The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

PASA Sanctuaries

"PASA is committed to the conservation and care of African primates through the unique alliance of African sanctuaries."

PASA sanctuaries were created over the last three decades to accommodate the staggering numbers of orphaned chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and other endangered primates in Africa. The Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in Gambia came first in 1974, but more and more appeared as the century drew to a close.

Today, PASA members and affiliated sanctuaries literally span the continent of Africa.

The PASA Code of Conduct assumes a number of values that require all members and their staffs to exhibit a.) a concern for the primates; b.) integrity; c.) transparency; d.) fairness;
e.) conscientiousness; f.) professionalism; and
g.) personal and institutional commitment to conservation.

Each sanctuary is tailored to the species it protects and the country within which it works, but one aspect is the same in every single facility: A deep and passionate interest in protecting primates and the wild spaces they inhabit.

Said chimpanzee activist Jane Goodall: “These refuges walk a fine line between conservation and captivity, yet their mission is no less important. They operate on the front lines in areas of hardship and anger, and their dedication to protecting mankind’s next of kin is admirable.”

To learn more about PASA and its member and associated sanctuaries, click on the source link below:

Source and website

Henry Vilas Park Zoological Society, Helps Zoo.

Holly Kurrian, 2, tries to pet Cyber, a tiger, through the

glass at the Henry Vilas Zoo on Sept. 20, 2009, in Madison.

Photo by: Kris Ugarriza

"Cyber" the tiger walks the line along the window that looks into his habitat at the Henry Vilas Zoo. Children stare as the striped fur on his side flattens against the glass. He is that close. All 450 pounds. One woman presses her hand to the window; as the tiger passes, she smiles and shivers at the same time.

That's the experience zoo director Jim Hubing says he wants visitors to have: an up-close encounter with the animals, whose powerful presence he hopes will inspire a passion for learning about them and conserving their habitats in the wild.

The animals attract more than a half-million annual visits (on a pace to hit a record 700,000 this year), but more people through the zoo gate doesn't mean more revenue. Free admission forever was a condition of the donation of the land more than a century ago that became Vilas Park, the zoo's home. That means the zoo misses out on admission fees that top $12 for an adult at some zoos.

And the recession that has sent people flocking to the free zoo on Madison's leafy near-west side this year has also strapped Dane County, the zoo's primary source of funding, so tightly that it simply cannot pony up like it has in the past.

Riding to the rescue to keep open the zoo as Madison knows it is the Henry Vilas Park Zoological Society.

The nonprofit corporation announced Monday that it is more than doubling its contribution for zoo operating expenses in 2010 - to $558,000 - as a study of even more changes in funding and governance of the zoo continues. The society will also infuse zoo coffers with $113,000 to cover operating costs for the rest of this year.

If not for that extra money, "we would be having some painful discussions about the zoo," says Topf Wells, chief of staff for Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. "The only way to reduce costs at the zoo is to look at relocating some of the animals. And if we downsize the zoo, it will not be the zoo it should be."

The larger commitment also comes as the zoological society has seen a dip in its ability to attract donations. But Mary Romolino, president of the society's board of directors, says she's confident the organization has the capacity to maintain the increased level of support with new leadership and new ideas about how to raise money.

It was a difficult decision, but the board eventually supported it unanimously, she says. "We wanted to make sure we were doing what we could to have a great free zoo open seven days a week. It's such a jewel for our community."

It was to the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association that William F. and Anna M. Vilas donated the land in 1904 that would become a park named for their son, Henry, who died young from complications of diabetes. The zoo was created seven years later with four white-tailed deer as the first resident animals. In 1983, the 28-acre zoo was separated from the park and ownership and operation of the zoo was assumed by Dane County.

The zoo has had its rough patches in the past decade. First, The Capital Times revealed in 1997 that rhesus monkeys and stump-tailed macaques owned by the UW's Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and housed at the zoo were undergoing invasive research in violation of a contract with the zoo. There was no indication that zoo officials were aware of the violations, but the animals were removed.

Then in 2000, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the industry's national credentialing agency, determined that a pair of elephants were being housed in substandard conditions. The elephants, too, were relocated. During the controversy, the zoo director retired and Hubing, a former director of the county Department of Administration, was tapped to take the reins.

Wells recalls that the controversy over the elephants' welfare generated much passionate communication with his office - more than any issue in his 13 years with the county executive. He expects he would hear again from the public if county authorities decided they had to relocate animals they could no longer afford to keep.

People visiting the zoo on a recent Sunday morning certainly seemed impressed by what it has to offer. Kayla Patrick of Madison, watching the giraffes with her husband and their 21-month-old son, says the zoo is a great place to let a toddler explore. The Henry Vilas Zoo doesn't offer the variety of some larger zoos, but because it is free, the family doesn't feel obligated to stay for hours. "We can stay for 20 minutes and come back tomorrow," she says.

Don Rosso of Chicago, thrilled like his family by Cyber the tiger's walk-by, says he makes it a point to spend time at Vilas Zoo when he visits Madison several times a year. "They do a fantastic job" with the limited space and collection, he says.

Pat and John Klettke of Watertown, strolling with their baby grandson and his parents, say they are impressed by the evolution of the exhibits since they last came many years ago. For them, though, the thrill was less about watching the animals than seeing the delight on the face of their grandson. "It's always about the little ones, isn't it," says Pat.

Not always. David McIntyre of Madison says he and his wife often visit the zoo, just the two of them. "It's clean, it's outdoors, it's a good place to walk."

But keeping the zoo attractive and the animals healthy is expensive, and the numbers are dismal as Dane County gears up for debate on the 2010 budget. Revenues are falling so much more steeply than projected that the tax levy boost to cover business as usual for the county would soar past state-imposed limits. County workers took a pay cut this spring, and departments have been trimming their staffs for the past several years. Meanwhile, the high unemployment that sent sales tax and other revenues plummeting is also pushing up demand for services funded by the county's massive human services budget. Every county department is subject to cuts that Hubing says the zoo just could not bear.

Wells had been meeting with representatives of the zoological society long before calculations for the 2010 budget began, but he says the bad numbers just underscore the need for a new source of revenue. "With the zoo, a lot of the costs are personnel you need to properly care for the animals or costs for food and vet care." New exhibits that better showcase animals and house them more comfortably are also more expensive to run. The zoological society's increased subsidy "is exceptional and a very welcome degree of support," Wells says.

The additional funds will allow the zoo to add three people to its staff of 17 - two animal keepers to join the current dozen, and a second maintenance person, says Hubing. The additional help is vital to take care of more than 600 animals in 20 buildings on 30 acres, he says.

To pay for all that, the zoo is seeking $2.25 million in operating funds from the county in 2010, while the city of Madison will contribute $420,000 as part of a longstanding cost-sharing agreement. Society funds to subsidize zoo operations come only from concessions - food, gifts, plus carousel and train rides that netted $838,754 last year - as well as on-site donations. The society, with its own $1.35 million budget, also provides education programs and marketing services to the zoo and oversees volunteers there.

While the zoo boasts many new plantings, including fruit-bearing trees that help feed the animals, the facilities look tired in spots. The carpeting is worn and stained in the primate building, for example, and a collection of small signs calling for quiet at the chimpanzee exhibit is so confusing that they are unlikely to affect anyone's behavior. It's hard to raise money to fix things like that, however, so in return for the zoological society's increased donation, the county and city will assume the costs of smaller maintenance capital projects, Hubing says.

Anne Ross, chair of the county's advisory Zoo Commission, says the society's stepped-up support is a significant move. "I think the society went through some real soul-searching on how expansive they wanted their role to be," she says.

The commission was named by Falk's office to study zoo funding and governance. Its report, due soon, will call for more integration of the zoo's public and private sponsors. "When the budget is put together, the partnership will have to work more closely," Ross says.

The commission looked at a variety of options and privatization was "on the list," Ross says. "It did not rise to the top - not now. But this should be an ongoing conversation. We need to be open-minded in our strategies now and in the future."

Zoos across the country are seeing donations fall with the economy and government support eroding, reports Stephen Feldman, spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Some cities are turning to privatization. Dallas has just made the change, while it remains a recurring controversy in Detroit and Boston.

In Milwaukee, County Executive Scott Walker is calling for privatization of the Milwaukee County Zoo in his 2010 budget, with operations being taken on by its zoological society. The issue is sure to stir controversy, especially regarding the future of zoo workers now on the county payroll. Walker wants to freeze his county's funding for the Milwaukee Zoo, which also has the benefit of charging admission fees, at the current $5.9 million.

Having admission fees off the table makes the challenge that much greater for the Henry Vilas Park Zoological Society, and it has struggled in the recent past with raising money.

Contributions have fallen more than 50 percent in the past few years, from $1.96 million in the 2006-2007 fiscal year to $973,138 in the year ended March 31, 2009, according to the organization's audited financial statement.

The zoo had hoped to complete construction of a new Arctic Passage habitat for polar bears and seals by 2007, part of a $27 million, 10-year zoo reconstruction program. A Children's Zoo and North American Prairie exhibit have been completed, but so far the capital campaign for Arctic Passage, begun in 2004, has raised only $7 million toward the $9.4 million original price tag. Exhibit space cleared for the new construction sits vacant and weedy.

On the society's administrative side, the abrupt departure of its executive director in 2007 was followed by a short-term replacement, an interim stint by a board member, and finally, the hiring in June of Boris Frank, a well-known local consultant to nonprofits.

Romolino, the society's board president, says her group is ready to turn things around. "Our first step was to hire Boris to reinvigorate fundraising activity."

Some changes have happened already. The poorly performing - and expensive - fundraiser called "Feast with the Beasts" was dropped this year. In contrast, the Zoo Run Run, led this year by Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton on Sept. 20, drew 1,346 runners compared to 800 last year and is expected to net up to $30,000.

Despite the tough climate for charitable giving and zoo balance sheets in particular, there's an argument to be made that the Henry Vilas Zoo could buck that trend by banking on the goodwill it has built by being free and well-used all these years.

Jerry Hoppe of Verona is new to running this year, but he decided to participate in this month's Zoo Run Run, for example, even though he hadn't been to the zoo since his kids were small. "You want to know something worthwhile is going to benefit," he says. "People take the zoo for granted," adds his wife, Patty.

