Truck stop gets parish permit to keep tiger

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter
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.

Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin has cleared the second of three hurdles required for him to keep Tony the tiger as a roadside attraction, Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. announced Monday.

The parish government issued Sandlin a permit to keep the tiger.

“He met all the obligations the parish had for him,” Ourso said.

Chief Administrative Edward A. “Lucky” Songy Jr., who handled the permitting process, said the U. S. Department of Agriculture issued Sandlin a license last month, but the truck stop owner still has to get a third permit from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

“If Wildlife and Fisheries says no, the tiger has to go,” Songy said. “If they say yes, he stays.”

Wildlife and Fisheries set off a battle over the tiger in December when it denied Sandlin a permit because of a parish ordinance against keeping wild, exotic or vicious animals and reptiles.

Sandlin went to court and won a temporary restraining order o stop the state agency from requiring him to move the tiger to an approved facility, but the case drew interest from animal rights activists who campaigned to have the tiger sent to a wildlife refuge in Florida or Tennessee. Tony drew statewide, national and even international attention.

The Iberville Parish Council voted in February to make an exception for Tony in the parish law, but Ourso vetoed the action and insisted on standards to assure the health and welfare of the tiger, and the protection of the public.

In March, the Parish Council passed an ordinance setting out the standards. It has taken until this month for Sandlin to meet all the requirements.

One sticking point was adequate insurance on the tiger in case of his escape, the parish president said. He said Sandlin’s policy had covered the animal only on the truck stop premises.

Sandlin has kept tigers at the truck stop for some years, and has never had an escape.

Ourso said the owner has an escape plan in place, and all his employees have been trained in the use of weapons to deal with the tiger if necessary. The escape plan has been sent to the Office of Emergency Preparedness and local law enforcement agencies, he said.

Iberville Animal Control is conducting a weekly inspection at the truck stop to assure the tiger is well cared for, the parish president said.

The ordinance setting out the parish requirements for the truck stop tiger also says Tony will be the last cat allowed there.