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Another Private Zoo Disaster Waiting to Happen?

May 2012: I wrote about Joe Exotic's private zoo a while ago (see article). I think he has the largest collection of big cats in America. His real name is Joe Schreibvogel. Mr Exotic is your archetypical American big cat obsessive. I am sure at the beginning he had no intention of ending up with nearly 170 big cats and up to 800 (yes 800) other animals in an area that would normally be quite large at 54 acres but must be considered pitifully cramped when you take into consideration the demands for territory of the large wild cat species and other animals. It just gradually happened in the same way a cat hoarder ends up with hundreds of domestic cats.

Having changed his name to "Exotic" it would appear he is also obsessed with the exotic. In my humble opinion what he has created is very far indeed from anything that is remotely exotic. It is sad, unhealthy and dangerous.

Mr Schreibvogel came to my attention in a television documentary program. He was visited by and interviewed by Louis Theroux an English broadcaster who asks telling questions is a very dry and apparently innocent manner. He is able to elicit honest answers to difficult questions. Even though the television program was about seven months ago (Oct 2011) it is still clear in my memory. It clearly had an impact. It was bound to because Mr Schreibvogel's edifice to self-indulgence is so odd.

During interviewing three episodes come to mind. When challenged by Louis about keeping a tiger is a small cage for a long time, Mr Schreibvogel said that what the tiger does not know he won't miss (i.e. the young tiger had never experienced a natural environment). Incidentally, in the wild tigers commonly travel 15-20 kilometers per day and 16-32 kms per night. Let's say they like space, up to 300 square kilometers of it, rather than a 15 foot square cage. I disagree with Mr Exotic because I believe that the desire for a large territory is hard wired into the big cat and inherited. The point is that Mr Schreibvogel simply finds a way to justify what he does whether it is considered cruel or not. Mr Schreibvogel likes his freedom under the famous American constitution but he refuses to give it to a tiger and in doing so he disrespects the tiger. He says that the tiger will be extinct in the wild in 15 years or so. He should know because what he does contributes to that process.

Mr Schreibvogel likes to breed big cat hybrids. He seems to do this without any concern for best breeding practice and inbreeding or preserving genetic purity. As far as I am aware he breeds generic tigers and sells them for profit. Generic tigers are hybrids. There are no conservation benefits to this process. It is just manufacturing tigers for the American commercial marketplace. Does that sound good or acceptable to you?

Mr Schreibvogel also made it clear that under certain unspecified circumstances he would be prepared to kill all the animals under his control. I presume that he meant that if things went wrong he would kill them and perhaps himself. I got the distinct impression that he meant that. He still grieves for this brother who is buried on his land. That is sad but I feel it still affects him emotionally. Is it a contributing factor that makes him unsuitable to keep such a large private zoo?

That is why I have the title: Another Private Zoo Disaster Waiting to Happen? I am  referring to the horrors of October 2011 at the private zoo near Zanesville, Ohio owned by Terry Thompson. As you might recall, he committed suicide and released all his animals. The police shot 48 of them. They said they had to. Everything about these large private zoos are bad for the animals. They live in cages, and then in this case get shot at the end of that misery.  I don't think that the Terry Thompson incident is a freak one-off event because the circumstances under which the events unfolded remain in place. It could happen again and Mr Schreibvogel could the next person to be in the news.

He is certainly under pressure from the authorities and he must always be under financial pressure. Perhaps the unspecified circumstances under which he kills his animals are gradually arriving. Who knows? A recent CBS news story refers to allegations of animal abuse at his private zoo.  Mr Exotic likes to exercise his constitutional rights. If it is legal he has the right to do it, he declares. Yes, agreed. However, the law is frequently an ass and outmoded. Times change. The law follows. The time of the private big cat zoo is over.

All the world's attention should be on how to save the tiger in the wild and to stop pretending it can be done in captivity. If Mr Exotic did something like that he'd get my respect.

Note: If I was the authority dealing with Mr Exotic and wanted to close him down I'd ensure that the animals were protected before taking action.

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