While the restriction on admission fees does make funding the zoo more difficult, Wells from the county executive's office says its value to the community as free family recreation is underestimated. "It's one of the few places working families without a lot of money can take the kids for a day of fun and learning. In this recession, that means a lot."

Frank is full of ideas on how better to capitalize on that positive perception: more visible and better placed donation tubes on the zoo grounds, better marketing to boost memberships, even changing the zoological society's working name to the more accessible Friends of the Zoo.

"We're taking a deep, deep look at all our efforts," Romolino says. The society will seek a new price estimate for Arctic Passage in the hope that costs have dropped in the economic downturn, and work to complete the fundraising and start construction next year, she says.

Ross says the message she is taking from her study of the zoo is that the community needs to support it better. "We need to be prepared to step up and spend money on concessions, make contributions when we are there," she says.

Like other zoo officials, Hubing says the zoo's free admission policy has its benefits. "Being free is a terrific attribute," he says. The zoo's mission is to be open to all, "and what better way to be open than to let people come and go as they please."

The mission reaches beyond recreation to education about conservation, says Hubing, who in an interview produces both records of the zoo's effective efforts to reduce energy consumption and its participation in the complex national breeding program to preserve species endangered in the wild.

As with most visitors to the zoo, the animals inspire in Hubing a love for animal information and lore about the Henry Vilas Zoo's particular residents. The chimpanzees and orangutans have completely different personalities, he shares. And Cyber the Amur tiger? Ah, Cyber plays to the crowd, he insists.

Source and more photographs

5 YO Gorilla Orphan is Adjusting Well at Bristol Zoo Gardens

By Lucy Parkinson

Bristol, UK -One year after arriving at her new home at Bristol Zoo Gardens, orphan gorilla, Kera, has come a long way.

After being rejected by her mother at Barcelona Zoo in 2004, Kera was hand-reared alongside other young gorillas at a specialist ape nursery in Germany.

Last September Kera was old enough to leave the nursery and a new home needed to be found for her. Bristol Zoo Gardens was chosen as the best place for her because it has the facilities and expert staff for an expanding group of gorillas.

Now five-years-old, Kera has been at Bristol Zoo for a year, learning how to live alongside Bristol Zoo’s family of western lowland gorillas: Jock the 220kg (34 stone) adult male, Salome and Romina the two adult females, four-year-old Namoki and little Komale, who is two.

It has been a long and steady process of integration for Kera, involving late nights and early starts for the Zoo’s gorilla keepers as they helped her settle in.

Assistant Curator of Mammals, Mel Gage, explains: “When Kera arrived here she didn’t know how to fit into a gorilla family. She needed to learn about gorilla social structures and etiquette. The aim was to help her learn how to be a fully socialised gorilla in a family group situation, to help her develop valuable skills for the future.

“Now she has really started to mature; she knows how to behave and interact with the other gorillas. She understands that gorilla families have a hierarchy and she understands her place within the family.”

Mel said Kera’s settling in has been helped by the fact that she has made a great alliance with the dominant adult female gorilla, Romina, as well as becoming ‘friends’ with the two youngest gorillas – Namoki and Komale.

Mel added: “We always knew the process of introducing Kera to the other gorillas would be a long and sensitive one, but what we have achieved is huge. Kera has learned so much from the other gorillas and we are thrilled with the results and the way the group have accepted her. It’s great that Romina keeps an eye on Kera, and it’s lovely to see her playing with the other youngsters out on Gorilla Island.”

Kera’s move to Bristol Zoo Gardens was recommended as part of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme, managed by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).

Dr Bryan Carroll, deputy director at Bristol Zoo, said: “It is really important that Kera integrates into a group and understands gorilla society. She should then go on to become a successful breeding female contributing to the breeding programme for this critically endangered species”

Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered in the wild. They come from an area of dense forest and swamp which covers South East Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Their native forests are being exploited for timber, which opens up routes into the forest providing easier access to hunters who kill gorillas for bushmeat and trophies.

Since 1998, Bristol Zoo Gardens has supported Ape Action Africa (AAA), a registered charity working to care for orphans of the illegal bushmeat trade and prevent primate extinction in Cameroon.

Adoption shares in Bristol Zoo’s gorilla family are available to buy. By adopting you will be contributing towards the upkeep of the animals at the zoo and supporting field conservation of threatened species.

For more information visit the zoo website at or phone 0117 974 7300.

Bristol Zoo Gardens

· Bristol Zoo is open from 9am every day except Christmas Day.

· The Zoo is an Education and Conservation Charity and relies on the income from visitors to support its work.

· The Zoo is involved with more than 100 co-ordinated breeding programmes for threatened wildlife species.

· It employs 140 full and part-time staff to care for the animals and run a successful visitor attraction to support its conservation and education work.

· Bristol Zoo supports – through finance and skill sharing - over 10 projects in the UK and abroad that conserve and protect some of the world’s most endangered species.

· Bristol Zoo is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums and EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

· BIAZA represents more than 90 member collections and promotes the values of good zoos and aquariums.

· Bristol Zoo’s gorilla family are available to see on the internet via the Zoo’s gorilla webcam. Simply visit and follow the ‘Bristol Zoo TV’ link on the homepage.

Bristol Zoo Gardens and gorilla conservation
· Since 1998, Bristol Zoo Gardens has supported Ape Action Africa (AAA), a registered charity working to prevent primate extinction in West Africa.

· Ape Action Africa runs a rescue centre at Mvog Betsi Zoo in conjunction with the Cameroon Ministry for Wildlife and Forestry as well as a sanctuary at Mefou National Park offering a safe home for the orphaned animals in its care, as close to their natural environment as possible.

· Reintroduction of the apes is planned for the future. Since 2004 Bristol Zoo has also been working with communities around the Dja Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site in Cameroon and an important protected area for apes, to reduce hunting of gorillas and chimpanzees around the villages.

· Dr Bryan Carroll, deputy director at Bristol Zoo Gardens, is chairman of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria Bushmeat Working Group which organised the campaign to halt the illegal commercial bushmeat trade.

· Dr Bryan Carroll, together with other representatives, presented a 1.9 million signature petition to the European Parliament in Brussels in 2001.

· In January 2004, the European Parliament voted in favour of a resolution to tackle the unsustainable trade in bushmeat.

To view Bristol Zoo's web page on Zoo and Aquarium Visitor, go to:


Gorilla, Jenny, Brought From Africa

The tour included

THE sad tale of a young gorilla brought from Africa to Scarborough in the 19th century was told on Radio 4 yesterday.
Just eight years after the species was identified, the infant primate was captured and its family slaughtered in the process.

The animal was named Jenny and placed in a travelling wild-beast show which toured Britain in 1855.Scarbor-ough, where people paid a few pennies to see Jenny, who was thought to be a chimpanzee.

Gorillas first came to the attention of the western world in 1847 when a missionary, Thomas Savage, travelling in west Africa, was shown a skull he was convinced belonged to a new species of ape. Eight years later gorillas remained little known; only a few people had even glimpsed them in the wild and the species was recognised only from its bones.

But, unknown to anyone, a young gorilla was already living anonymously in England. In 1855, Wombwell's Travelling Menagerie exhibited a chimpanzee which was not kept with the other wild beasts but lived in her own apartment. She had a governess and was dressed in human clothes.

Jenny’s journey out of Africa a little over 150 years ago marked the beginning of our tortuous and often misguided association with gorillas.


Female Orangutans Stay in Charge of Reproduction

Because female orangutans don't get to choose who they mate with, they have instead evolved more subtle strategies to select the father of their offspring, a study published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences reveals.

Near ovulation, females seek out and willingly mate with prime males - those with impressive flanges on the sides of their face - while avoiding lesser males. At times when the risk of conception is low, however, they consent to mate with any male they encounter. This means that even if prime males don't have more sex than other males, they will still have more offspring.

It is thought that this behaviour probably evolved as a result of male orangutans being about twice the size of females, meaning the latter find it hard to say no when it comes to sex. Mothers usually provide all the care for young orangutans and are keen to increase their chances of survival by ensuring they have the strongest genes.

Researchers also suggest that females use sex to protect their young from the risk of infanticide - thought more likely to occur at times when there is instability in a group, such as when a new alpha male takes over. Pregnant females actively solicit sex, especially from prime males, thereby causing confusion about who the baby's father is. It is thought that males are more likely to be protective of, or at least less likely to harm, a young orangutan they think might be theirs.

Results come from a study in Borneo which involved observing the natural behaviour of wild oraguntans, as well as collecting urine samples to test the hormone levels of different animals.


Howler Monkeys, Not So Vegetarian After All

A wild howler monkey is filmed raiding a chicken coop for eggs (Video courtesy of Carina Barboza Muhle)

Wild howler monkeys have been caught on camera raiding chicken coops and eating bird's eggs.

The behaviour has surprised researchers as howler monkeys are thought to be exclusively vegetarian.

The egg-eating behaviour has evolved among black and gold howlers living in forest in Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

Despite it being one of the best studied monkeys in the New World, this is the first time the species has been recorded eating animal matter.

Details of the new behaviour are published in the International Journal of Primatology by Dr Julio Bicca-Marques and Ms Carina Muhle of the Primatology Research Group at the PUC/RS Bioscience Faculty in Porto Alegre, Brazil and colleagues.

"Howlers are believed to be strictly vegetarian. Their diet is based on leaves and fruits, although other vegetable matter, such as petioles, pulvini, buds, flowers, stems, twigs and bark can also be eaten," says Dr Bicca-Marques.

Howler monkeys are also known to ingest occasional arthropods such as beetles, but the monkeys do this inadvertently as they gather plant material.

Fresh taste

However, in 2005 Ms Helissandra Prates, a student of Dr Bicca-Marques, observed two juvenile black and gold howler monkeys (Alouatta caraya) licking the interior of a dove's nest at Estancia Casa Branca, a 2 ha orchard forest in Alegrete.

The nest contained a broken egg shell.

She later found evidence of egg remains in howler monkey dung collected from the orchard floor.

Then in 2007, Ms Muhle, another of Dr Bicca-Marques's students, witnessed howler monkeys eating birds' eggs at a separate woodland site at Beco Xavier.

