Exotic cat exhibitor Joe Schreibvogel responds to HSUS exposé with threat of "a small Waco" if cats are confiscated
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2012:
Exotic cat exhibitor Joe Schreibvogel responds to HSUS exposé with threat of “a small Waco” if cats are confiscated
Wynnewood, Oklahoma–– National television broadcasts on May 16, 2012 featured longtime traveling tiger exhibitor Joe Schreibvogel and his GW Exotic Animal Park at Wynnewood in central Oklahoma, but the self-described “Joe Exotic” probably did not enjoy the spotlight.
“With Congress and the state of Ohio considering bills to restrict private ownership of dangerous exotic animals, CBS This Morning broke news of another Humane Society of the U.S. undercover investigation,” blogged HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, describing Schreibvogel as “perhaps the largest private owner of tigers in the nation.”
GW Exotic Animal Park “may have as many as 200 tigers,” Pacelle said. Schreibvogel has claimed to have more than 1,000 animals in all.
Pacelle called GW Exotic Animal Park “a mix of a roadside menagerie and a petting zoo, masquerading as a rescue operation and conservation center. While GW Exotics bills itself as providing homes for ‘abandoned, misplaced and abused animals,'” Pacelle said, “it is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the deaths of 23 tiger cubs in 2009-2010. Joe Schreibvogel, continues to breed tigers as well as controversial hybrids,” Pacelle charged. “Staff reported that once tiger cubs outgrew their usefulness to the park, Schreibvogel ‘donated’ them to other facilities in exchange for donations to GW Exotics.”
Earlier media reports have said Schreibvogel has acknowledged selling tigers to other exhibition facilities for as much as $5,000 apiece.
“During our investigation, five tigers died,” Pacelle said.
Elaborated HSUS spokesperson Raul Arce-Contreras, “Two of the tigers had been sick for months and may have been shot by GW employees. A 6-year-old tiger named Hobbes died without receiving veterinary care. A 6-week-old cub being raised inside the GW owner’s house somehow sustained head injuries and had to be euthanized.
“The HSUS investigator witnessed or heard reports about numerous dangerous public interactions at GW,” Contreras added, “including at least six cases where visitors were bitten or scratched. In August 2011, according to GW’s assistant park manager, three people suffered tiger bites at a fair, including one child whose bite became infected. On September 3, 2011, a tiger reportedly bit a young girl on her leg . On September 11, 2011, a tiger cub scratched a young child while the child was posing for a picture. On September 17, 2011, a 20-week-old tiger named Dre knocked down and bit a small child. The next day, the same tiger was used for photo shoots at GW and photographers posed a small child bottle-feeding the tiger.”
Contreras said HSUS had filed complaints about GW with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, alleging potential violations of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, Lacey Act, and Rhinoceros & Tiger Conservation Act; with the USDA, alleging violations of the Animal Welfare Act; and with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, alleging violations of state permit requirements.
The HSUS undercover video “shows a tiger being hit on the nose and a tiger being dragged on gravel. In another incident on tape, a boy was suddenly attacked while interacting with a young tiger, and began screaming,” summarized CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian. “CBS News showed the undercover video to Schreibvogel, who charged the incident with the boy was ‘set up.'” Keteyian asked Schreibvogel if he really believed that HSUS “would put a little boy in harm’s way?”
Replied Schreibvogel, “Oh, hell yeah, in a heartbeat. I am saying Wayne Pacelle would stoop low enough to put a little kid at risk to get his agenda, so he could continue to get money.”
Continued Keteyian, “Told that Pacelle had called GW Exotic ‘a ticking time bomb,’ Schreibvogel responded, ‘It is a ticking time bomb–if somebody thinks they’re going to walk in here and take my animals away, it’s going to be a small Waco.'”
Schreibvogel referenced the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian cult compound near Waco, which opened with the deaths of four U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms agents and six Branch Davidians in the initial BATF attempt to serve a search warrant, and ended 50 days later with a fire that killed 75 compound residents, including sect leader David Koresh.
Pressed to elaborate, Schreibvogel said, “Nobody is going to walk in here and freely shut me down and take my rights away from me as long as I am not breaking the law.”
