Truck stop owner sues state, parish over ownership of tiger

Staff reports
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 and Tony The Tiger owner Michael Sandlin filed suit Tuesday against Iberville Parish and the State of Louisiana contending the State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries lacks constitutional authority to prohibit him ownership of a big cat because he possesses a federal permit to do so.

Sandlin has lawfully kept the tiger in a cage on his property near the Grosse Tete truck stop for ten years and has been hounded by animal activists and the Animal Legal Defense Fund to a sanctuary for big cats.

The lawsuit was filed two months after a state district court judge ruled the animal is not permitted by state law to remain at this present location. Tiger Truck Stop is the permit holder, not Sandlin, and the judge ruled a state permit can only be issued to an individual not a corporation or company. The DWF was barred from issuing a new permit by the ruling. Sandlin is appealing the ruling. If it is denied, the tiger owner will have 30 days to move him to big cat sanctuary of his choice.

A Louisiana law prohibiting private ownership of big cats was passed in 2006. However, the law included a grandfather cause, allowing ownership if an animal was owned prior to the 2006 law passage. The Animal Legal Defense Fund cited the tiger was not legally owned prior to 2006 by Sandlin because of a 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance prohibiting ownership of wild, exotic animals for display or exhibition.

Sandlin’s new lawsuit indicates that both the 2006 state law and the Iberville Parish ordinance are both unconstitutional. The lawsuit notes DWF has no authority over exotic animals not indigenous to the state, and that the parish ordinance has an exception for persons with proper federal permits.