Over an eight month period, she recorded 19 separate instances of egg predation by a group of five individuals.

"This study was responsible for the uncontestable confirmation that black and gold howlers monkeys can act as nest predators and eat birds eggs," says Dr Bicca-Marques.

All these later cases involved chicken eggs, which the monkeys stole from a chicken coop. While all five monkeys were seen to enter and investigate the coop, most of the eggs were actually eaten by a single subadult male.

"We were very surprised because Alouatta is the most studied New World primate genus in the wild and there is not a single observation of intentional ingestion of animal matter in the literature."

The researchers suspect the monkeys are varying their diet in response to environmental conditions, particularly where a high density of monkeys lives among forests or orchards of low diversity.

"Eggs should be a surrogate supplementary source of protein when few plant species compose the available menu," says Dr Bicca-Marques.

Black and gold howler monkey (Alouatta caraya)

A black and gold howler monkey licks the inside of a pilfered egg

Evolution of egg-eating?

Dr Bicca-Marques and his colleagues may have actually witnessed the emergence of this egg-eating behaviour over many years.

Dr Bicca-Marques and his wife Claudia Calegaro-Marques first studied howler monkeys at Estancia Casa Branca in the summer of 1989, as part of their own Master's degree dissertations.

Then they recorded 15 to 17 individuals, some of which showed an unusual interest in bird's eggs.

Though the monkeys were never seen to actually take eggs, they inspected the nests of birds on three occasions, even removing an egg and examining it, before replacing it back into the nest.


Monkeys With Larger Brains Live in Larger Groups

Female monkeys with bigger brains live in larger groups and can juggle a larger number of grooming partners, scientists say.

The study of the grooming patterns of 11 species of Old World monkeys could provide clues into the way humans manage social networks and intimate friendships.

The researchers at the University of Oxford and Roehampton University found a relationship between brain size — in particular the size of the neocortex, the area responsible for learning, memory and complex thought — and social group complexity.

The monkey species with a larger neocortex relative to brain size spent more time grooming a smaller group of monkeys, but also maintained relationships with other members of their group. Monkeys with smaller neocortices — and less ability for higher-level thinking — had a less complex social structure.

Species with large neocortices lived in groups of 25 to 50 monkeys, while those with smaller neocortices lived in smaller groups, of about 10 to 20 monkeys.

The researchers, led by Julia Lehman of Roehampton University, concluded that in the species with large neocortices, the monkeys are able to maintain large social groups by carefully balancing the demands of a few close relationships with maintaining a larger network of acquaintances.

"We found that in primates the key to socializing in a wider and more effective way ultimately involves being able to balance the interests of a small number of very intimate relationships while at the same time maintaining social cohesion," said Lehmann, in a statement.

The scientists, whose research was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, could provide clues into how humans are able to manage complex social networks of family, close friends and business acquaintances.

"Our neocortex is three times larger than that of other monkeys and apes, and this allows us to manage larger, more dispersed social groups as a result," said Robin Dunbar of Oxford's School of Anthropology.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Experts Not Surprised by The Travis The Chimpanzee Attack, Sandra Herold


Stamford Advocate

Apes’ strength, aggression are cited as dangers
By Jeff Morganteen

Frans de Waal, a renowned primatologist and author, often studies the positive side of chimpanzee behavior: charity, reconciliation, cooperation.

But when de Waal heard of the vicious chimpanzee attack in Stamford last week that left a 55-year-old woman disfigured and possibly in need of a face transplant, it reminded him of the dark side of primates, the type of behavior displayed by warring groups of wild chimpanzees.

“It’s typical of the attack on a stranger,” said de Waal, a primate specialist and lead biologist at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. “They go for the face, hands and genitals. They do all sorts of nasty things. They sometimes kill neighboring males.”

A full-grown chimp’s aggression and brute strength make for a disastrous combination if brought into a home as a pet.

For Sandra Herold, the 70-year-old Stamford woman whose pet almost killed a friend Monday, her 14-year-old chimpanzee, Travis, was a “time bomb,” de Waal said, comparing him to a pet tiger. Outside Herold’s North Stamford home, Travis mauled 55-year-old Charla Nash, almost killing the Stamford woman. Herold grabbed a butcher knife and stabbed Travis, whom she had raised as a son, but it didn’t stop the chimp. A police officer had to shoot and kill Travis.

“I don’t think any primatologist would recommend a chimpanzee as a pet,” de Waal said. “We all know how strong they are.”

Yet Sandra Herold has owned one for 14 years.

Travis became a mascot for her towing company. He drank wine and ate lobster and steak. He wore human clothes. It’s a common story, primate experts said. People buy chimps as babies, dress them up and teach them to eat with silverware. But the chimps get too big, too aggressive and too strong.

When the chimps become teenagers, they often end up in sanctuaries such as Primarily Primates in San Antonio.

“The list of reasons that people have given go from ‘I can’t control the monkey’ to ‘He just started to bite’ to ‘He just attacked my neighbor,’ ” said Stephen Rene Tello, executive director of Primarily Primates, which cares for 330 primates, 63 of them chimpanzees.

Forty-seven of those chimps are from research facilities, and the rest are former pets or from the entertainment industry, Tello said. Because chimps live more than 45 years, the former pets often spend most of their lives in sanctuaries. They are products of the lucrative exotic pet trade, where baby chimps are sold for more than $40,000, said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, an international animal advocacy group based in Darien that manages Primarily Primates. “You can’t make it right,” Feral said of Monday’s mauling. “Herold tried to extend freedom through all these other trappings. The clothes. The showers. The wine. We’ve had chimps arrive as alcoholics. That’s how they kept their moods suppressed.”

Potential pet owners often conduct little to no research into chimpanzees before buying them, Tello said. Some only watch chimps’ comical and playful portrayal in movies and TV shows, then decide they want one, he said. Primate breeders often mislead buyers into thinking primates stay cute and controllable, Tello said.

“It’s those kind of people who want the ‘baby chimp’ experience, where the chimp is almost a surrogate child, and they can pamper them,” Tello said.

Feral said potential primate owners can buy spider monkeys for $8,000 on the Web.

“Owners arrive half of the time in tears because they made a huge financial investment, and it went up in smoke,” Feral said.

Some chimps arrive at the sanctuary with severe psychological problems. Others even mutilate themselves out of pent-up rage and frustration, Feral said.

By the time they reach maturity, chimps are five times stronger than an adult man, de Waal said, and in captivity, they often learn and exploit this advantage. Cages are welded together at the Primarily Primates sanctuary because some chimps are strong enough to unfasten nuts and bolts, Tello said.

De Waal said chimpanzees that grow up as pets begin to consider themselves part human. Recalling experiments from the 1950s, de Waal said groups of chimps who had been raised as humans were asked to find themselves amid a group of photos; they often choose pictures of humans.

As for speculation whether the prescription drug Xanax may have caused Travis to attack Nash, de Waal said a violent outburst from the 14-year-old chimp was inevitable.

“One day he was going to explode,” de Waal said. “A male chimp of that age was going to do something drastic anyway.”

Make a donation to support Primarily Primates.


Monkey Breeder, Matthew Block, For Labs Says AR Groups Deserve No Media

Should he be forgiven? NO!

Just another form of Abuse now.

It's been almost 20 years since the notorious "Bangkok Six" incident, when investigators at a Thailand airport intercepted a crate marked "live birds," only to find that it contained six tightly-packed endangered orangutans destined for Russia from Indonesia. Only two of the orangutans survived.

A Miami primate dealer named Matthew Block -- proprietor of World Wide Primates, who'd started his business of raising animals for research while still in high school -- eventually pled guilty to charges for his role in the case, paid a $30,000 fine, and was sentenced to 13 months in prison. He then began cooperating with authorities, working as an informant to rope in illegal animal traders. In 1993, he helped arrange the arrest of five Mexican zoo officials who traveled to Miami in hopes of buying a gorilla on the black market. (During that incident, a Fish & Wildlife investigator dressed in an ape suit to fool the zoo guys into a takedown.) Around the same time, he also helped ensnare a Jacksonville dealer who was holding rare Australian cockatoos.

In spite of Block's work on the side of law enforcement, some animal rights activists have never forgiven him or forgotten him, instead engaging in their own form of retaliation. In 1994, 33 crab-eating macaques were stolen from Block's property. Last year, intruders cut holes in several monkey cages, letting the animals escape. And this week, the Animal Liberation Front received a communique that activists targeted a Miami Beach house they believed to belong to Block's wife Brooke. "We punctured 4 tires on a car in the driveway and poured red paint over the car and on the front door of the house," authors of the communique stated. (Matthew Block, now in his late 40s, is no longer a registered agent for Worldwide Primates; rather, his wife Brooke and mother Gertie are listed officers on the paperwork.)

Matthew Block spoke to New Times briefly, confirming the incident -- and clarifying that the vandals missed their target. The house and car, he says, "belong to my 80-year-old mother. This is their third time getting it wrong, and one of those was a firebombing a few years ago. They're going to end up killing or hurting someone."

When Block spoke to us last September after intruders released the monkeys, he noted that "These monkeys never lived a day in their lives" out of his company's care. "They have no clue how to behave in the wild. No clue how to get food and water." Block said it was cruel to free them -- to them let them "sit in the wild and starve to death." Other primate experts said that the animals can be unpredictable and aggressive, and it was fortunate that the released monkeys did not run into and hurt or maim humans.

Records received from the United States Department of Agriculture in response to a Freedom of Information Act request indicate that World Wide Primates has had its license renewed regularly with few violations. In the years since 2002, inspectors noted a missing tile, a rusted cage, and a note that "In July 2005, non-human primates succumbed to heat exhaustion when HVAC system in Room C failed." In 2004, investigators noted that an adult male capuchin was housed alone; the law required he be able to see and hear nonhuman primates of his own species.

Perhaps the most revealing detail to be gleaned from the sparse paperwork is that business has been good: In 2003, a year the company bought 319 animals and sold 182, the reported gross income from sales totaled $340,295. In 2007, when the company bought 1123 animals and sold 1270, that figure peaked at more than $5 million.

