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May 16, 2012

HSUS Breaks Investigation Today of Nation’s Largest Exotic Animal Owner

With the Congress and the state of Ohio considering bills to restrict private ownership of dangerous exotic animals, CBS This Morning broke news of another HSUS undercover investigation―this one focusing on perhaps the largest private owner of tigers in the nation, GW Exotic Animal Park in central Oklahoma. The facility may have as many as 200 tigers, and according to its owner, it has more than 1,000 other animals.

Tiger at GW Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma
The HSUS
One of many tigers at GW Exotic Animal Park.

It is not a professionally run facility, it operates without legitimate accreditation or the necessary technical staff, and broadly speaking, it is a facility that could spawn a terrible tragedy―for the animals and the residents of the surrounding community. It is a mix of a roadside menagerie and a petting zoo, masquerading as a rescue operation and a conservation center. If something goes wrong here, it could be five times worse than what happened last fall in Zanesville, Ohio.

Our undercover investigation found the breeding of tigers, sale of tigers to substandard facilities, dangerous interactions between children and juvenile tigers, and a range of other suspect and potentially illegal practices. The HSUS filed complaints with an array of federal and state authorities seeking swift action to address these problems, and called for strengthening the laws dealing with dangerous exotic wildlife. See our press release and report for more details.

While GW Exotics bills itself as providing homes for "abandoned, misplaced and abused animals," it's currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the deaths of 23 tiger cubs from 2009-2010. And its owner, Joe Schreibvogel, continues to breed tigers as well as controversial hybrids. Staff reported that once some tiger cubs outgrew their usefulness to the park, Schreibvogel had "donated" them to other facilities in exchange for donations to GW Exotics. During our investigation, five tigers died.

 

Just weeks ago, Schreibvogel went to Ohio to oppose legislation to restrict private ownership of dangerous exotics and he had a lot of provocative things to say. He made wild claims about how animal advocates supposedly killed Terry Thompson and then released his animals in order to drive more public attention to efforts to ban private ownership of dangerous exotic animals.

And today on CBS, Schreibvogel charged that The HSUS manufactured an incident where a child was knocked down and scratched by a juvenile tiger at GW Exotics. He also openly threatened that if anyone tries to take his animals, then it would be another Waco―referring to the fire and mass killing that occurred after federal authorities tried to raid the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, 19 years ago.

Congress is considering legislation to ban breeding of big cats for private ownership (H.R. 4122), ban imports and interstate transports of nine species of large constricting snakes (H.R. 511), and to ban the interstate transport of primates as pets (H.R. 4306 and S. 1324). The HSUS is backing all of these measures on the basis of animal welfare, public safety, and fiscal prudence.

If we don’t have policies to address these problems, our nation will continue to deal with the consequences of reckless animal owners without the commitment, expertise or resources to provide lifetime care for these animals. The network of hundreds of big cat sanctuaries and other wild animal sanctuaries speak to the failures of so many private animal owners. Every year, it all adds up to tens of millions in costs to the animal movement.

P.S. Tonight, ABC’s Nightline is scheduled to release video from another HSUS investigation into horse soring. Stay tuned for what promises to be a shocking exposé of appalling and inhumane practices in the world of Tennessee walking horses and horse shows.

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