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Trainer Can’t Renew License After Lion Deaths

TAMPA, Fla. (CN) - An exotic animal trainer whose license was revoked over the death of two lions cannot force the government to give him a new license, a federal judge ruled.

Animal trainers and exhibitors are licensed under the Animal Welfare Act, which was enacted to ensure humane treatment of pets and animals used in research and exhibitions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues trainer and exhibitor licenses and may revoke them for violations of the Animal Welfare Act or related regulations.

In a 2005 administrative complaint, the USDA accused Florida trainer Lancelot Kollman of violating animal handling regulations, which allegedly led to the death of two lions that Kollman transferred to another exhibitor in September 2000.

The agency revoked Kollman's license to exhibit lions after he allegedly failed to contest the charges related to the death of the lions.

After the USDA denied Kollman's application for a new license, he filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that the department could not bar him forever from getting a license. The trainer said he was entitled to a hearing to present evidence that he was not responsible for the death of the lions, which were in good health while under his care.

Kollman also claimed that, even without a license, he was free to present exotic animals as an employee of a licensed exhibitor.

The Hawthorn Corporation, an animal exhibitor that hired Kollman to present its white tigers during a circus act in Tampa, also sued the USDA in 2013 over the loss of a contract related to Kollman's license revocation. The circus allegedly canceled the $672,000 contract with Hawthorn when it realized Kollman no longer had an exhibitor's license.

In addressing Kollman's claims, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday ruled last week that the USDA may refuse to issue a license to a person whose license it previously revoked. Although the Animal Welfare Act does not spell out the consequences of license suspension or revocation, federal regulations allow the agency to impose restrictions related to license application.

And while Kollman may request a hearing to contests the permanent revocation, the agency has no obligation to grant the hearing, the April 7 order states.

What's more, Kollman had an opportunity for a hearing before his license was revoked, but waived it by failing to expressly deny the allegations against him, the ruling adds.

Merryday, however, refused to dismiss Kollman's claim that the agency's refusal to let him present animals for a licensed exhibitor is arbitrary and violates the Animal Welfare Act.

Kollman may also amend his claims related to the permanent revocation by April 17, the ruling adds.

William Cook, an attorney who represents Kollman, said his client was pleased with the opportunity to amend his claims.

"We are going to take the opportunity the judge gave us to amend the first count and proceed forward on the second count," Cook said in a telephone interview. "The judge based his ruling in part on an argument that neither side raised, so with the amendment on count one we'll address the argument that the judge raised."

In the meantime, Kollman can only train animals and work behind the scenes, but he cannot present animals in the ring. "We are hoping to change that soon," Cook said.

Attorneys for the USDA defendants did not respond to a request for comment.

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