Arts and Culture

A Southern Indiana zoo has been ordered to permanently cease interactions between the public and big cat cubs.

The permanent injunction was issued as part of a U.S. District Court’s partial summary judgment in favor of PETA in its lawsuit against Wildlife in Need, located in Charlestown. The order prevents Wildlife in Need, owner Tim Stark and his ex-wife, Melisa Lane, from offering big cat cub interactions, separating big cat infants from their mothers, and declawing the infants.

Wildlife in Need is no longer permitted to own or possess any of the big cats that have been declawed or prematurely separated from their mothers, both of which were found to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The big cats included in the order include tigers, lions and hybrids.

PETA filed suit against Wildlife in Need in 2017 over the park’s “Tiger Baby Playtime.”

“PETA thanks the court for recognizing that Tim Stark must no longer be permitted to abuse big cats and flout the laws designed to protect them,” said PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet in a release. “This historic decision is a warning to the entire big-cat cub-petting industry that its days are numbered.”

According to the injunction, 22 big cats were “wounded, harmed, and/or harassed” through declawing. Another 53 were prematurely separated from their mothers.

Two of the cubs that were declawed died from infections following the procedures. The court referred to the procedures and the lack of care that followed as “a gross failure to meet the accepted standards of medical care.”

PETA has 30 days to submit a motion identifying reputable sanctuaries for placement of the big cats.

Stark was featured in the popular Netflix docuseries, Tiger King. Jeff Lowe, who operates Greater Wynnewood Zoological Park and also appears in the film, is another defendant in the lawsuit, but that case is still ongoing.

WFPL left a request for comment from Stark at the zoo.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.