Big Cat Rescue seeks enforcement of 2007 Florida captive wildlife bonding requirement

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  October 2011:

TAMPA–Contacted by ANIMAL PEOPLE about a flamboyant but ill-informed September 28,  2011 “exposé” of Big Cat Rescue by Mike Deeson of WTSP-TV,  Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin seemed only transiently interested in defending herself and her organization.

Her husband,  attorney Howard Baskin, posted an extensive response and rebuttal to Deeson on the Big Cat Rescue web site,  including a detailed summary of why he advised his wife against going on camera with Deeson for what appeared to be an “ambush interview.”  Carole Baskin did e-mail to Deeson an extensive written response to the allegations against Big Cat Rescue. 

To ANIMAL PEOPLE,  Carole Baskin most wanted to talk about the failure of the Florida Wildlife Commission to implement a 2007 state law requiring all keepers of large carnivores, venomous reptiles,  and nonhuman primates to post a liability bond of $10,000.

Obtaining the FWC list of 238 keepers who should be subject to the bond requirement, Baskin learned that 69 of them have yet to comply.  “The FWC changed their rules to exempt owners who were not exhibiting,  after the legislature mandated the bond,”  Baskin told ANIMAL PEOPLE,   “but I contacted every member of the state house and senate to let them know that the FWC had circumvented their 111-4 decision. The legislature came back in 2009 and amended their language to rope back in all of the people the FWC had exempted,”  Baskin continued–but the FWC is still not enforcing the law.

“While the Florida issue is local,” Baskin said,  “it shows that regulation [of possession of wildlife,  anywhere] can’t work, because there will never be enough money to fund enforcement.   A ban on the private possession of wild animals is the only thing that can work.” Also,  Baskin said,  “It illustrates how the fox is guarding the hen house when the people in charge of protecting wild animals kill them for sport.  All of our wildlife commissioners are hunters.  At their meetings they openly state that their main concern is to be sure they have lots of places to hunt.”

As to Deeson’s “exposé,”  the 2011 edition of The ANIMAL PEOPLE Watchdog Report on Animal Charities summarized the issues six weeks before the “exposé” aired.  Like many other sanctuarians,  Baskin began in 1992 as an exotic animal breeder,  but soon reversed directions, and as well as sheltering about 140 rescued exotic cats,  began educating and lobbying against the exotic pet industry.  Baskin pushed the 2007 law and 2009 reinforcement through the Florida legislature by sending letters to more than 1,500 Floridians telling them that they live near a potentially dangerous wild animal held in captivity.  She also began aggressively exposing animal exhibitors who may work in the name of rescue,   with nonprofit status,  but whose practices in her view differ little from those of carnival exhibitors and roadside zoo owners.

Baskin has especially singled out Joe Schreibvogel,  who has used as many as 30 aliases since 1997,  including Big Cat Rescue Entertainment,  while exhibiting lion and tiger cubs under pretexts including running an exotic pet store,  a wildlife rescue service,  and a sanctuary.  ANIMAL PEOPLE published an exposé of Schreibvogel’s activities in 2002.  His history since then fills most of an 8,200-word exposé posted to several web sites by Howard Baskin. Schreibvogel has also been extensively exposed by PETA.  Responding to exposure on the Big Cat Rescue web site by picketing Big Cat Rescue, Schreibvogel was Deeson’s primary source.

Said Howard Baskin,  “The WTSP story noted that Schreibvogel was fined $25,000 by USDA,  but dispensed with this by repeating Schreibvogel’s claim that it was ‘when he first started out.’ The fine was in 2006 for violations that took place continuously from 2000-2004.  The WTSP report omitted that Schreibvogel is now under investigation by USDA for the deaths of 23 tiger cubs in 2010,   a fact the reporter knew.”

Another  frequent target of Carole Baskin’s criticism,  mentioned on the Big Cat Rescue web site 30 times since 2005,  “must pay a penalty of $2,786 for February 2010 incident in which a jaguar bit off part of a visitor’s thumb,”  reported David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on September 25,  2011. The Panther Ridge Conservation Center “neither admitted nor denied the allegations in the settlement agreement” with the USDA,  Fleshler wrote.

Panther Ridge founder Judy Berens was herself injured by two cheetahs at a 2008 fundraiser,  “suffering wounds to her back,  neck and limbs,”  Fleshler remembered.

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