned solely for residential use.”  and only applies to Class I.  Every residential neighborhood that I know of that has 5 acre tracts was built for the purpose of allowing horses, so you have built in the loop hole to allow lions and tigers where they were never meant to be while making it look like you were trying to be considerate of the neighbors. 


This is such an easy one.  If you have to be operating a commercial business to have a Class I animal then you should be required to house the commercial business assets (the big cats) on commercially zoned property or a planned development such as a zoo.  It’s that simple.


There should not be exemptions for baby animals.  They grow up.  There should not be exemptions for any of the other animals you list because there is no reasonable argument for why they should be exempted.  The only reason such exemptions are being proffered is because people have them.  That is no reason.


Exempting cats who can jump 10-12 feet straight up, and saying they only require a 5 foot fence is obviously only so that zoning cannot prevent them with rules that do not allow 8 foot fences in certain areas.  This is an obvious attempt to circumvent any power than zoning could have to prevent animals in areas where the public clearly does not want them.  Proposing such rules only makes it clear that there is no real intent to protect the public nor slow the trade in these animals. 


You still haven’t addressed the most important issues which include the necessity to re-class all exotic cats to Class I and especially the cats that are already considered by the rest of the nation in federal language to be big cats which includes cougars, all of the leopard species and cheetahs.  These animals almost never work out long term as pets and to create a system whereby people can legally obtain them as pets just encourages the inevitable abandonment at some point. 


In years past we would go to our legislators asking for help in passing laws that protect the animals and the citizens in Florida from the hand full of tiger-tamer-wannabees who are drawn here by the sympathetic treatment they get from the FWC.  As other states are banning these activities they are seeing the numbers of killings, maulings and escapes dropping to zero or near zero, while Florida continues to escalate.  See the chart I presented to the FWC Commissioners.  In many cases these states initially looked to Florida to consider modeling regulations after yours, but once they saw the disastrous results and the cost involved in allowing these activities, they have been opting for bans, such as the one just passed in Washington state. 


Bans and tougher regulations, such as the Python bill and bond issue are almost always unanimously agreed upon in the legislature because these elected officials represent the majority who elect them. 


This year there has been a shift.  Instead of people like me going to legislators and asking for help, they are coming to us already for the 2008 session and asking how we can end the importation and trade in wild animals in Florida.  It is going to happen.  The only question is if the FWC is going to stop the trade or if the constitutional authority will be returned to the legislature. 




CC:  Col. Jones, Captain West, FWC Commissioners



For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457


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