The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has filed a new lawsuit in a recent legal maneuver to move a 500-lb tiger in Grosse Tete to a sanctuary for exotic animals.
Tony the tiger, currently residing in an enclosure at the Tiger Truck Stop on Interstate 10, is a 17-year-old Siberian Bengal and the property of the truck stop. He has lived at the truck stop his entire life and is considered a major asset and attraction to the business.
Although a Baton Rouge court ruled in favor of Tony’s removal in 2011 in light of Louisiana’s “big cat ban”, the tiger has remained at the truck stop under a special legislative provision that allows his owner to keep him.
While the ALDF hopes to eventually move Tony to a sanctuary, the new lawsuit is not against the truck stop, but rather against the United States Department of Agriculture after it denied the expedition of a records requests regarding the tiger’s health. Under the Freedom of Information Act, expedited records are permitted if “delayed discourse” could pose a harm to an individual – and Tony, is an individual, the ALDF argues.
“The common meaning of that term (individual) clearly includes tigers,” according to Tony Aeliseuson, a staff attorney for the ALDF. “The term individual is not limited to human beings.”
Under its definition of the word “individual,” the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary uses the example that “The markings on tigers are unique to each individual,” which Aeliseuson said is what lawmakers refer to when interpreting law.
However, the road ahead for the animal rights group appears bumpy and the truck stop does not appear willing to let go of Tony, who is now a senior in tiger years.
If he were to move to a sanctuary, he wouldn’t receive the quality care that he receives at the truck stop, according to a promotional video on the truck stop’s website.
The truck stop lists a number of other reasons why it thinks Tony should stay with them. For one, the tiger still has his claws and would need to be separated from other animals if moved to a sanctuary. The truck stop also says Tony is fond of his owners and responds to them like a “playful kitten.”
Tony’s enclosure is approximately the size of a 1,000-square foot apartment, filled with grass, climbing obstacles and a fountain to bathe in. During the hot summer days, he sleeps stretched out where truck drivers and travelers can see him.
Although Grosse Tete is far from any urban centers, the enclosure is a stone’s throw from a busy convenience store, gas pumps, rumbling 18-wheelers and lies along the parking lot entrance that cars drive right next to. I-10 can be seen from the enclosure as well.
Despite this, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has also approved the enclosure and approved him to stay in Louisiana.
The truck stop has maintained a combative stance against the ALDF and other animal rescue organizations, such as PETA and the Humane Society, which it appears to label as “extremists” and “terrorists,” according to the signs hanging on Tony’s fence. Such activists involved in Tony’s case have attempted to irritate the tiger or make him sick by throwing cigarettes in his cage or by flashing camera lights at him, according to the truck stop.
Aeliseuson said ALDF supporters don’t do such things, but that its more realistic if customers at the truck stop did.
“Our position in the main lawsuit under the “big cat ban” is that it’s not appropriate to have him at this truck stop,” he said.
If taken to a sanctuary, the tiger’s life could extend well into his 20s, Aeliseuson said.
The owner of the truck stop did not respond to phone calls regarding this story.