LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas wildlife refuge will be rescuing eight big cats from an Indiana zoo after a federal court found that the facility mistreated its animals.
Scott Smith, co-owner of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge near Eureka Springs, said he and his staff left Thursday to retrieve the animals from Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed Inc. in Charlestown, Indiana.
He noted that the U.S. Marshals Service will assist them, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
“We’re going to give them a good home in the Ozark hills,” Smith said of the four tigers, three lions and hybrid they are taking. “They deserve a better life than what they’ve been given.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued the facility and its owners for violation of the Exotic Species Act of 1973.
“On Aug. 3, 2020, the court granted PETA’s motion for partial summary judgment, finding defendants violated the ESA by declawing big cats and prematurely separating big cat cubs from their mothers to use in hands-on public encounters called Tiger Baby Playtime,” according to a federal court order on Tuesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young wrote in his Aug. 3 decision that not prescribing pain medications after declawing cats was “a gross failure” to meet medical care standards.
He also said that premature separation “deprives (cubs) of vital components that help develop a healthy immune system.”
Asher Smith, a PETA spokesman, said the lawsuit involves 22 big cats at the Indiana zoo and four that have been transferred to Oklahoma. A Colorado refuge will take some of the animals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stripped the zoo of its right to exhibit wild animals, Asher Smith said.
Melisa Lane and Timothy Stark, who was featured on the Netflix show “Tiger King,” operated the zoo.
The zoo’s owners had no objection to the cats going to Turpentine Creek, according to a court filing.
“Turpentine Creek is really a top-of-the-line sanctuary,” said Asher Smith. “Real sanctuaries don’t engage in practices like declawing and cub petting.”