Block noted that his company imports animals for research purposes but does not conduct any research. Although his line of work remains a topic for ethical debate, Block in turn argued that "these people [the vandals] do not deserve publicity." Last year he stated, "ethically, the media should not be giving accolades to people who violate federal law." He added that in the search for the perpetrators, "the FBI is very much involved." The agency considers animal rights extremism "domestic terror" and in 2006, revisions to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act toughened penalties for related crimes.


Jane Goodall Promotes Hope For a Better Planet

"If we are arguably the most intellectually developed animal, why are we destroying our planet?" Dr. Jane Goodall at a recent talk in Washington, DC

Renowned British primatologist Jane Goodall spent almost

half a century studying wild chimpanzees in Gombe National

Park in Tanzania. Her ground-breaking discoveries in that

tiny preserve of African forest have contributed much of what

we know today about the social behavior of chimpanzees,

mankind's closest animal relatives.

Today, the 75-year old scientist leaves the field work to

others. She now devotes her time to the foundation she

established to promote wildlife conservation and public

education. That's also the focus of her new book,

Hope for Animals and Their World, which highlights the

stories of extraordinary people who have managed

to bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction.

Jane Goodall: The early years

Jane Goodall has been fascinated by animals as far back as she

can remember. Even before she could talk, she says she was

"observing earthworms, reading Dr. Doolittle books and

wanting to learn the language of animals."

In 1960, at the age of 26, she traveled to Africa where

she began her ground-breaking study of chimpanzees

under the guidance of the renowned anthropologist and

paleontologist, the late Dr. Louis Leakey.

It was in the forests of the Gombe National Park inBritish primatologist Jane Goodall has always been fascinated by animals

British primatologist Jane Goodall has always been

fascinated by animals

Tanzania where Goodall spent the next several decades,

studying the chimpanzees in their natural habitat.

Her research provided a unique and intimate portrait

of these complex animals and shed new light on the

intelligence of both apes and humans.

"An animal more like us than any other animal" (JG)

"If we are arguably the most intellectually developed animal, why are we destroying our planet?" Dr. Jane Goodall

One of the most significant discoveries that emerged from

Goodall's findings was that chimpanzees use – and make – tools.

"It was thought that only humans did this and that this

set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom," she says.

Over time she, and her team of researchers, revealed

that chimps share other behavioral traits with humans

as well, "like the long-term supportive, affection bond

between family members." Goodall says chimpanzees

can live to be more than 50 years old and these bonds

"can last throughout life."

A global organization takes root

Goodall's affection for these creatures, and her desire

to protect them from human encroachments, inspired

her in 1977 to found the Jane Goodall Institute. With

offices in 22 countries, its global mission is to protect

chimpanzees and their habitats.

But Goodall notes that despite all the research and

ambitious conservation efforts, the number of wild

chimpanzees in Africa has continued to decline.

"When I began there were somewhere between

one and two million. And now, 300,000 maximum,"

she says.

Habitat loss just one factor in declining numbers of chimps

Goodall says the primary reason for the shrinking

chimp population, like most endangered species,

is the destruction of their habitat.

And one way to stop that destruction she says, is by

addressing the needs of the people living near those

precious habitats. "How could you try to save the

chimpanzees in their little oasis of fertile forest, when

outside [it] you have more people living than the land

can support, population growth from normal means and

also refugees?" she says.

One of the other problems facing the chimp population

is the growing demand for their meat says Goodall. In

the old days no hunter would shoot a female with a

baby because they simply wouldn't, she says, but now,

"hunters will shoot anything; they will shoot elephants,

gorillas, antelopes, pigs, birds even, and bats; anything

that can be cut up and smoked," she says.
The Jane Goodall Institute has improved the lives of more than 600,000 people through its various programs

The Jane Goodall Institute has improved the

lives of more than 600,000 people through its various programs

Conservation programs for communities and children

In 1994 Goodall started the TACARE (Take Care)

program. The development effort partners with local

villagers in 24 communities to create sustainable

income-generating opportunities while promoting

conservation goals. "Because the villagers understand

that we care about them as well as the chimpanzees,

it's beginning to come around," she says.

Goodall believes that if long-term conservation is to

work, it has to involve young people. So in 1990, the

Goodall Institute created Roots & Shoots. The program

helps young people from pre-school through university

identify problems in their communities and take action

to solve them.

"Every group chooses three kinds of projects to make

the world a better place," she says, "one to help people,

one to help animals including dogs and cats and pigs,

and one to help the environment that we all share," she says.
"Young people, when informed and empowered, when

they realize that what they do truly makes a difference,

can indeed change the world. And they are changing it

already," Jane Goodall

Hope for animals on the brink of extinction

Book Cover

Dr. Goodall writes about TACARE (Take Care) and

her other conservation efforts in her new book, Hope for

Animals and Their World. But the book focuses on the

inspiring stories of dozens of field biologists who have

managed to rescue endangered species from the brink

of extinction, despite tremendous obstacles.

"One of the reasons I wanted to do this book was that

there is so much doom and gloom - and quite rightly,"

Goodall says. "We have made a horrible mess of the

planet, no question, but at the same time, there are all

these extraordinary success stories." She says she

wanted to write about the "amazing people doing

amazing work" that led to those successes.

Saving the golden lion tamarin

One of those people is Dr. Leonardo Coimbra-Filho of

the Rio de Janeiro Primate Center who is often called

the father of primatology in Brazil. Together with other

conservationists, he created a captive breeding program

that has saved the golden lion tamarin, the most

endangered of all New World primates.

Goodall says she is thrilled about the success of the

program because so many of the monkeys have been

re-introduced back into the wild. "Many of them are

now living completely free of any scientific observation.

They've made it!"

Indeed, having been successfully released into the

forests of Brazil, the golden lion tamarins are the only

primate species to have been downlisted from critically

endangered to endangered on the IUCN [International

Union for Conservation of Nature] Red List of

Threatened Species.

Making a Difference

Nearly 50 years after she began her work, Jane Goodall

remains an energetic champion for the welfare of the

world's wild animals. Appointed in 2002 by the United

Nations as one of its messengers of peace, she travels the

globe nearly 300 days a year, spreading her message of

hope and positive change.

"These are the stories that give me hope," Jane Goodall

"Every single day we impact the world around us,"

she says. "If we would just think about the consequences

of the little choices we make; what we eat, wear, buy,

how we interact with people, animals, the environment,

then we start making small changes and that can lead

to the huge change that we must have."

Positive change, says Goodall, has to start within

ourselves, so we can better understand – and appreciate

– the deep connection between us and the natural world.

28 September 2009


911 Site of Abused Animals


Carole Baskins, Great Advocate, Speaks About Private Ownership Exotic Animals, L. LaPeter Anton, S. Aronoff, Gini Valbuena, J. Watson, Vernon Yates

The big cat fight PDF with photos

The links in red to the right of the sentences will give you the background information

Activism, accusations lurk behind a pet project

By LEONORA LaPETER ANTON, Times Staff Writer

Published November 11, 2007

TAMPA - Carole Baskin would like to forget that she once bred exotic big cats and sold them as house pets. 1

She would like everyone else to forget that her husband disappeared mysteriously 10 years ago, leaving her a rich woman. 2

She would rather that everyone thought of her the way she sees herself: a crusader for animal rights who believes no one should own a wild cat. Not a zoo. Not a sanctuary. Not even herself.

But to many who live and breathe exotic animals, Baskin is a hypocrite.

They point out that her own 40-acre Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Hillsborough County has 137 tigers, lions, leopards, lynx and other big cats. Her own "private collection," they call it. 3

They heckle her at state wildlife meetings. They picket her fundraising Fur Balls. And they speculate on what happened to her late husband, Don Lewis, calling police with tips.

"Did you feed him to the tigers?" someone once asked Baskin at the grocery store. Her own stepdaughter wanted police to test the meat grinder at the sanctuary for her missing father's DNA. 4

Baskin says she has no idea what happened to Lewis and she had nothing to do with it. She is simply focused on her mission to outlaw private ownership of big cats and arrive at a day when there is no longer a need to shelter them. A day when Big Cat Rescue closes.

"That's our ultimate goal: to put ourselves out of business," she says. For now, her sanctuary for big cats remains one of the largest in Florida. Baskin glides quietly between the steel enclosures at her overgrown sanctuary, nodding at the tigers and lions, cougars and leopards that lounge or pace around. Today she keeps her distance. No more "Mommy loves you," at least not out loud. No more bobcats in her bed.

Instead, she compiles statistics on big cat attacks and writes legislators. She firmly believes that exotic cats should be left to either wax or wane in the wild. People who think they're preserving the species in captivity (as she once did) are fooling themselves, she says.

"What drives a lot of these people to have these sanctuaries and pseudo sanctuaries and backyard collections is that they love being around that kind of animal," Baskin says, dressed in cheetah print. 5

Her opinions and actions have inflamed many who love, breed, rescue and rehabilitate exotic animals in Florida. Some have sent out anonymous packets with letters and testimonials, to show Big Cat Rescue is simply a private collection masquerading as a rescue. They sign it "Crusaders for Animals."

The animosity reached a peak this year after Baskin helped get a liability law passed that would require owners of tigers, chimps and other exotic animals to get insurance in case of injuries.

Baskin also took it upon herself recently to send letters to more than 1,500 people around the state informing them that they live next door to an exotic animal even though state wildlife officials decided against doing so. 21

The dispute is largely playing out on the Internet and YouTube. Baskin has compiled a wall of shame of animal owners, complete with names, dates and actions on her Big Cat Rescue Web site. Exotic animal owners fight back on other Web sites.

Vernon Yates, a man who has about 200 exotic animals in Seminole, has clashed with her repeatedly, even calling her "A.K.A. The Liar" on his own wildlife rescue Web site.

But Baskin says she's not intimidated.

"It isn't about me or any other individual," she wrote in an e-mail. "It is the collective conscious of society that is evolving in such a way that keeping wild animals captive will soon be a thing of the past." 20

Exotic animal owners say they are trying to expose her heavy-handed fundraising, and what they say is her true intent: to be the only game in town. 6

Judy Watson, former education director at Big Cat Rescue, says Baskin tells less-than-truthful stories about how she rescued some of her cats from the pet trade or abuse. Sometimes Baskin bred or bought the cats herself, Watson says. 7

One example is Shere Khan, an 800-pound Siberian tiger that was undernourished and stuck in a cage up to its belly in feces when it was rescued, according to the Big Cat Rescue Web site. 8

But the man who sold Shere Khan to Baskin in 1994 says the tiger had the run of his house in Flat Rock, Ind., even sleeping with a pillow and comforter in the living room.

