Animal rights and welfare organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has once again filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture against Serenity Springs Wildlife Center in Calhan, Colo. This time, the accusation involves illegal and unethical handling of cubs.
Serenity Springs has already taken some heat from PETA regarding issues of neglect and violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including the deaths of animals at the facility. PETA filed a complaint with the USDA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking the latter to deny a breeding permit for Serenity Springs.
In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied Serenity Springs a breeding permit for a certain species. Serenity Springs can appeal the decision.
PETA’s latest cause for concern came after the organization obtained photos of children handling a 10-day-old tiger cub, barely weaned from its mother, at the wildlife center. According to a Jan. 6 news release from PETA, “Serenity Springs also invites the public to visit its Calhan facility to take photos and interact with lion cubs who appear to be younger than 8 weeks old.”
Serenity Springs’ website lists photo opportunities with cubs at $25 for up to four people.
Delcianna Winders, the PETA Foundation director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, said taking 10-day-old cubs from their mothers before they are weaned compromises their immune systems. Although they are cute and cuddly, she said the cubs are still wild, which also puts the public at risk.
The practice violates the Animal Welfare Act, which prohibits stressful or excessive handling of young animals, Winders said. The USDA also discourages the public handling of cubs 8 weeks or younger. Even with the AWA and USDA regulations and guidelines, Winders said the handling of young animals is “under-regulated.”
Julie Walker is the director of operations for Serenity Springs. She said none of the complaints are true. “Inspection violations have been about scratched posts,” Walker said. However, documents indicate otherwise. According to inspection reports, the USDA has cited numerous issues at the center, including injuries to the animals and the public handling of 7-week-old cubs.
As far as the accusation that cubs are taken too early from their mothers, Walker said cubs born in captivity “most often have to be hand reared … parents won’t always raise them.”
Walker said Serenity Springs gets the cubs from facilities all over the country. One of those is GW (Garold Wayne) Exotics in Oklahoma, which is being investigated by the USDA for the deaths of two tiger cubs, improper handling of animals and inadequate facilities.
Getting cubs is easy, Walker said. “Breeders have excess – they sell cubs for exhibits, zoos … but we have never purchased them.”
Procedures on handling cubs have been set up by their veterinarian, Walker said, adding that the center’s main goal is education and the preservation of species. Although the cubs can never be released back into the wild, Walker said they serve as an educational tool for the public.
Serenity Springs website includes this statement: “We have to do what we can for this species of big cat, in captivity as well as in the wild, as the numbers are dwindling fast.”
The big cat numbers in captivity, however, are far from dwindling, Winders said.
“With as many as 10,000 big cats in the U.S., cubs are a dime a dozen,” Winders said. “Most of the big cats are in private hands.” She said people actually purchase cubs as “pets,” but when they get quite large, the animal ends up in garages or basements or in the wildlife centers. “In many states, buying a cub is easier than buying a dog,” she said.
Tanya Espinosa, public affairs specialist for the USDA Legislative and Public Affairs division, said they have received PETA’s latest complaint and are “looking into it.” Espinosa said Serenity Springs is under investigation for another issue as well, which she said she could not reveal until a determination is made. Winders said the investigation Espinosa is referencing is about cubs that have died at Serenity Springs.
According to PETA’s Jan. 6 news release, about one-third of the animals at Serenity Springs have died over the last five years.
Walker said the death rate at the center is not unusual, and all animals at Serenity Springs receive individualized care from licensed veterinarians.
Espinosa said the public can view USDA “monthly enforcement actions” on their website at http://aphis.usda.gov.