The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has just ordered the now-shuttered Dade City’s Wild Things (DCWT) and principals Kathy and Randy Stearns to pay $399,118.10 to PETA in attorneys’ fees and expenses related to the group’s Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit against the roadside zoo. PETA was previously awarded a default judgment and permanent injunction in the lawsuit barring DCWT and the Stearns from owning or possessing endangered tigers. Following the judgment, DCWT shut down and the last six tigers held there were sent to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.
PETA’s lawsuit contended that DCWT—which acquired tiger cubs from Joseph Maldonado-Passage (aka “Joe Exotic”), the big-cat exhibitor profiled in the Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness—violated the ESA by prematurely separating tiger cubs from their mothers and using them in public encounters. One of the cubs acquired from Maldonado-Passage, 2-month-old Nikita, was used as a breeding machine at DCWT. A PETA investigation documented that another, Luna—who was acquired when she was just a week old—later howled and cried during a public encounter. Footage also revealed that a DCWT trainer repeatedly hit her and pushed her into a pool.
“PETA and the courts have hammered the final nail into Dade City’s Wild Things’ coffin,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. “The days of exploiting vulnerable tiger cubs and making a sleazy business out of fueling the captive-tiger overpopulation crisis are nearly over.”
PETA rescued a total of 27 tigers from DCWT over the years, including 19 who had been sent on a grueling 18-hour trip to Maldonado-Passage’s roadside zoo in Oklahoma in violation of two court orders, a trip during which a pregnant tiger gave birth and all three of her cubs died. The group is currently suing two other major players in the tiger cub–petting industry, Jeff Lowe—who took over Maldonado-Passage’s now-defunct roadside zoo in Oklahoma—and Tim Stark. Also featured in Tiger King, Stark is the owner of the now-closed roadside zoo Wildlife in Need (WIN) and was arrested in September after being accused of intimidating state officials and refusing to disclose the location of animals who went missing from WIN.
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
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