Ohio updates law
The Ohio legislature just a week later changed the state law governing possession of dangerous exotic animals. Ohio Governor John Kasich signed the new law on June 5, 2012. Introduced after Terry Thompson of Zanesville, Ohio, freed 56 lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and chimpanzees on October 18, 2011, before shooting himself, the Ohio bill passed despite Schreibvogel’s efforts as president of the U.S. Zoological Association. The USZA represents exotic animal keepers who do not qualify for membership in either the American Zoo Association or the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
The Ohio bill “would immediately ban people from buying new dangerous exotic animals, such as cheetahs and crocodiles,” summarized Ann Sanner of Associated Press. “Current owners could keep their creatures by obtaining a new state-issued permit by 2014. They would have to pass a background check, pay permit fees, obtain liability insurance, and show inspectors that they can properly contain the animal and adhere to other standards. Within 60 days after the bill’s effective date, owners would have to microchip their dangerous wildlife and register them. They will have to tell the state where the animals are, how many they have, what the creatures look like, and who their veterinarian is, among other details.”
Two hours before an April 16, 2012 Ohio senate hearing on the bill, Schreibvogel told a press conference that “he thinks Thompson was killed to push along legislation banning private exotic animal ownership in Ohio,” reported Zanesville Times Recorder staff writer Hannah Sparling.
“I believe Terry Thompson was murdered to further this agenda,” Schreibvogel said in a tape of the press conference that was posted to YouTube. “I think we are looking at a much larger conspiracy than we think we are,” Schreibvogel insisted.
Responded Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz, who directed the law enforcement response to the Zanesville incident, “I’m a little upset that someone would make a statement about something that obviously they don’t know anything about.”
Sheriff’s deputies eventually shot 51 of the freed animals, after unsuccessful efforts were made to contain some of them in cages that had been cut open, as well as having doors that were left open.
ANIMAL PEOPLE first examined Schreibvogel’s flamboyant claims and history in October 2002. Schreibvogel operated an exotic pet store called Super Pet with his brother Garold in Arlington, Texas, until Garold was killed in an October 1997 truck crash.
Joe Schreibvogel was also identified by the Dallas Morning News as co-operator, with a man named Jim Claytor, of a wildlife rescue service called Nature’s Hope.
In February 1999, police in Plano, Texas, found 69 dead emus and about 160 others cannibalizing their remains on the property of housing developer and former emu speculator Kuo-Wei Lee. Schreibvogel and Claytor took possession of the survivors and hauled most of them to a ranch about 50 miles away, to await relocation to permanent sanctuary. When they could not catch all of the emus, Schreibvogel and Claytor allegedly shot at least six of them. Then-SPCA of Texas chief cruelty investigator Bobby French videotaped the shootings, but the Ellis County grand jury refused to indict Schreibvogel and Claytor. Schreibvogel then filed a defamation suit against the SPCA of Texas, claiming that their release of the video to news media had hurt sales at Super Pet. Schreibvogel sold Super Pet soon afterward, and in October 1999 opened the GW Exotic Animal Foundation in his brother’s memory.
Schreibvogel won public acclaim in August 2001, after taking in three severely emaciated bears who were seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Russian circus trainer Alexander Shelovnikov. But Schreibvogel meanwhile ran into trouble with the Oklahoma Wildlife Department for allegedly operating unsafe road shows.
“We know we have some young kids being put in enclosures with large animals,” charged Oklahoma assistant attorney general Elizabeth Sharrock in July 2002.
“The park takes as many as 30 animals on the road. The animals are kept in cages and the park solicits donations at the shows,” reported Bob Doucette of The Oklahoman, after Schreibvogel won an injunction that allowed the road shows to continue.
Using as many as 30 different business names over the years, Schreibvogel on April 29, 2010 withdrew the use of “GW Exotics Foundation” as his legal name in Oklahoma, and began calling his operation “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment Group.”
That attracted the notice of Florida sanctuarian Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue and a longtime outspoken opponent of private possession of exotic and dangerous wildlife. Her husband Howard Baskin published an 8,200-word web exposé of Schreibvogel’s activities, which have also been exposed by PETA and the television magazine program Inside Edition.
Schreibvogel retaliated by picketing Big Cat Rescue, and by serving as primary source for an ill-informed September 28, 2011 “exposé” of Big Cat Rescue by Mike Deeson of WTSP-TV.
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.”
Added Carole Baskin, “Joe Schreibvogel is one of the best examples in the nation of why private ownership of big cats should be banned.”