A Baton Rouge judge Friday granted a permanent injunction preventing the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries from renewing a truckstop owner’s license to keep a 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger in a 700-square-foot enclosure at his Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete. The ruling by District Judge Mike Caldwell means, barring an appeal, that Michael Sandlin will have to get rid of Tony the tiger in December when the permit lapses. Caldwell denied the plaintiffs’ motion that the permit be revoked immediately. Court costs were assessed against LDWF.
The ruling is a huge victory for Portland, Ore.-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, which filed suit against LDWF last month seeking to free Tony. According to ALDF spokeswoman Lisa Franzetta, ALDF will try to work with LDWF in December to find a good home for the tiger. Many supporters of the animal’s emancipation have lobbied to have him transferred to a big-cat sanctuary.
Tiger Truck Stop once boasted as many as six tigers and has long been the target of animal rights supporters. In 2009, LDWF ruled that Sandlin’s cat clink should be grandfathered and not subject to a new state law barring private ownership of exotic animals. ALDF challenged Sandlin’s legal ownership of the animal citing a 1993 ordinance in Iberville Parish that also prohibits exotic-animal ownership. The suite posited that if Sandlin didn’t legally own the 10-year-old Tony due to the Iberville law, he couldn't legally be grandfathered in and granted a permit from the state. Judge Caldwell found Sandlin in violation of the section of law requiring the owner to live on the premises where the exotic animal is caged.
Former state Rep. Warren Triche, who authored the 2006 state law banning private ownership of exotic animals, was a co-plaintiff along with two state residents. A Baton Rouge law firm is provided pro bono assistance with the litigation.
“Today, the law was upheld in the state of Louisiana, which has explicit regulations designed to protect tigers like Tony,” says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells in a press release heralding the ruling. “It is an incredible victory for ALDF, the tens of thousands around the world who have supported this campaign, and most of all, for Tony. We eagerly look forward to the day that he leaves behind the noise and fumes of the Tiger Truck Stop for a new life of freedom that he has never known.”
No word yet on whether Sandlin plans to appeal.