"That's baloney," says Dennis Hill, 50, who said he sold the tiger to Baskin for $800. "She uses this creative writing and plays on people's heartstrings. That situation never existed."

Baskin says the stories on her Web site are all true and Hill gave her Shere Khan in that condition. But she admits that some of the animals she claims to have rescued were actually her pets. But she says she has changed. 9

Her supporters say she has worked tirelessly to make people aware that owning big cats is misguided.

"She has been a pioneer in changing people's ways of viewing the animals from cute and cuddly balls of fur, to something they are going to be responsible for 20 to 25 years," says Jennifer Ruszczyk, 33, a Big Cat volunteer.

- - -

All the controversy has made Baskin cautious. In person, she is quiet yet passionate, guarded yet pointed. She'll talk about her purpose, but not her past.

She does write about it though. Her 12,000-page Web site is sprinkled with colorful stories about her childhood, the men in her life, her effort to lose weight and her infatuation with "The Secret," a belief that positive thinking can create results. There's even a video of her reading Wallace Wattles' The Science of Getting Rich.

Baskin says she left her Tampa home at 15 and took up with an older man, an abusive drunk. Met another man where she worked as a bookkeeper. Married him at 17, had a baby girl at 19.

And then there she was walking along a Tampa road barefoot, trying to subdue her anger. It was 1980. She had just thrown a potato at her husband. Her baby was 6 months old. And Lewis drove by. He was in his 40s with a wife, young children. 10 She was 19 and beautiful in the way that Suzanne Somers is beautiful.

He stopped the car. She got in.

"I fell in love with him immediately," she says, smiling.

Baskin tried not to talk about Lewis, but inevitably he slipped into the conversation.

The two carried on an affair for a decade before Lewis' wife divorced him. Though he had made millions in trucking and foreclosures, he gave Baskin a $14 engagement ring from a pawnshop.

"He looked like someone who basically came home from a 50-hour workweek on a road crew," recalled James Moore, Lewis' friend and a former volunteer at the sanctuary. "He Dumpster dove. You looked at him and you wanted to hand him money."

Lewis and Baskin both loved animals even before they met. Lewis had owned swans and geese, raccoons, even prairie dogs. Baskin had bred Himalayan show cats, amassing a wall of ribbons and plaques.

Together, they got their first pet bobcat, Windsong, at an animal auction in 1992. One wasn't enough. The way Baskin tells it, the couple found themselves at a Minnesota fur farm staring at 56 bobcat kittens in cages matted with fur and feces. They brought the cats back to a 40-acre parcel on Easy Street in northwest Hillsborough County. They had gotten the land in a foreclosure.

They called their new place Wildlife on Easy Street.

- - -

Trouble began to surface once the exotic cats came along. The couple's relationship appeared to suffer, kind of like parents who fight about how to raise their kids. 11

Baskin wanted to change their mission from breeding and selling exotic cats to rescuing them.

Lewis didn't.

By 1996, Lewis wanted to move the operation to a 200-acre farm he owned in Costa Rica. His wife didn't. 12

Lewis told Anne McQueen, his assistant of 18 years, that he wanted a divorce. A year later, he walked into the Hillsborough courthouse and asked for a domestic violence injunction against his wife. 13

"Me and Carole got in a big fuss, she ordered me out of the house or she would kill me," Lewis wrote in court documents. "She has a .45 (caliber) revolver and she took my .357 and hid it."14

A judge said there was "no immediate threat of violence" and denied the request.

The last time McQueen saw Lewis, he had argued with his wife and slept in a semitrailer on the property. 15

"Don did not leave of his own free will," says McQueen, 53, who lives in Tampa. "He loved his money more than anybody, and he would have never left his money."

In August 1997, police found Lewis' van at a Pasco County airport with the keys on the floorboard. He was known to fly out of the country frequently, so police first thought he had just taken a trip. But as the months passed with no sign of Lewis, police flew to Costa Rica, chasing possible sightings. They also searched the wildlife sanctuary in Hillsborough.

Police found no sign of him.

Lewis never touched his $6-million estate again - but his family fought over it. Baskin had documents showing he left her in charge of his estate. Lewis' children were mostly left out of the will except for a previously agreed upon trust.

In 2002, five years after he disappeared, a court declared Lewis dead. Most of his estate went to Baskin. 16

- - -

In 2004, Baskin walked down the beach on Anna Maria Island toward a man dressed like a caveman. She hit him over the head with a plastic bat. He threw her over his shoulder. They exchanged vows in the surf.

The man was Howard Baskin, a semiretired banker with an MBA from Harvard Business School and a law degree.

He has brought a corporate mind-set to Big Cat Rescue, now a $1-million operation with dozens of volunteers. He had the sanctuary's name changed to Big Cat Rescue because Wildlife on Easy Street sounded like a bar. And he brought in corporate sponsors, including a Washington lobbyist.

Big Cat Rescue's annual Fur Ball gala raised $120,000 last month - twice what it did the year before.

The nonprofit sanctuary charges $25 a person for tours. Last year, more than 26,000 people visited and for the first time it turned a profit, of $500,000. 19

The Baskins plan to use the money to build a wall around Big Cat Rescue since the sanctuary is surrounded by a major mall, a soon-to-be condo development and Veterans Expressway.

But they say the wall likely will not fend off the attacks from other exotic animal owners intent on using Carole Baskin's past against her.

"What will carry her ... is her passion for her mission and understanding that her role unfortunately includes being the subject of these attacks," Howard Baskin wrote in an e-mail.

- - -

At the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Detective Chris Fox skims through two volumes on Lewis' disappearance.

It remains a cold case.

Fox says Lewis' trips to Latin America "gave him a very exotic image and opened him up to rumors and questions about everything from drug smuggling and animal smuggling to money laundering and who knows what else. Add in a contentious relationship with his wife."

There have been no tips in the case for years - except one in 2005. It came, Fox says, from another exotic animal owner. A former sanctuary volunteer was now saying she had not witnessed Lewis' will.

Susan Aronoff Bradshaw said that after Lewis disappeared, Carole Baskin asked her to testify that she was there for the will signing when she was not. 17

Bradshaw, an exotic animal owner in Plant City, said she feared angering Baskin. "Carole's made a big name for herself and I'm a big nobody," Bradshaw said recently.

Fox believes she is telling the truth, but the statute of limitations on the possible perjury has passed. It is also not enough to focus the investigation back on Baskin or Big Cat Rescue.

But Fox is aware of the controversy swirling around Baskin.

"The only inquiries I have received on this case in the past year," he said, "are from people who are business adversaries of Carole Baskin and who hope she will be discovered to be responsible for his disappearance." 18

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

[Last modified November 10, 2007, 23:58:07]

You can post a comment here or email the reporter at

Slideshow and audio

There is a slideshow and audio at the following link that contrasts the perspectives of Carole Baskin and Vernon Yates:

Records sparse on exotic animals in our midst

In Florida, about 500 private owners have about 13,500 of the most dangerous animals.

By LEONORA LaPETER ANTON, Times Staff Writer

Published November 11, 2007

Here in Florida, land of more alligator and shark attacks than anywhere else in the world, it should come as no surprise that it's a jungle out there.

From sleepy farm towns near Lake Okeechobee to the palm tree-lined downtowns around Tampa Bay, thousands of wild animals live and die in backyard cages largely hidden from view.

Although 22 states ban private ownership of lions, tigers and other exotic wildlife, Florida remains a haven for menageries. State records show about 4,500 people or businesses hold licenses to own everything from bears to boa constrictors.

Research labs breed thousands of primates for experiments. Circus workers return every winter with lions and bears. And large and small rescue operations started years ago in undeveloped areas now find themselves surrounded by single-family homes.

"There are so many sanctuaries out there and they're not sanctuaries, they're peoples' private collections," says Vernon Yates, who keeps about 200 animals on 3 acres in Seminole.

Wildlife owners must submit annual counts of their animals, but state wildlife officials acknowledge they have no idea exactly how many exotic animals inhabit the state.

"In an ideal world, it would be better to have inventories on what is possessed on a daily basis, but that's not realistic," said Capt. Linda Harrison of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the agency that monitors captive wildlife. "Especially with the frequency and amount of change. What's important is to know where all these facilities are located."

A St. Petersburg Times review of files for owners of Class 1 and Class 2 animals -- the 66 animals that "pose the most threat to human safety" in the words of Harrison -- was fraught with difficulty. Some files were missing; others were lacking the latest inventories; injury and escape data were not computerized.

As for the missing files and inventories, Harrison had no answer. "Some files we weren't able to locate," she said. "I can't answer why they weren't there."

Based on the available inventories, the Times found that about 13,500 Class 1 and Class 2 animals are concentrated in the hands of 500 private owners. (This does not include animals in accredited zoos, aquariums, theme parks and the thousands of less-regulated Class 3 animals.)

The most popular of the more dangerous animals: crocodiles (560), tigers (456) and cougars (401).

In 1967, a tourist driving into Florida couldn't go but a few miles without running into a roadside animal attraction: a couple of crocodiles in a pen, a pair of boxing chimps, a Bengal tiger in a cage by a souvenir stand.

Some were so decrepit that even the tourists complained. State lawmakers responded by requiring inspections. Then in 1974, after several gruesome animal attacks, the state banned owning certain wild animals as pets. Today, the most dangerous wildlife can only be owned for commercial use.

The largest quantities of exotic animals in Florida -- a combined 8,042 macaques and 1,321 baboons -- are being bred for research at places like Primate Products of Immokalee and Miami, Worldwide Primates Inc. of Miami and the Mannheimer Foundation in Homestead.

But many more are owned by everyday people.

There's the Clearwater woman who has sold encounters with her chimpanzee on Craigslist and a retired 80-year-old St. Petersburg preacher with pet emus and an ostrich in his back yard.

