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Anatomy of a Rescue


The newspaper clippings shown here were taken from newspapers in and around Marion County, South Carolina. The subject of these stories was a roadside zoo owned by a local businessman. This was one of the Tiger Haven rescues.

After three years of lodging complaints about a roadside zoo in Marion County, South Carolina, the area residents became outraged when they saw a cougar cannibalizing its dead cage mate on local television.

The zoo was located in the median of a four-lane highway, about forty miles west of Myrtle Beach. The total area was no more than 80 feet by 60 feet, and housed lions, tigers, cougars, leopards and two bears in small cages.

One of the residents called Tiger Haven. She told us of the situation and asked us to help. Many citizens had contacted the USDA and the state wildlife agency, but nothing was done to help the animals.

She told us horror stories of what had gone on at the small zoo in previous years. That the cats were always sick and dying, and many had just disappeared. She said that the through the efforts of the local Humane Society, the owner of the zoo had finally agreed to let volunteers feed the animals, but no one there had any experience with exotic cats and bears.

The Humane Society was also negotiating with him to release the animals to another facility. Would we come and help?

We did not have the space to take any more cats at that time, but we did load five hundred pounds of food into the Tiger Haven van and sent Debbie, one of our handlers, there to help. We didnít know what we were getting into.

Debbie called the next day. The cats were in worse condition than we realized. The inexperienced volunteers there, through no fault of their own, did not know how to safely clean up after the cats. They were living in their own filth. The concrete water bowls, being too heavy to move from outside the cages, were filled with the catsí own feces.

A male lion and another cougar, whose name we were told was Molly, could not get up from the floor, and they were all suffering from malnutrition. Some had chemical burns on their feet.

It appeared that the cannibalism had resulted from one cougar dying of starvation, and the other was simply starving, too. It is rare that a predator will eat another predator. But we later learned that the same thing had happened a year prior with black leopards.

After Debbieís call, the Mary Lynn loaded up more food, tools and cleaning supplies, and left for South Carolina.

She arrived to temperatures of 17 degrees and windy conditions. The cats, not accustomed to that kind of weather, had no heat or protection from the wind.

We spent the next several days putting up plywood for shelter from the wind, putting in straw for the cats to use for bedding, medicating them, getting them fresh water, and feeding them. They were in pretty rough shape.

We learned from the Director of the Humane Society that the owner was licensed to keep and exhibit exotic animals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The purpose of USDA licensing and regulation is to ensure that animals which are used commercially are not subjected to abuse and mistreatment.

All zoos, show exhibits and breeders are required to be licensed by the USDA and abide by their regulations. USDA inspectors are veterinarians. It is their job to see that the animals are well taken care of, and if not, to see that the animals are removed from abusive situations.

But somehow, even with the torrent of complaints made to them over the previous two years regarding the animals, nothing had been done.

During this time, the owner decided he did not want any help from the Humane Society, and would not even talk to them.

So we negotiated with him to release the cats to a sanctuary-type facility, but although there were many offers to take the cats, none would agree to give them a permanent home.

He decided he would only release the cats to Tiger Haven, so we called back to Tennessee to have our people make the facility ready for them.

It seemed that the owner was well-liked by many people there, and disliked by a few others. To this day I do not know if he realized, in his own mind, how terribly he was treating the cats.
We learned that he had had many more cats than the fourteen located at the zoo, and they had mysteriously disappeared. A tiger, stripped of its skin, had been found in the woods near his home a year earlier.

We returned to Tiger Haven to prepare the facility to take more cats, and left Debbie there to take care of them until we returned.

She called a couple of nights later with the news that the owner had now decided he would not release the animals to anyone. We told her to do what she could for the cats and return to Tennessee the next morning.

But the next day she called again saying that he had again decided to release the cats to Tiger Haven, so we quickly loaded up the transporter and went back to South Carolina.

It took us the better part of two days to get the cats loaded and ready to return. They were reluctant to leave their known cage for the smaller transport cage.

The lions were the last to be loaded, and they simply were not going to leave their cage and get into the transport cage. The two females were in heat and the male would not allow them to leave him, nor would he leave them, and we could not put them all into the same transport cage.

