The battle over an Iberville Parish truckstop owner keeping a 550-pound Bengal-Siberian tiger in a 700-square-foot enclosure is in court in Baton Rouge Thursday.

                             Michael Sandlin

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against Louisiana Department Wildlife and Fisheries last month challenging the agency’s granting of a “Possession of Potentially Dangerous Wild Quadrupeds, Big Exotic Cats and Non-Human Primates” permit to Michael Sandlin in late 2009. LDWF ruled that Sandlin should be grandfathered in because he owned the cat prior to the enactment of a 2006 state law prohibiting private ownership of big cats and other exotic animals.

But the Portland, Ore.-based group is challenging Sandlin’s legal ownership of the animal citing a 1993 ordinance in Iberville Parish that also prohibits exotic-animal ownership. If Sandlin didn’t legally own the 10-year-old Tony due to the Iberville law, the suit reasons, he cannot legally be grandfathered in and granted a permit from the state.

“Louisiana has explicit regulations designed to protect tigers like Tony, and the department has disregarded state law and misused taxpayer money in arbitrarily granting the permit that allows Michael Sandlin to keep Tony at the Tiger Truck Stop,” says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells in a press release. “We are heading to court to ensure that Tony is no longer subjected to diesel fumes, harassment and the unimaginable suffering of life in his lonely cage.”

This week ALDF presented LDWF with a petition bearing more than 31,000 signatures urging the state to revoke Sandlin’s license. The animal-rights group’s mission has drawn the support of such high profile advocates as actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Former state Rep. Warren Triche, who authored the 2006 state law banning private ownership of exotic animals, is a co-plaintiff along with two state residents. A Baton Rouge law firm is providing pro bono assistance with the litigation.

Stay tuned to for updates on this story.

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