Roadside zoos might – at first glance – appear to be harmless, fun kind of places. After all, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to see an adorable exotic baby animal up close … or even get a picture taken with one? However, the sad truth is that roadside zoos and other facilities that allow visitors to have up-close “encounters” with an exotic animal are, more often than not, very bad news for the animals involved.
While zoo captivity seldom serves an animal’s best interest, in general, roadside zoos are not officially accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), meaning that welfare standards for the animals are even lower than they are in more “reputable” institutions. All too often, the owners of such facilities are not required to have even a basic understanding of how to care for the exotic animals under their charge, with many lacking the requisite qualifications or experience to feed them an appropriate diet. As a result, animal cruelty and neglect are rampant on these premises, as attested to by high-profile cases such as that of Tony the Tiger.
In addition to the animal cruelty issue, roadside zoos can also be extremely dangerous places for human visitors. While zoo handlers typically remove wild animals from their mothers at a young age and hand-rear them, in the belief that this will make them more docile, the fact is that lions, tigers, and other animals exploited by roadside zoos were meant to roam free, without having to contend with human interference. The likelihood of a frustrated captive animal lashing out at one of their handlers, or a visiting tourist, can never fully be kept at bay.
And now, a roadside zoo called Wildlife in Need, located Charlestown, Indiana, has been exposed for allowing people to play with young tiger cubs. Wildlife in Need has attempted to justify its “Tiger Baby Playtime” events by claiming that it uses the money raised to “rehabilitate” the animals. However, the facility has received two scathing inspection reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the last few months. The USDA inspectors, who visited the premises on September 13th and Octber 8th, have accused proprietor Tim Stark of creating potentially deadly situations for visitors, forcing his animals to dwell in unsanitary conditions, and allowing welfare violations from previous inspections to continue unchecked.
The inspectors found that during one “Tiger Baby Playtime” event, one of the cubs bit a woman, “apparently breaking the skin,” and that other cubs were “too big, too fast, and too dangerous” to safely interact with members of the public. “The use of a riding crop to prevent these large, aggressive cubs from biting is considered physical abuse and can cause unnecessary discomfort, pain and suffering to the animal,” the report stated. Inspectors also noted that one monkey who was being used as a photo prop was becoming highly agitated … and that the tiger cubs were being exhibited several times a day, with a break of only one hour, causing “stress and possible illness.”
Stark may look happy in this picture … but the cubs – Ockshay and Luush – certainly don’t.
Does this look like a natural environment for a baby tiger?
Brittany Peet, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said, “These latest citations confirm what PETA has warned for years, which is that nobody with a lick of concern frothier children’s safety or for animals should ever buy a ticket to Tim Stark’s roadside zoo. This cruel and dangerous operation must shut down and retire the animals to reputable sanctuaries where they won’t be used as playthings.”
PETA are now appealing to concerned members of the public to boycott all roadside zoos. To find out how you can experience a more ethical encounter with a wild animal, read the articles below:
- How to Tell the Difference Between a Credible Exotic Animal Sanctuary and an Abusive Animal Attraction
- 5 Ways to Enjoy Wild Animals Without the Walls of Captivity
- Skip the Circus, Marine Park and Zoo: Here are 10 Humane Ways to Interact With Wildlife
Lead Image Source: PETA
In-text Image Source: USA Today