This month at Dade City’s Wild Things, for a fee of $200, guests can swim with a white tiger cub named “Remington.” Born in June, in a few weeks the tiger will be too large to safely (or legally) come into contact with the public. The State of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture only allows the public to handle big cats between 8 and 12 weeks of age (under 8 weeks the animal’s immune system is still developing, and at 12 weeks the cub becomes a potentially dangerous juvenile).
Considering the brief window of time during which public contact with tiger cubs is legal, you might think that interacting with a baby tiger is truly the “once in a lifetime opportunity” that is advertised. But that’s not the reality at disreputable animal parks and roadside zoos in Florida. At Dade City’s Wild Things, there has been a steady stream of baby tigers. Before Remington, “Rocky” and “Thunder” were available to hold or get into a pool with, and at the start of 2013, the tiger cubs “Meg” and “Catness” and “Petra” were available for encounters with paying guests.
Animals to be used for photo ops or play sessions are often removed from the care of their mothers shortly after birth. When an animal grows too large to be handled, they may be abandoned in a cage or dumped at another exhibitor. In addition to being exploitive and cruel, these money-making schemes encourage the irresponsible breeding of tigers and other captive wildlife, and only worsen a nationwide crisis of unwanted exotic animals.
There is good news! The USDA has announced that it is considering a petition to amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit public contact with big cats, bears and primates, to protect public safety and animal welfare. Please submit a comment in support of the proposed ban.
To submit comments (before October 4), go to the Federal eRulemaking portal (copy and paste address): www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2012-0107, and then click on “Comment Now!”
Sample text (it’s best to use your own words):
“I support amending the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit public handling of big cats, bears, and primates, regardless of the animal’s age. Public contact puts animals at risk and endangers the public. Stopping these interactions would remove a financial incentive to breed tigers and other captive wildlife.”
In ARFF’s Summer newsletter we asked readers to send letters to the Florida Park Service to protest the trapping of wild monkeys living along the Silver River and Oklawaha River in North Central Florida (the trapped monkeys are sold to laboratories). If you wrote, you may have received a response from Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione in which he argued that lethal control was necessary because:
1. “rhesus monkeys are not native to Florida”
Rhesus monkeys were introduced into the area by a tour boat operator in the 1930s. For over 70 years the monkeys have lived a peaceful existence in the wild. ARFF feels strongly that “nonnative” status alone does not justify killing the monkeys.
2. “they are known to exhibit aggressive behavior”
The State of Florida and the Marion County Health Department have no records of any bites from monkeys living in the area. The best way to protect the public from any potential harm is to strictly enforce rules against feeding or harassing monkeys. A USDA wildlife biologist has suggested that trapping may actually be causing monkeys to flee the area, which could make any problems worse.
3. “… and carry diseases transmittable to humans”
Although each year some of the trapped monkeys test positive for Herpes B, the danger is overstated. Human infections from monkeys are rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been only 50 cases of human infection in the United States since 1933 and most were “occupational” (employees of zoos/research facilities).
4. “risks to … the area’s native species”
The Park Manager at Silver River State Park has admitted that there is no evidence that monkeys are harmful to native plants or animals. In early 2012, the USDA suspended work on an Environmental Assessment of the monkey population in the area after they concluded there was not enough information on negative impacts of the monkeys.
5. “When control is necessary, it is done using safe and humane methods.”
Trapping wild animals for sale to research and testing laboratories, where pain and suffering is routine, is not humane. In addition, the trapping and removal of monkeys fails to address the issue long-term. There are ways to reduce the monkey population which are not only humane, but are also more effective. A sterilization program– in which monkeys are trapped, sterilized and returned to the environment– has been carried-out before, in collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida. We urge the Florida Park Service to take another look at this alternative.
Contact the Florida Park Service and ask for an end to the trapping of monkeys for the research industry at Silver River State Park and on other state lands. Let them know that the trapping program is tarnishing the image of Florida’s state parks.
Donald Forgione, Director
Florida Park Service
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Sign ARFF’s petition (click here).