We prefer to never tranquilize a cat because it is so dangerous, even under the best of conditions. We didnít know anything about these cats except that they were weak, and there was no way to get a proper dosage weight for them.

However, with the owner about to change his mind again, we tranquilized them and got them moved. But there was more sad news in store for us. He told Debbie that he had another cat at his house that he wanted us to take. It was a young lion who was in worse shape than any at the zoo.

The same day an agent with the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division told us that they had found another dead tiger the previous day near the zoo owner's house.

When we were finally packed up and ready to leave, the zoo owner told us to unload one of the tigers that he wanted to keep her. He said he would build a cage for her at his house and take good care of her.

I looked at the tiger, which has a sweet and gentle face, and my mind played a horrible image of her, too, lying dead in the woods. There was no way I would take her out of the van and leave her there. I told him I couldn't do it. Without waiting for repercussions, we hastily got into the van and signaled our caravan to leave immediately.

We had to leave the bears. We hated to leave them, but our license does not allow us to keep native bears in Tennessee.

The young lion who we had named Kalahari, and Molly the cougar were both were in serious condition. So we took them directly to our veterinarian, Dr. Nick Wright, who was waiting into the night for us. He did everything for them that could be done by human mortals.

There we learned that Molly was a male. We called him Sir Molly. The zoo owner had professed deep love for his animals. But he allowed them to die before his eyes without helping them, and he didnít even know their names. What was he thinking?

And it should be noted that during the two weeks we were there, the local humane society received several calls from activists who wanted to make their voices heard (in the press) and offer their sage wisdom from the comfort of their homes about what should be done. A lot of people said they wanted to help, but only on the telephone, it seemed.

When it came down to it, the only people there cleaning cages, medicating and feeding the cats, putting straw in the cages for warmth and plywood around them for windbreaks, and footing the bill were Tiger Haven people and local volunteers who had no connection other than compassion for the animals.

Kalahari, after several surgeries and treatment, is doing fine. One of the tigers was missing the end of her tail and required several treatments for infection. Another had growths removed from her throat but they were not malignant.

All the cats needed fattening up, and most suffered hair loss from malnutrition but they have fine and beautiful coats now.

Sir Molly didnít make it. He spent most of the next two days after coming home with his head lying in Debbieís lap. Then sometime during the third night he returned to the wild.

Several months after we took the South Carolina cats to Tiger Haven, the USDA levied $30,000 in fines against Mr. Carter for past violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The fines were waived and all charges dropped with his agreement not to keep exotic animals commercially for the following five years, but he could personally keep them if he so chose.

On May 20, 1997, Mr. Carter died in his home of a massive heart attack.

This is the result of seven male lions, a female liger, and a tiger, none of whom had been together before, being put into the same enclosure and fed all together. The lions fought over the female, and all fought over the food. The three lions and liger shown here, are part of that group. These pictures were taken during a rescue attempt in Mississippi. All these cats were alive on the day the pictures were taken.

Sundarban, a Bengal tigress, was rescued from another bungled rescue attempt. Her story was told on Dateline NBC. 
When taken from her owner, her new owner put her with other tigers and lions that fought with her. She is de-clawed. When rescued by Tiger Haven she had many fresh battle wounds and the left side of her face was paralyzed. Part of her left ear is missing. After being treated for infection in her face and internally, she is healthy. 
She still suffers partial paralysis in her face but is doesn't seem to bother her. She lives with Lucknow, another tiger from the same Mississippi rescue.

The owner of the cats shown here did not have enclosures for them, so they were kept in horse and cattle trailers for weeks in the hot sun.

Four cougars, a lion and a tiger all baking together in a cattle trailer. Confined as they were but still with access, they fought. The lion has lost part of his tail. The cougars were near death.

Four tigers in an enclosed metal horse trailer with no shade. The temperature was over 100 degrees. Food was thrown in, but the doors could not be opened or the cats would escape. There was no way to clean up or just put in fresh water. This condition lasted over three weeks.

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