USDA Reports Reveal Animal Welfare Act Violations
A controversial white tiger exhibit coming to the Central Wisconsin State Fair is facing allegations of inhumane practices from a national animal welfare group.
White Tiger Discovery is a hands-on program featuring the endangered white tiger that includes daily feeding times and discussions about conservation. For a $3 wristband, attendees will be able to view the exhibit as often as they want during the fair.
The exhibit was brought to the attention of The Humane Society of the United States, which outlined its concerns in a March letter urging fair officials to reconsider the show hosted by All Things Wild, Inc.
“The Humane Society of the United States is deeply concerned about the lack of basic care for the animals at All Things Wild as well as the inhumane practice of subjecting tigers to prolonged confinement while they are being transported from venue to venue and displayed in small portable cages,” Megan Nicholson, Wisconsin State Director, stated in the letter addressed to the executive director.
A list of 21 federal Animal Welfare Act violations were outlined against Michael Todd, owner of All Things Wild. Based on inspection reports, Todd was cited by the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) for repeatedly allowing the public to have unsafe access to adult tigers, failure to safely handle big cats during public exhibition, repeated failure to feed tigers a sufficiently nutritious diet, inadequate fencing in the primary enclosure for three tigers, and refusal to allow a USDA inspection.
The letter also notes Todd’s relationship with White Tiger Discovery operator Marcus Cook, whose USDA license was revoked in February 2012. After the revocation, Cook began exhibiting the big cats under Todd’s license and was hired as Todd’s employee, allowing him to continue exhibiting.
A USDA inspection report stated, “Allowing such an individual to exhibit the animals is assisting in activities designed to directly circumvent a USDA license revocation order.”
Under Todd’s license, the big cat exhibit has received further Animal Welfare Act violations including repeated failure to have employees with adequate experience handling the cats, failure to safely handle big cats during public exhibition, repeatedly allowing the public to have unsafe access to adult tigers, and inadequate feeding.
A critical violation was issued by the USDA on October 12, 2016 against Todd after Marcus Cook refused an inspection at his Kaufman, Texas facility by USDA officials. In 2009, the USDA confiscated four lions and two tigers from Cook’s facility, which is now leased by Todd.
“Three lions were malnourished, had pressure sores, and had a difficult time keeping their heads up. The tigers’ teeth had been ground down and a lion’s tail was raw from neurotic chewing,” the letter revealed, citing news reports from the time.
In 2006 in Kaufman County, a 300-pound tiger escaped from an uncovered enclosure and mauled a part-time employee of the Zoo Dynamics traveling zoo owned by Cook. The victim survived but needed 2,000 stitches. An employee took the victim to the hospital but did not notify local authorities, recapturing the tiger on his return.
USDA documents reveal that in 1993 Marcus Cook had used a fake high school diploma and transcript to become a police officer in the city of Lake Dallas until 1998, when he was fired for falsifying documents. He then used a diploma mill to obtain a Bachelor of Zoology degree from “Wexford University” at a cost of $1,800, and cited this degree as evidence of his qualifications while testifying as an expert witness in a USDA case against a colleague.
The Humane Society of the United States emailed these findings in March, urging the fair to cancel the exhibit and establish a policy against potentially dangerous wild animal displays. A follow-up email on April 3 was not returned. This week, Nicholson emailed a letter to the board of directors and has not yet received a response. The board is scheduled to meet on Monday, June 17.
Dale Christiansen, CWSF Executive Director, stated, “The CWSF is passionate about animal welfare and maintaining strict adherence to the highest standards of ethics and care. All animals that are exhibited or displayed at the fair must have all state required health papers. This includes health and safety inspections during the fair.”
All Things Wild provided copies of veterinary review reports completed four times a year since 2012. They received superior standards in animal care and husbandry and animal condition in all but two reports, where they were rated above average.
“In speaking with other venues that they have attended, we have been assured that these tigers are given the best of care and treatment, and they would highly recommend this exhibit,” said Christiansen. “We feel that this is a very educational exhibit and our intent is to bring people closer to the true meaning of conservation and inform them of all of the programs they can get involved with to help promote the conservation effort with the last remaining five species of tigers in the world.”
Anyone who wishes to express their concerns on this issue is welcome to attend the monthly public meeting of the Central Wisconsin State Fair Board this Monday, June 17 at 7:00pm at the Fairgrounds.