And then there's Richard Greenberg, who keeps three orangutans, three tigers, two chimps and a leopard in multistory cages in his back yard in St. Petersburg behind an electronic gate. Two of his orangutans, Bernie and Maggie, are the stars of a TV ad for his Clearwater auto parts store.

Still, experts say it is inevitable that one day many animals will disappear from private hands as it gets harder and more costly to keep them. Recent efforts for stricter laws have included requiring exotic animal owners to get insurance for potential injuries. Wildlife owners, however, defeated an attempt to make them notify their neighbors of their existence.

Many have watched some of those neighbors creep closer.

"The (animal) activists like to point out that I live in a densely populated area of Pinellas County, but this area was very rural 26 years ago," says Gini Valbuena, who owns two chimpanzees at her home in Clearwater. "I didn't move into this congestion, it moved into me."

Other exotic animal owners believe animal activists are trying to scare the public with exaggerated statistics and misdirected perceptions. No one in Florida has died from a tiger mauling since 2001, they say, and most of those injured are trainers or owners who choose to live with the risk.

Some say they simply want to live with their animals -- free from prying eyes and more government intrusion -- but fear a state that has long welcomed wildlife owners may be turning its back on them.

"I thought I would not see it in my lifetime," said Yates, a wildlife trapper, "but I think it's coming -- any form of private ownership will be gone."

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan and editorial assistant Emily Rieman contributed to this story.

[Last modified November 11, 2007, 01:36:14]

Map shows where the dangerous animals are

This online map shows how many people are harboring dangerous exotic animals in the Tampabay area:

(Now Big Cat Rescue maps the entire state here This was not included in the original article)

Even less-dangerous exotic animals can cause injuries


Published November 11, 2007

In the past five years, captive wildlife have injured at least 124 people in Florida, according to state officials. Eighty-four incidents involved people who owned or trained the animals. Those designated the most dangerous -- lions, tigers, elephants, crocodiles, cougars -- were responsible for a third of them. Most people got hurt by less dangerous animals such as raccoons, marmosets and dolphins. Venomous reptiles caused 34 injuries.

The last death involving a captive wild animal in Florida was in 2001 when a tiger named Tie killed a 49-year-old volunteer at Savage Kingdom, a tiger breeding facility in Sumter County.

Nationally, 10 people have been killed by captive big cats since 2001. Congress is considering Haley's Act, which would ban all contact between big cats and the public. Two years ago Haley Hilderbrand, 17, was killed by a Siberian tiger while having her senior class picture taken at an animal sanctuary in Kansas.

Here are some Tampa Bay area wildlife injuries, not including those at zoos and theme parks:

Dec. 30, 2006: A 14-foot Burmese python named Cloe bit an 18-year-old animal handler at the Tarpon Springs Aquarium, wrapping itself around her arm as it tried to drag her into its cage.

Oct. 3, 2006: An albino monocle cobra bit an employee of Southeast Reptile Exchange while he was preparing the animal for transport.

Sept. 12, 2006: A tiger named Rula bit its handler in the upper arm and face after the handler stumbled in the tiger's muddy enclosure in Balm in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

April 13, 2006: Gizmo, a Capuchin monkey, bit a 78-year-old woman trying to feed it.

Feb. 27, 2006: A cougar at a Dade City facility bit someone who reached in to pet the big cat.

Feb. 9, 2006: A marmoset living in a St. Petersburg home bit a visitor on the right thumb.

Nov. 17, 2005: A 2-year-old ring-tailed lemur named Fonzie scratched a 34-year-old woman as the owner tried to pull the animal away with its leash at a Gulfport business.

Aug. 16, 2005: A ring-tailed lemur living in St. Petersburg bit a 35-year-old woman who tried to kiss it through its cage. The woman required surgery to her mouth.

Feb. 12, 2005: An infant tiger bit a 42-year-old Oldsmar woman on the hand during a photo event.

Oct. 28, 2004: A dusky pygmy rattlesnake bit a 48-year-old Holiday man who had a rodent in his hand. The man was not licensed to have the snake.

Dec. 7, 2003: A cougar in Brooksville bit an appliance delivery man who stuck his hand in the animal's cage.

Nov. 12, 2002: A coral cobra bit its Tampa owner while it was being fed.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

[Last modified November 11, 2007, 01:36:56]

Carole’s note:

Even though it is painful to have people make such untrue accusations about my personal life and motivations, I am grateful that the St. Pete Times has exposed the dirty animal underworld that exists in Florida. Online polls show that 76% of the public would approve a ban of exotic animals as pets. (6,518 random online surfers were polled as of 11/11/07) As more people find out about animals living in cramped concrete cells, or filthy backyard cages, they will do something to end the trade and misery.

This video shows facilities that are currently licensed and approved by the USDA and the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission that have been operating at this level or worse for more than 10 years and yet are still open to the public. These images are typical of those who allow cameras in but there are many worse ones who do not. This shows precisely why we need to ban private possession of exotic cats.

The following is a partial listing (531) of incidents in the U.S. involving captive exotic cats since 1990. The U.S. incidents have resulted in the deaths of 20 humans, 15 adults and 5 children, the additional mauling of 174 more adults and children, 143 escapes, the killing of 84 big cats, and 113 confiscations. There have also been 150 big cat incidents outside the U.S. that have resulted in the deaths of 57 humans and the mauling of 85 humans by captive big cats. These figures only represent the headlines that Big Cat Rescue has been able to track. Because there is no reporting agency that keeps such records the actual numbers are certainly much higher.

To see a video of the mauling of a zoo keeper in 2006 go to

The Journal of Internal Medicine in 2006 estimated that 50 million people worldwide have been infected with zoonotic diseases since 2000 and as many as 78,000 have died. Read more about zoonotic diseases here:

To see the number of exotic cats abandoned each year go to

To view a trend chart that shows the alarming escalation of big cat incidents here:

The U.S. represents less than 5% of the entire global population, but up through 2006 79% of ALL captive cat incidents occurred in the U.S. (Now that the US is clamping down on the exotic pet trade, the reports in 2007 show a decline in U.S. incidents compared to the rest of the world) Likewise, Florida represents less than 6% of the U.S. population while 11% of all U.S. incidents occur in Florida. Florida boasts the most comprehensive sets of regulations allowing private ownership of exotic cats while ranking #1 in the highest numbers of big cat killings, maulings and escapes. To view photos of fatal injuries from cases reported in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine click

You can help!

Support Haley’s Act with a quick and easy email letter directed to your Congressional representative here: This bill bans contact with big cats and their babies and the reason it is so important is that hundreds of lions and tigers are bred each year to be used for photo booths, petting sessions, tiger tamer camps and flea market fundraising. They can only be used for a few weeks of their lives and then are killed, sold for their parts in the 20 billion dollar illegal wildlife trade or warehoused in cramped, filthy quarters until they are abandoned. Haley’s Act would end most of the breeding for those purposes, resulting in fewer homeless lions, tigers and other big cats. It will not affect legitimate zoos.

The Accusers:

Leonora LaPeter Anton

Susan Aronoff

Gini Valbuena

Judy Watson

Vernon Yates

The Truth of the Matter

Any of you who know me (Carole Baskin) know that the ugly things said about me by the breeders, dealers and exotic pet owners are not true. You also have seen the way some member of the media use such unfounded gossip to sell papers and ad space. For those of you who do not know, the following is posted so that you will have a more complete understanding of the situation. The article above actually did a pretty good job of exposing the motives of those who lie in order to divert the attention away from their selfish and abusive practices.

1. Our website has always said how we started and we tell it on every tour. It is the reason that I have credibility as a witness against those who use and abuse exotic cats. I know from personal experience with them, what they do, how they do it and how they hide it. They hate that I am exposing them and by doing so putting an end to their wildlife trafficking. More here: Back To Top

2. Don's disappearance did not "leave me a rich woman" but rather nearly destroyed the wealth we had accumulated through a decade of real estate investments together. Pull the probate case filed in Hillsborough County 97-2001. Back To Top

3. I donated the 45 acres (valued at over 4 million dollars), vehicles, computers, equipment and animals to the non profit charity Big Cat Rescue. I have never been compensated for my 60+ hour work weeks and never intend to be. I can never sell the property or have any personal gain in it at all. I am not even on the board of directors for the charity. No one who is accusing me of having a backyard collection (I don't live at the sanctuary) can make the same claim. Back To Top

4. The grinder was only big enough to run a chicken leg through, so the assertions made by Don' estranged children were obviously ridiculous to the police who investigated. Some important facts that were in the Probate case 97-2001 and thus known to the police, the children of Don Lewis, the secretary and presumably the reporter are that Don had an MRI and had been diagnosed as being Bi-Polar just days before his disappearance and was scheduled to see an Alzheimer's specialist for the week after his disappearance, because he was frequently getting lost, forgetting who he was and was endangering himself and others. All of us at the sanctuary tried to keep an eye on him to keep him safe, but he got away from us early on the morning of August 18, 1997. There were a number of people taking advantage of his weakened state, including his secretary, who were doing everything in their power to keep him from being seen by a doctor, and I believe it was because they knew if he had been declared incompetent, they could not continue to steal from him. Back To Top

5. The reporter left off the second half of that sentence, but it was included in the slideshow online version, where I said that the reason these people who claim to be rescuing animals do not want the trade in wild animals to end is because they would then not have the opportunity to rescue and be around the animals they like to possess. If their motives were pure they would be helping Big Cat Rescue get laws passed that stop the suffering from happening in the first place. Back To Top

6. Those who oppose laws to end the breeding and discarding often say that I want to be the only person with exotic cats, but it is clear to anyone who can read, in this article and repeatedly throughout our website, that our goal is that Big Cat Rescue will someday soon not need to exist. Back To Top

7. See number 1 and more about Judy Watson, who was thrown out of Big Cat Rescue for animal abuse here: Back To Top

8. It is illegal to sell a tiger and if I had bought Shere Khan from Dennis Hill I would have immediately turned him in to the US Fish & Wildlife Service to be fined and jailed. Unfortunately, he cannot be jailed for saying that he broke the law, and based upon his illegal narcotics activities and possession of stolen equipment, he is no stranger to lawlessness. More here: Back To Top

