Albion’s Black Pine Animal Sanctuary has 100 animals from 55 species. Some of those exotic species, including lions and tigers, come from entertainment operations that take young cubs from their mothers, set them up for picture-taking events, then discard them when the animals are no longer useful, Executive Director Letrecia “Trish” Brown told Rotary Club of Fort Wayne members Dec. 2.
“They’re often deprived sleep. Often deprived of nutrition and the things they need to thrive.”
Black Pine and another sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue of Tampa, Florida, are working with Indiana U.S. Sen. Mike Braun’s office to get his support for legislation to put an end to these “pet-and-pay” operations, said Brown, who was named Black Pine’s executive director April 1.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act (S.2561) has gone through the House and now goes to the Senate for a vote. It would do two things, Brown said, phase out inappropriate ownership of big cats, such as those who are unlicensed or not inspected by the Department of Agriculture, and forbid petting and photo opportunity businesses.
For more on the proposed legislation, see www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2561.
In May, the House of Representatives introduced H.R. 2863, which would amend the Animal Welfare Act to restrict the use of exotic and wild animals in traveling performances. The act currently just deals with zoos and sanctuaries, not private ownership. In June, the House bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture.
According to the House bill, the constant movement of the animals in collapsible, temporary, mobile facilities not only poses a danger of escape but also is bad for the animals’ health because of the confinement and stress they endure. The mobility of the operations also prevent oversight by agencies.
Brown said she repeatedly gets calls from places looking for new homes for exotic species.
“For every animal in Black Pine, I turn away 10 to 12,” Brown said.
Americans seem to have a love of exotic animals, including big cats. There are more captive tigers in America than there are in the wild, Brown said.
According to a July 2014 World Wildlife Foundation article, an estimated 5,000 tigers were held captive in the U.S., with about 3,200 tigers in the wild.
Tales abound of all sorts of exotic animals growing too big for their owners to handle.
For instance, Gus, an alligator who’s lived at Black Pine for about 10 years, was confiscated from a fraternity in Bloomington after he outgrew a bathtub, Brown said.
Black Pine also has a bear that had been used to bait hunting dogs by being tied to a tree. One of the lions was used for entertainment before a child fell on her and injured her back. So the lion was kept in a cage for seven years and couldn’t stand up straight when she came to the sanctuary. After about six weeks of rehabilitation for mange and other ailments, she began to thrive, and now loves to play and is very affectionate, Brown said.
A few of the large cats at the sanctuary are the result of what Brown referred to as the “Zanesville massacre.” In 2011, an Ohio man let loose his large collection of exotic animals before he committed suicide. Law enforcement scrambled to take down the 50 animals running free, killing 18 tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, three mountain lions, two grizzly bears, one baboon and two wolves. Only half a dozen animals had not been released.
Brown also wants to raise awareness about Delphi and Mt. Hope, Ohio, exotic animal auctions. The Mid Ohio Alternative Animal and Bird Sale is held three times a year. According to the website for the March auction, camels Hank and Howie, both bottle-fed in a petting zoo, along with zebras, ostriches and other animals were to be auctioned at the Mt. Hope Event Center.
Brown said in choosing to take an animal, she must weigh the cost of feeding and caring for it for the rest of its life, she said. Some birds and reptiles live to be about 80 years. Black Pine does not buy, breed, sell or trade animals.
Brown has four full-time keepers, a full-time facilities manager and a part-time gift shop manager at Black Pine. The facility, which has 53,000 followers on Facebook and 19,000 visitors a year, has volunteers who put in 15,000 hours a year. Black Pine’s board of directors recently approved paid internships in the areas of animal care, maintenance, guest hospitality and marketing.