The animal rights advocacy organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is threatening to sue a southern Indiana wildlife center.
PETA says it will sue Wildlife in Need, located near Louisville in Charlestown, Indiana, and its owner Timothy Stark unless the organization agrees to move its big cats to other sanctuaries.
PETA’s Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet says the lawsuit is targeted at the big cats like lions and tigers because they’re protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, but says all animals at the facility are living in inhumane conditions. The Courier-Journal reports a fire last January killed at least 41 animals.
“This place is a death trap and it needs to be shut down immediately,” Peet says.
Federal inspectors have cited Stark dozens of times for animal welfare violations, which PETA plans to use as evidence in the lawsuit. These include reports from USDA inspectors that Stark declawed at least 20 exotic felines, which the USDA says is unacceptable “since they can cause considerable pain and discomfort to the animal and may result in chronic health problems.”
PETA also cites the practice of allowing people to interact with big cat cubs, which they say requires removing the cubs from their mothers before it is healthy to do so.
In the official notice of intent to sue, PETA representatives tell Stark they are willing to reach an agreement out of court: “Specifically, PETA is willing to bear all costs associated with relocating the Big Cats to reputable sanctuaries, in exchange for an agreement that Wildlife in Need shall not own, possess, buy, sell, transfer, transport, or in any way handle or have contact with Big Cats in perpetuity.”
Peet says this lawsuit could have implications outside of Indiana.
“PETA is suing under a federal law, so if successful, this lawsuit could set a precedent that could help end this horrible practice,” Peet says.
Stark sued the USDA at the end of March, asking a federal judge to issue an injunction on a 21-day license suspension. According to court documents by mid-April, Stark voluntarily dropped the lawsuit.
In 2015, the USDA tried to permanently terminate Stark’s animal exhibition license on the basis of a 2007 conviction for violating the Endangered Species Act. At the time, Stark was fined $5,000 and given three years of probation. But, a USDA judicial officer decided that wasn’t grounds for terminating the current license.
Stark’s animal exhibition license is up for renewal in November.
Stark did not respond to multiple requests for comment.