Judge Slams Maryland Roadside Zoo Over Death of Tiger

BALTIMORE (CN) – After a federal judge found a roadside zoo in Maryland violated the Endangered Species Act by not giving adequate care to a tiger that is now dead, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the ruling should send a clear message to other wildlife facilities that may be mistreating animals.

(Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

PETA’s case against Tri-State Zoological Park in Cumberland, which has animal care violations dating back to 2006, was years in the making.

Brittany Peet, the organization’s director of captive animal law enforcement, said the zoo’s history showed “chronic enforcement issues” that were so serious PETA needed to file suit.

“They have ignored the law and needs for animals for far too long,” she said in a phone interview.

Peet also said in a statement that Monday’s ruling should serve as a warning.

“This landmark ruling sends Tri-State and every other roadside zoo a clear message that failing to provide a protected species with adequate veterinary care violates federal law,” she said.

In a 15-page opinion released Monday, U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis in Baltimore found that Tri-State Zoological Park violated the Endangered Species Act when it failed to give proper veterinary attention to a female tiger, Cayenne, who then died in its care.

Another tiger owned by the zoo has since passed, as well as a lion and a lemur, according to PETA.

Judge Xinis slammed the roadside zoo for hiring inexperienced staff, including a recent veterinary graduate who “lacked any specialized experience or training in medical care for tigers.”

The veterinarian’s “primary source for learning about big cat feeding practices went no further than watching documentaries aired on Animal Planet,” according to the ruling.

Attorney Nevin Young with the Annapolis-based Burlington & Young, who is representing the zoo and its owners, said in a statement that his clients respectfully disagree with the court’s opinion.

“Prior to her death, Cayenne lived for approximately 11 completely healthy and happy years at Tri-State Zoo,” Young said. “While the cause of death is uncertain, she was gravely ill and had symptoms affecting multiple organs… The tiger received appropriate veterinary care at all times.”

Still, Peet and her group were happy to see the judge grant summary judgment, even if only on part of their complaint. She said it shows “how overwhelming the evidence was” in the death of Cayenne.

The rest of the allegations in the complaint, which target the zoo’s alleged lack of proper social grouping and other concerns about animal care, are still in litigation.

Peet said PETA hopes to settle the rest of the case, but is willing to stay in court if needed and emphasized that action at the zoo can’t come soon enough.

Monday’s victory came the same day that Cayenne’s brother, Kumar, also died.

“That’s just one of the examples of animals who have died at this zoo since PETA undertook this case,” Peet said.

Young confirmed Kumar’s passing but said the cause of death has not yet been determined. The attorney said Kumar’s father died at the age of 10 and “genetic factors” could be involved, and the zoo has sent the tiger’s body for a necropsy.

Peet said the case is part of PETA’s national effort to eliminate the use of animals as entertainment for humans, and mirrors similar Endangered Species Act claims against other roadside zoos in Indiana, Missouri and Florida.

But she clarified the group is understanding of animals already in captivity and hopes their legal work will see mistreated animals transferred to accredited facilities “that are capable of providing for them.”

Oral arguments for the remainder of the claims in the Tri-State case are set for November.

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