Grosse Tete tiger draws international attention

Deidre Cruse
OBLIVIOUS TO DEBATE...Tony, the Bengal tiger who is a roadside attraction at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, takes a nap as the debate about his future draws national and international attention on a petition website. The Iberville Parish Council will hold a public hearing on the tiger issue at 6 p.m. Tuesday on the second floor of the Courthouse.

From Bulgaria to Bangladesh, from Israel to India, from South Africa to Singapore and Turkey to Texas, people from around the world are joining the debate on whether Tony the Tiger should stay at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete (population 626) or be sent to an animal sanctuary.

Representatives of either side of the debate will have 10 minutes apiece to argue their cases for and against a proposed ordinance intended to allow Tony to stay at the truck stop. A public hearing is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Iberville Parish Council chambers on the second floor of the Courthouse.

The last time the Parish Council held a hearing on the issue, independent animal rights activist Sky Williamson and Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin cited petitions with about the same number of signatures. Williamson and Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, said that is no longer the case, and that a reference to both sides having similar support was wrong.

A check Monday of on-line petitions showed Williamson had collected more than 2,600 names from around the country and across the globe in support of moving the Bengal tiger to a sanctuary, while a “Keep Tony Home – Save hand-raised tiger from wild” petition had 379 names.

Baskin said her organization’s supporters have generated nearly 14,000 letters complaining of conditions at the truck stop and asking for the tiger to be sent Big Cat Rescue.

An Iberville Parish ordinance prohibits people from keeping wild animals in the parish. Sandlin’s attorney, Joseph Dupont Jr., proposed an amendment that would make an exception for Tony the Tiger to remain at the truck stop for his lifetime, after which he could not be replaced.

Questions remain about whether the parish ordinance applies within the incorporated Village of Grosse Tete, which has no local ordinance on the subject. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, however, cited lack of compliance with the parish law as the reason it rejected Sandlin’s application for a permit to keep the tiger. Sandlin sued Wildlife and Fisheries over the issue.

The Parish Council became involved in December, when Williamson asked councilmen to enforce the ordinance.

For now, the issue is playing out in cyberspace:

“All animals deserve to live in a space that is appropriate to them,” a Texas man wrote on Williamson’s site. “A cage on the side of the road is not an appropriate [place] for a tiger. I urge you to let Tony live in a sanctuary in peace.”

“Common sense dictates that an animal that has never been on his own in the wild should not be taken from the life he knows and the ones who hand-raised him,” a Pennsylvania resident wrote on “Keep Tony at Home.”

“I get mad every time I drive by,” a Louisiana resident wrote to Williamson.

“Isn’t animal cruelty illegal? You would never see something like this in Canada,” a Canadian wrote.

“Stop interfering in other people’s business,” a Louisiana woman wrote in support of Sandlin. “The tigers at the truck stop have always looked well cared for. Find a real purpose in life instead of trying to make other people miserable!”

“I know from personal experience that Tony is well cared for,” Rosedale Mayor Lawrence Badeaux wrote.

Williamson’s petition is available at the, and the one support Sandlin is at the