CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (AP) — Indiana’s attorney general is suing a wildlife center for allegedly abusing exotic animals, including incidents where the non-profit's owner punched a sloth in the face and repeatedly stomped on a tiger cub that had bitten him.
The lawsuit filed on Tuesday by Attorney General Curtis Hill’s office seeks for the animals to be transferred from Wildlife in Need into court-approved animal sanctuaries. The Charlestown wildlife center, which is owned by Tim Stark, offers close-up encounters with wildlife and says it rescues and rehabilitate animals.
It has been the subject of controversy over the years with numerous allegations of abuse. Stark has run the wildlife center since 1999.
The lawsuit comes several days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture rescinded the wildlife center’s license to exhibit warm-blooded animals, including big cats, bears and monkeys.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service cited more than 120 violations of the Animal Welfare Act and ordered the nonprofit to pay $340,000 in civil penalties, which includes $40,000 to be paid directly by Stark.
A 183-page summary of the complaints against Stark includes failure to provide sufficient veterinary support to sick and dying animals, fatally beating a leopard with a baseball bat, forging the signature of a veterinarian who had not been in practice for years and harassing government officials.
Stark said Tuesday he intends to fight Hill's lawsuit. Stark added that he feels he's being judged as guilty before having an opportunity to appeal the USDA's decision or contest the attorney general's challenge.
Despite the allegations, Stark contends no animal has been deliberately mistreated at Wildlife in Need to his best recollection. Stark acknowledged that he occasionally disciplines animals by hitting them.
"I don't live in this fairy tale land where you think you're supposed to give everything a time out, because if you give a lion or tiger or bear a time out, all you're teaching it is that it's in charge," Stark said.
In a news release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, praised Hill’s decision to file the lawsuit. Brittany Peet, PETA Foundation director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, said it is “one more nail in the coffin” for Wildlife In Need.