Fair Board Decides to Keep Exhibit
Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) Residents and animal welfare advocates addressed the Central Wisconsin State Fair board before its decision to move forward with a controversial white tiger exhibit.
After a motion to allow public comments, a resident spoke in favor of the exhibit, saying that showing animals at the fair is what it’s all about.
“I don’t quite understand if we’re going to postpone the tigers, what happens next year? Cows? Pigs?” said Lois TeStrake. “If you don’t want to see them, then don’t come. If you want to see them, that’s your choice.”
Megan Nicholson, Wisconsin State Director for The Humane Society of the United States, an organization for animal welfare, made her final statements to the board.
“Throughout the debate regarding the appearance of the tiger show at next month’s fair, [Executive Director] Mr. Christiansen has repeatedly maligned our intentions in an effort to divert focus from the real issue at hand. That’s primarily the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has an open case against All Things Wild and has recommended that its license be revoked,” she said.
Documents had been provided to the board revealing Animal Welfare Act violations by All Things Wild, plus a USDA recommendation dated August 2018 for revoking the company’s exhibitor license.
“The USDA files few complaints and when it does, very rarely does it go as far as to recommend license revocation,” said Nicholson. “They have run out of warnings from our government and are now facing revocation.”
She said the issue wasn’t simply about animals being confined to cages, but that the exhibit was a public safety concern. All Things Wild was cited once in 2012 and twice in 2014 for failure to have a sufficient barrier between the public and the big cats, an issue which potentially allowed the public to lean over and reach inside the cage with their fingers.
It was also cited eight times for being unavailable for a USDA inspection, 10 times for failing to provide a travel itinerary to the USDA, and once for refusing to allow an animal welfare inspection.
Fair Executive Director Dale Christiansen later stated that insurance will cover any liability for the fair, the City of Marshfield, and Wood County.
Common Council representative Alderman Chris Jockheck, who first brought the issue to the board agenda in response to public feedback, spoke of his concerns over the exhibit.
“I’m not sure that all the other issues have been addressed, but to speak to the comment that this is educational, again, white tigers are a man-made animal. They do not exist in the wild. They never have,” he said. “If this is educational about the preservation of the white tiger, that is a bogus reason for bringing this to this fair.”
The White Tiger Discovery exhibit advertises that the Royal White Tiger has been extinct since 1958 and only 400 white tigers exist in captivity in the world. Nicholson noted previously that white tigers are a color variation of Bengal tigers and are inbred to maintain their color, which leads to health problems.
“People keep saying these are not natural animals. They’re not born natural,” said Peggy Sue Meyer-Miller, board president. “I own a silver lab dog. On his registration papers it says Chocolate Lab because he’s not recognized as a breed, as a silver lab dog. So does that mean he doesn’t count, because it’s man-made?”
Prior to the meeting, board members received a letter of support for the exhibit from an alleged animal group, the National Animal Welfare Association, which states it is a member-based group of animal professionals.
“That letter is a front group all of these similar organizations. They have gotten together and created their own organization to address the issues against them…Their purpose is to work the groups that really do want animal preservation, like The Humane Society,” said Jockheck. “It’s like having your mother write your own college recommendation letter for you.”
The organization’s Washington D.C. address is listed as Gold Spot Pack and Ship, a packing and shipping company. The letter is also signed by Doug Terranova, an individual cited by the USDA for numerous Animal Welfare Act violations (view here).
“I don’t know the message we’re trying to send to the kids or the farm children who bring their animals here. They do it legitimately,” he said. “We’re inviting a group with a known rap sheet.”
Addressing Jockheck, Christiansen said, “You said that this a front group for groups that are doing that. I mean, we can flip that over to the other side and that shoe fits on the other side, too. We’ve got two different ideas, two different ways of looking at things, and I can find contradictory things on all sides involved. As far as this being a matter of inbreeding, from the information I’ve been given, that’s not true.”
He said that he has been unable to find evidence of any violations since 2012, when Marcus Cook’s license was revoked.
“I’ve got numerous ones right here,” said Jockheck.
USDA inspection reports reveal Animal Welfare Act violations against All Things Wild owner Michael Todd from 2010-2018, including “Failure to safely handle big cats during public exhibition,” and “Refusal to allow a USDA inspection.”
Mike Whittman, representing All Things Wild’s legal department and a former handler for the exhibit, was available to answer questions by phone and to explain the Animal Welfare Act violations, which he said are “unfounded and absolutely incorrect” and “few and far between.” He said the USDA has flawed inspection procedures and that the Animal Welfare Act can be interpreted broadly by inspectors.
The motion on the floor to cancel the White Tiger Discovery exhibit was put to a voice vote and failed. Nicholson said she was disappointed in the decision.
“The fair board invited this controversy by choosing to host a display that not only has a miserable record of animal care, but is a throwback to the days of carnival sideshows,” she said. “Charging people to enter a tent to see tigers pacing in tiny cages is something that the general public no longer supports.”
Now that the exhibit will move forward, she said that those concerned by it can decline to pay the $3 wristband to see the animals and express their thoughts to fair representatives.
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