June 23, 2013 (Tampa, FL) – According to news reports, on Friday, June 21st, a young worker, now in critical condition, was attacked by a tiger at Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana, while cleaning the tiger’s enclosure. It is reported that the tiger had been moved to a holding area, but the sliding gate between the holding area and enclosure had not been closed. While an investigation has not yet confirmed the details, this brings to mind the tragic death of 24-year old intern Dianna Hanson, this past March, killed by a captive lion at Cat Haven in California, also when the big cat was able to leave the holding area, apparently due to the unclosed gate between the holding area and enclosure. In that instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found no violation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“However, if there is indeed just one unlocked gate, even if it is closed, between you and a tiger, that is not what I consider best practice,” states Patty Finch, Executive Director of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). “When doing something where a mistake can be fatal, such as flying a jet full of passengers, there are redundant safety measures in place. Something can still go wrong, but it is less likely. Big cat facilities also need redundant safety measures.”
GFAS accredits sanctuaries. It is a voluntary process for sanctuaries, and is risk assessment in the broadest sense of the word. (Neither facility where the attacks occurred is a GFAS accredited sanctuary, and some big cat facilities are breeding facilities or zoos, rather than what GFAS deems a sanctuary.)
“We see some wonderful safety measures in place at sanctuaries,” says Finch. “In GFAS Accredited facilities, NO ONE ever goes in an enclosure with a big cat, unless the cat is incapacitated, for medical treatment for example. This in itself is a safety measure, so that interns or volunteers aren’t tempted to deliberately try direct contact with a tiger or lion, and don’t aspire to that.”
At GFAS Accredited Big Cat Rescue, which is located in Tampa, Fl, cages are usually cleaned without entering the enclosures. But on occasion there are times staff needs to enter to mow or retrieve something they can’t reach from the outside with long tongs.
“Only senior level staff have the keys to unlock the gate to move a tiger into a holding area,” states Jamie Veronica, President of Big Cat Rescue. “After the tiger is in the holding area, the gate is locked. Then a second gate, over the same opening, is also locked. Then a bar is slid in as a visual confirmation that both gates are locked. Then a senior person on the outside indicates to another senior person that is now safe for them to go inside and clean.”
Could this system fail? It is certainly less likely to fail than a single gate closed by one staff person, or even two. That system has seemingly failed twice this year in the US, to grave consequences.
The GFAS accreditation system has clear and rigorous guidelines for sanctuaries housing big cats. In addition to general welfare and safety guidelines for animals and staff, these standards prohibit all direct contact with cats, require training of all interns and employees, ensure that appropriate caging and transfer doors are in place in cat enclosures and mandate an effective sanctuary and emergency communication system.
Since 1990, incidents in the US involving captive big cats, have resulted in the deaths of 22 people. In addition, more than 150 people have been mauled or injured by big cats, in publically reported cases.
Three of the deaths were children killed by big cats being kept as exotic “pets.” There is still no federal law that adequately addresses exotic animal ownership and exotic animal laws are inconsistent across the US. Six states currently have no laws addressing big cat private ownership and 14 states allow possession with a permit. It’s a runaway problem that has turned into a national public safety issue.
About GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries)
Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the sole purpose of strengthening and supporting the work of animal sanctuaries worldwide. The goal of GFAS in working with and assisting sanctuaries is to ensure they are supported, honored, recognized and rewarded for meeting important criteria in providing care to the animals in residence. GFAS was founded in 2007 by animal protection leaders from a number of different organizations in response to virtually unchecked and often hidden exploitation of animals for human entertainment and financial profit. The GFAS Board of Directors guides the organization’s work in a collaborative manner. They represent top leadership from Born Free USA, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare, American Anti-Vivisection Society, and the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). www.sanctuaryfederation.org.
For more information about GFAS contact:
Patty Finch firstname.lastname@example.org 928.472.1173