9. I never made false statements about the origin of our animals. The reporter phrased this sentence as if to say I admitted that I had made false claims in the past and that is not correct. Again, see number 1 and note that no exotic cats have been bred or purchased in many, many years. Back To Top

10. Don's daughters were all adults with their own families when we Don and I first met. His illegitimate son, by another girlfriend according to Don, may have been 16 or 17 when we met, but was often in juvenile detention and later went to jail for killing a friend. Most of Leonora's article is just a re-wording of the tabloid article that appeared in 1997 and in the article the children's ages were given. Back To Top

11. It is true that I wanted to stop breeding and placing animals before Don came to that same conclusion, it is not true that we were fighting about it. Back To Top

12. We chose not to move to Costa Rica because we could not find an experienced veterinarian there and access to appropriate food, in the quantities we needed for the cats, was not available in a land that can barely feed its people. Back To Top

13. Anne McQueen, our former secretary, is not a reliable witness given the fact that she had titled $600,000.00 of our assets in her maiden name and changed Don's $1,000,000.00 life insurance policy to make her the sole beneficiary and owner just four months before his disappearance. Don could barely read or write and as his office manager Anne could ask him to sign anything and he wouldn't know what it was. Neither of us had reason to suspect her and I did not discover what she had done until it was too late. The probate courts made her return all but the $54,000.00 she had already spent. It is all in the Hillsborough Probate court case 97-2001. Back To Top

14. The restraining order came as a result of me hauling the junk off that Don would drag home from his dumpster diving. Whenever he was in Costa Rica I would haul as much trash off the property as possible. One of the people (see number 4 above) who was taking advantage of Don called him in Costa Rica and told him what I was doing, but when Don tried to get the police to stop me they told him that there was no law against me hauling trash off the property and if he wanted to keep me away from his stuff he would need a restraining order. The only way he could get a restraining order was to say that I threatened to kill him, which never happened. I did not know about his attempt at getting a restraining order until after his disappearance. because there had never been a fight or any other reason to suspect he would have done such a thing. Anne McQueen knew that when Don was out of town I would use the time to clean up the property, and she knew why Don had tried to get the restraining order, but it did not suit her needs to be truthful to the police about it. Back To Top

15. There was never a time during our marriage that I threw Don out of the house, or that he spent the night in a semi trailer. He traveled to Costa Rica regularly, but it was because he felt like a big fish in a little pond there. The fact that he was illiterate in English didn't matter in a country where he was not expected to be able to read and write in Spanish. He wanted to invest in real estate there and we agreed that he could invest a million there. I hired an attorney to help keep him out of legal trouble, but he still made a lot of bad investments, including a $100,000.00 loan to the Costa Rican mafia known as the Helicopter Brothers. The reporter failed to mention the fact that from the beginning I have offered a $100,000.00 reward to anyone who could provide evidence resulting in Don's recovery, dead or alive. Nor did she mention the fact that I offered to pay all of the expenses for the police to check out the leads in Costa Rica. They refused my offer because they said it would look like they only serve the rich, but they did finally go down and investigate on their own tab. They said that the security guard who works the neighborhood where one of our homes was located told them he saw Don in the weeks AFTER his disappearance. She also did not mention that the police reported that several people in Florida reported seeing Don after his disappearance as well, including a woman who said Don had shown her photos of some animals in Costa Rica while they were standing in line having film developed. Back To Top

16. See number 1. Even though Don had disowned his children long before his disappearance, I had set up a trust for them that contained all of his assets at the time we married in 1991. Despite him asking me repeatedly to dissolve the trust, I did not because I never wanted anyone to say that I married him for his money. I was not required by the court to do so, but rather chose to give his children that and more, which totaled about 1.5 million dollars, so that they could manage it until Don returned. Millions more were lost to attorneys, the co conservator and court ordered mandates that required me to abandon properties that had liabilities associated with them. By the end of the ordeal, six years later, there were no assets of Don's left to give to me or anyone else. I also agreed to re-write the insurance policy so that his children collectively received the lion's share, 325,000.00 went to the sanctuary, Anne McQueen was given 125,000.00 in order to compel her to sign back other things she had taken and a very small portion to me. I don't remember the exact breakdown, but you can see it for yourself in the aforementioned court case file. Back To Top

17. Susan Aronoff Bradshaw was thrown out of Big Cat Rescue for endangering a lion and the public. More about that here: Back To Top

18. It is telling that the only people making claims that I was involved in my husband's disappearance are those who stand to lose financially if I am successful in ending the trade in big cats as pets, and those who would seek to take what I have re-built since Don's disappearance because they have likely already squandered what was given to them. Back To Top

19. The reporter said that the sanctuary “turned a profit of $500,000”. First, non-profits do not show a “profit”, we show a Change in Net Assets or Surplus. Second, she fails to note that a significant part of the surplus is created by the fact that my husband and I work full time for no compensation keeping expenses low. This is in contrast to the breeders and exhibitors who urged the reporter to write this article. They make a living from the animals. Third, there are huge future requirements that need to be funded with the amounts we receive in excess of what is needed to fund current operating expenses. Last December teenagers shot paint balls at the cats through our chain link perimeter fence. And the property next to us is scheduled to contain close to 400 townhomes. We are about to start construction on a much needed ten foot high solid perimeter wall that will cost an estimated $750,000 to complete. We have obtained the necessary zoning and are in the final stages of permitting. Leonora mentions the wall, but not the amount. And that is just one major need. We need to have reserves so that if a recession or another 9-11 causes donations and tour visitors to diminish we can still feed the cats. And beyond that, we have yet to begin funding the endowment that an established non profit should have that would insure the long term ability to care for the cats, particularly beyond my lifetime.

Our financial statements are audited, our statements and IRS 990 are posted on line at, and we are proud to have met the rigorous Sanctuary Standards that can be viewed at

With charities such as hunger or leukemia you don't have an industry that is trying to make sure there is never a cure found, whereas those who make money from the 20 billion dollar exotic pet trade have a real interest in stopping us. Ironically, the very people who spoke out against us in this article are in the business of rescuing animals and do not want us to succeed in ending the exotic pet trade as it will mean an end to their income and sense of personal identity. These people are opposing the cure for their own selfish reasons. Back To Top

20. Letters to the editor. Below are just a few of the letters that our donors and supporters have copied us with that they sent to the editor of the St. Pete Times. You can send a letter to the editor here: It isn't necessary for you to defend us as the vast majority of the population can read between the lines and see the paper's agenda in the way they presented this story, but it would help for you to let the editor know that you want the media to devote more attention to the plight of animals caught up in the 20 billion dollar wildlife trade and that you are committed to ending the suffering caused by industries such as the exotic pet trade, backyard breeders, roadside zoos, canned hunts and circuses. Let them know that you do not believe these majestic cats should be carted around to schools, fairs, parking lots and store fronts. While you are at it, please copy your legislators with the same information at If the press and the lawmakers don't hear from you, they won't know that these issues matter to anyone.

Howard Baskin

Anderson Cooper has recently done two specials covering the massive illegal poaching of species from the wild in large part to supply the U.S. demand for exotic animals as pets. A few weeks ago Bo Derek and the State Department held a news conference in Miami exposing the massive illegal flow of exotic animals, second only to drugs and guns, coming through the port. 20/20 has done a heart wrenching expose’ on the horrible conditions endured by exotic animals held in private hands in the U.S. The everglades are being destroyed by pet boa constrictors who have been released and are multiplying. And the contribution of the St. Pete Times is to act like a supermarket tabloid and repeat 10 year old lies and innuendos about my wife?

Your reporter quotes Dennis Hill as disputing the conditions in which our tiger Shere Khan was kept at his facility. But the article omits to mention that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources seized animals from him citing the conditions as “horrific”, USDA has revoked his license and fined him, and he has been charged with three felony charges after selling drugs to an undercover officer and stolen goods were found on his property. This is a credible source to the St. Pete Times?

The good news is that after your reporter finished the gossip column on the front page, her discussion of exotic animal ownership did help create awareness of some of the reasons exotic animals should not be pets. She points to the injuries and to the difficulty the FWCC has in just tracking owners, let alone enforcing the laws. Your website map that allows people to click and see exactly where dangerous animals are kept in their neighborhoods is an excellent public service. Hopefully showing Mr. Yates standing by the tiny cage he uses to cart animals around for display will make some readers question if this is good life for the animal.

At the end of the “Records sparse on exotic animals in our midst” report Mr. Yates predicts that private ownership will be gone in his lifetime. Sixteen states have already passed bans on private ownership, and there is a steady, unstoppable trend of limiting or banning it both at the state and federal level. My wife has been a leader in this effort, testifying regularly in Tallahassee and Washington DC, which is why Yates and cohorts continually attack her. It is only a matter of time before Florida abandons its legacy of the 1950’s of horrible animal displays all along the tourist routes and enters this century. And no amount of personal attacks like those in your article will deter my wife from fulfilling her mission to see this happen and make Mr. Yates’ prediction come true.

Howard Baskin

Lisa Shaw

Big Cat Fight - Yellow/Smear Journalism

I am saddened that the Saint Petersburg Times, a paper I used to feel was a somewhat intelligent and unbiased voice, has sunk to rehashing old information and salacious allegations to further an unknown agenda or, even worse, promote sales by splashing a degrading, personal, attack on the front page of Sunday's paper. I had naively thought that "yellow" journalism was relegated to the tabloids or political smear campaigns. You have proved me wrong.

I am an extremely proud former volunteer of Big Cat Rescue. I dedicated two years of my life and free time, over 1,400 hours while holding down a full time job to the care of the residents at the
sanctuary who had been discarded by others. This article not only attacked Carole Baskin, it unjustly and heinously attacked the extraordinarily dedicated and caring staff and volunteers of Big Cat
Rescue. How dare you!

Ironically enough, at this writing, I am watching a program on Animal Planet – Animal Cops: Houston - where a part of an abandoned Caracal's story is that it was taken to a vet to be euthanized
because the family did not want him anymore. This story, in a variety of scenarios, is repeated over and over again, all across this country. Explain to me why we should be able to own any exotic, not just exotic cats, but any exotic or wild animal?

What Mrs. Baskin has done in her life is her path in life, I do not and cannot judge her. All of us have a path, some of us have a rockier path than others but we, hopefully, grow and learn and take
action to correct the direction we go as she has done admirably. I believe in her and the mission of Big Cat Rescue and have done what I can to help her in any way as well as her lobbying efforts. None of us are without flaw... not one of us! Mrs. Baskin has done a miraculous turn around in a short period of time with regard to exotic animal ownership. Her efforts in being a good steward toward this earth and its exotic residents are to be admired and emulated not belittled by a story that dredges up information that is not news anymore and most of which can be found in the pages of

This disappointment is compounded by the fact that in knowing, months ago, that Ms. LaPeter Anton was writing a story I had tried to reach her by phone and via voice mail to offer a former volunteer's point of view. She apparently felt no need to get my opinion as her agenda (axe to grind) was perceptibly predetermined.

I hope to never see such a useless and disparaging article again on your pages.

Lisa Shaw

Patricia Massard

"The big cat fight", Nov 11, 2007

To the Editor:

I have been a volunteer at Big Cat Rescue for almost two years. I would describe Carole Baskin as a casual acquaintance. I cannot comment on her personal life or on her past.

What I can comment on is what I have experienced in my time at the sanctuary.

First of all, I find there is a great deal of transparency at Big Cat Rescue. No topic is off-limits, and no attempt is made to downplay mistakes of the past.

More importantly, I am consistently amazed by the dedication of the staff and the other volunteers towards improving the lives of exotic animals in captivity and helping their cousins in the wild. Big Cat Rescue is an organization made up of many individuals who are committed to these goals.

To anyone who might have concerns after reading the Times' coverage, I encourage you to visit Big Cat Rescue and see first-hand the work being done there.

Sincerely, Patricia Massard

Laura Lassiter

Subject: Big Cat Fight

In reading the article, "The Big Cat Fight" by Leonora LaPeter Anton, in the Sunday's St. Petersburg's Times dated November 11, 2007, I was struck by one salient point that seemed to go unacknowledged by the reporter who wrote the article. That point being that Carole Baskin, though she may have started her involvement with exotic cats and animals as a neophyte owner/breeder, she very quickly and with apparent great conscious, realized the plight of the big cats and that their best interests could never be served by any breeding or pet trade business.

Further, the reporter through the allegations and accusations levied by others who are in the business of the commercial exploitation of big cats, asserted that Baskin wants to be "the only game in town." The question that comes to mind is: What game is that? Baskin states her goal as being to eliminate the exploitation and abuse of big cats and exotic animals so that the mistreatment inherent in this type of environment is no longer a threat to the quality of life of any exotic animal, that through circumstances have to be housed and cared for in a controlled environment. Either knowingly or unknowingly, the article by Ms. Anton is actually being employed as a bully pulpit by those who are the focus of Baskin's efforts and current legislation to eliminate and prevent the further exploitation and monetary gain through ownership and breeding of big cats. It is their game and their money that is being threatened.

Anton's article however does provide a revealing look at those who are the main offenders and prime examples of the need for efforts similar to Baskin's in eliminating exotic animal ownership.

Laura Lassiter

Christy Thurston

Ms. LaPeter Anton, I read your article in the St Pete Times and was very disappointed that you did not use the opportunity to speak more about the plight of the animals that are suffering in so many ways as a result of the booming illegal exotic trade. Surely you put more worth in the imminent peril of our planet than the tabloid-esque article you chose to use the space for?

I have been a volunteer at BCR for just 8 months now but I have learned so much in that short time. I have always loved animals and have been involved with several domestic pet rescue organizations but never wild animals until now. As an animal lover, I have always had numerous pets and at one time I myself considered purchasing a Serval at a cat show in Gainesville, Fl. I simply thought it would be wonderful to love and care for a cat from Africa.
The only reason I did not buy the cat was because I was a poor student at the time and could not afford it. I now know that I have made other mistakes; I have had numerous photos taken with wild animals at Zoos over the years, never thinking that these animals were being used or would be hurt in any way once they had outgrown their photo op stage. In the past, I have visited every Zoo possible and now I know that some of those same facilities are involved in canned hunts and surplus dumping and are the reason so many captivity raised animals have to find sanctuary when they get older and are no longer valuable to the Zoo or Circus. Like Carole Baskin, I too would have found a way to purchase all the animals at the fur farm in order to save them, thinking that I would find good homes for them later. I commend people like Carole Baskin for realizing their mistakes, learning from them and then educating others like myself. If everyone who made a mistake actually learned something from it, did not make an excuses for it, and then used that knowledge to make changes and educate others, the world would be a better place. Everyone makes mistakes, it's what we do then that counts.

Christy Thurston

Bonnie-Jean Creais

I am appalled and outraged that the Times has lowered itself to print rumors and innuendo denigrating Carole Baskin and the remarkable people at Big Cat Rescue. These people are among the few that truly care enough to give their time, money and sacrifice to care for God's creatures that should be given the dignity they so richly deserve. The comments of the detractors are so patently tainted with jealousy and ill feeling that the Times should be ashamed to even quote them.

I am absolutely furious with the "tabloid" journalism in the Times, I had thought that this newspaper was above this type of printed garbage. I thought I was reading the Times - not the Inquirer. Shame on you.

Bonnie-Jean Creais

Joel & Marie Schoubert

As volunteers and totally devoted to all "God's Creatures", to "Big Cat Rescue", "Founder Carole of BCR" and "Our wonderful BCR Family and Team" we would like to thank you from the bottom of our heart for all your kind worlds and support. Nothing will ever stop us from continuing our mission! We are so surprised to read such "national enquiry type article" in the St Pete Times! We would have expected a more educated approach to this issue. We might have to think twice now before reading the Times in the future...
Again thank you so much for your compassion Bonnie!

Joel & Marie Schoubert Volunteers at Big Cat Rescue (and "proud of it")

Beth Kamhi and Coleen Kremer

Educational opportunities

In the past 10 months, the education department at Big Cat Rescue has hosted private group tours for 4,652 people. This is above and beyond the more than 20,000 visitors who attended the daily public tours thus far in 2007. Students have visited us from 43 schools, including those from Pasco, Pinellas, Hernando, Hardee, Polk, Duval, Citrus and Hillsborough counties.

Tours provide the primary revenue source to maintain the nearly 150 animals on our property. The public, including the immediate community of Citrus Park, have been consistently supportive of our mission, and we seek to give back to the community whenever possible. As such, the education department has hosted 19 free tours for a total of 357 people so far this year. The bulk of these visitors were children or adults who are cognitively, physically and emotionally challenged. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sponsored visits by the Children's Home for the last couple years. We also provided free services to other agencies that care for children who have been abandoned, abused or neglected. Please visit our sanctuary so that you can educate yourself and others about how to help stop the exploitation of these amazing creatures.

Beth Kamhi and Coleen Kremer, education directors, Big Cat Rescue, Tampa

Keith Craig

Bringing real change

Sunday's cover story on Carole Baskin and Big Cat Rescue certainly had the elements of compelling drama: a cause, conflict, greed, lies, adultery, reinvention, mystery, rumor and innuendo. But isn't that all just a sideshow?

It seems that the main attraction is that the Baskins, together, have enough clout and savvy to force real change in the mostly seedy world of exotic cats. It is no surprise that some in that world are fighting to keep things the way they are.

Keith Craig, Tampa

Posted on the St. Pete Times site:

by Brian 11/13/07 09:26 AM
Sadly, for someone to want to save something, they usually need first hand experience. So, Zoo's will always need to keep big cats. However, I agree they should be banned from private ownership.

by Kathy 11/12/07 07:49 PM
Big Cat Rescue is my current tithe. I have no plans on changing that. In fact, if I had more money, I would give more money to Big Cat Rescue. It's not about Carole; it's about the cats. Shame on you current breeders; you could learn from Carole.

by Laura 11/12/07 07:30 PM
For all the "Exotic Pet Owners" who find Baskin offensive, how do you currently justify owning and economically benefiting from an exotic pet? It appears as though ownership of something exotic does not have the animal's best interest as a priority.

by Don 11/12/07 02:50 PM
It used to be Newspapers /TV News dealt in Facts, now every report has an agenda. It is a real shame

by Kenneth 11/12/07 10:00 AM
Anyone whose been out to Big Cat Rescue can see the good these people are doing in terms of education, policy making, and animal care. Shame on anyone who would drag this woman's name through the mud.

by Donald_Yates 11/11/07 10:35 PM
Those against Big Cat Rescue's attempts to end the private ownership of exotic animals think they should be able to imprison these magnificent animals in small cages for their own selfish pleasure. Just like slavery, certain things are morally wrong

by Mack 11/11/07 10:01 PM
Since when has the St. Pete Times lowered themselves to the level of tabloid journalism? Shouldn't the newspaper be objective, instead of furthering the cause of those with an obvious personal agenda against Big Cat Rescue?

by Chad 11/11/07 11:33 AM
Sometimes people evolve. Shameful, I know. To have gone from breeding to rescuing, and from there to public outreach is obviously not genuine. No, rather it's the plot of some animal hoarding succubus determined to fool us all. Sarcasm, anyone?

by Pat 11/11/07 08:36 AM
It sounds like some people have a very personal grudge against Baskin. I think Big Cat Rescue does a great job in educating people about wild animals lives' in captivity and informing people how they can get involved to help these animals.

by alan 11/11/07 08:07 AM
yes if we keep on destroying the land ,,, the big cats are no more, and were destroyin every day,,,,

by James 11/11/07 07:20 AM
I gotta say, I dreamed of owning a Big Cat one day. They are beautiful magnificent animals, but as i grew up I undertood that these are not 'owning' pets. I totally support the outlaw on Big Cats, maybe not for zoos. I have no opinion on the case.

Letters to the Editor published 11/17/07

Back To Top

21. In late 2007 the FWC reversed their decision and announced that by early 2008 they would post the location of dangerous exotic animals on the Internet. Big Cat Rescue provided the geo mapping for all of the known locations (many are just P.O. boxes and out of state addresses in the FWC records.) Those map points have been provided to FWC and posted online here:

Back To Top

Pioneer: Pioneers are the people with arrows in their backs.

Back To Top

Now that you know the truth, would you like to help us end the trade in exotic cats?