From Animal Talkies: The Truck Stop Tiger Called TonyThe following post is from radio broadcaster and musician Karishmeh Felfeli’s blog Animal Talkies. Karishmeh’s blog is dedicated to animal welfare and compassionate living. Reaching more people with Tony’s story is very important not only to gain more support for him but also to bring attention to the serious problem of privately owned tigers in the United States.
Thank you Karishmeh for your excellent blog post; it was wonderful to read your “personal experiences” with tigers and why Tony is important to you. Tony continues to capture the hearts of people worldwide who want to see him in a proper home and receiving the care he needs and deserves.
The Truck Stop Tiger Called TonyBy: Karishmeh Felfeli
The first time I saw a real, live tiger was at Peshwa Udyan Zoo, in Peshwa Park, near Saras Baug in Poona. I’m struggling to remember my first impressions, as I can’t have been more than three or four years old. I remember really enjoying the day at the Zoo – small and primitive though it was. I actually saw the magnificent tiger from the little children’s toy train that used to run through the park, up the little hill, overlooking the tiger enclosure at the very end. Straight out of some Rudyard Kipling sketch or essay. As I grew older, and returned to Peshwa Park Zoo a few more times, I felt more and more uneasy at the ridiculously tiny enclosure the tigers had to themselves. I still remember one tiger pacing up and down the narrow corridor in the 35 degrees celcius heat. Still, this was Poona, India and the animals “seemed” well looked after, so who was I to argue with that.
The second time I saw a tiger was much more memorable. I was in the Southern state of Karnataka, not yet 16, before my expedition to the Nepal Himalayas and was spending some time training (physically and mentally) for the forthcoming trip. It was the rainy season, the notorious Indian monsoon, and I was spending two weeks at the “Nagarhole National Park”, a beautiful, lush place renowned for its Tiger Conservation Project and one where it was still possible to sight a tiger. After spending the better part of a fortnight having the blood sucked out of me (quite literally) by the millions of leeches that plague the area in the rainy season (nothing can be done about this, except salting ones feet, shoes, socks and pulling out the leeches one by one!!), I finally saw the magnificent big cat in his natural surroundings. The man who made this possible was a terrifying, looming man dressed from head to toe in proper “park ranger” clothing, complete with a very large old style “shikari” gun. This chap was Mr K.M. Chinnnappa – tireless champion of tigers, and one who would be instrumental in preserving the tiger population at this beautiful place.
(Ah – the internet, it wasn’t around when I met Chinnappa, but I see there’s more information about him online now – read here). I’ll be the first to admit that he scared me senseless, and spoke many times that he would “kill a poacher at sight, if one crossed his path.” Plus he seemed a dour sort of man, with little time for the giddy schoolgirl nonsense that seemed to fill my mind from time to time – I don’t think he cared less whether I went to Everest Base Camp, or jumped off the darned mountain without a harness! His mission was simple – educate young people about the wildlife (this included making me and others memorise all the botanical names of every species of flora and fauna that existed in Nagarhole) and protect the tigers.
When I saw the magnificent tiger (who I nicknamed Venkatesh, after the South Indian tough guy actor) at around 11 p.m. at night, I understood, for the first time, why Chinnappa was so crazy about protecting these beasts. A tiger was not supposed to be at a tiny cage/cell in Peshwa Park Zoo – he was supposed to be in places like Nagarhole – swaggering around as he would have done in the days of the Raj and Nizams, until some Lord, Nizam or Maharaja fired a bullet his way – it was not that long ago that there were so many tigers in India that hunting them was both a social activity and a sport that has thankfully become extinct (off topic – remember that great Bonzo tune Hunting Tigers out in Indiiiiah). And I could see why Chinnappa was so passionate about saving these beautiful creatures – and showing little sympathy to person who would poach a tiger for a few quid.
Someone else who is very passionate about saving the tigers is Hollywood star Leonardo di Caprio (his boyish face was plastered everywhere the year I went to Nagarhole – Titanic was just released, if I recall correctly). Here he is, talking to the BBC about why he is doing so much to save the tigers from extinction - and he has the support of the World Wildlife Fund. So it seems utterly baffling that in America, land of the “free” , a beautiful tiger (one of over a thousand) has been caged at a truck stop for over ten years, for passers-by to gawk at. When I first came across Tony’s Story, I honestly thought it was some sort of joke gone terribly wrong. Surely this sort of madness doesn’t still take place, in 21st Century America of all places. But no, this is actually very, very real. According to the Big Cat Rescue, and the FREETONYTHETIGER campaign website BELOW.
“Tony is a 10 year old Siberian/Bengal tiger used as a roadside attraction at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete Louisiana. Tony is another example of how serious the problem is of private ownership of tigers in the United States where there are more privately owned tigers then there are left in the wild.
Tony’s owner, Michael Sandlin, has bought, sold, bred, and exhibited tigers for over 20 years. In 2003, because of violations and fines, Mr. Sandlin and the USDA made an agreement where 3 of the 4 tigers he owned, Toby, Khan and Rainbow, were sent to Tiger Haven in Kingston TN. The USDA reduced the fines and allowed Mr. Sandlin to keep one tiger, Tony.”
I was honestly at a loss for words when I saw the photos and watched the videos of Tony at his horrible truck stop abode in Louisiana. On the one hand, Leo di Caprio is trying to save tigers, and on the other hand, idiotic individuals who violate numerous laws are allowed to keep these beautiful creatures as “pets” – that too at a polluted, stressful roadside location which can’t be good for anyone, let alone a beautiful tiger.
Despite endless campaigning and petitioning (40,000 plus signatures), and some fairly high-profile Twitter Retweeting (Leo di Caprio and actor Ian Somerhalder, a Louisiana native, animal lover, campaigner and founder of the IS Foundation ) in mid-December, officials from the LDWF decided to grant the permit renewal to Tony’s owner allowing him to continue exhibiting the ageing Tony as a road-side attraction at the truck stop throughout 2011.
A sad, sad state of affairs. Is Tony’s fate any better than that of the tigers who are killed by poachers? I really doubt it. He’s fed and has a place to live, but after seeing how tigers live in the wild, or certainly even in tiger/big cat sanctuaries/nature reserves, a grotty truck stop is absolutely NO place for such a beautiful animal. Maybe when the tigers are no more, and we only have photos in history and wildlife books to remember them by, arrogant and idiotic people who subject these animals to such an existance will come to their senses. It makes me just as sad to see a tiger subject to such a life as Tony’s as it does to see a tiger hunted and killed for his skin, claws, teeth, whatever it is that people want from these beautiful creatures. Where are “power celebrities” like Ellen and Oprah when you need them? Just because Tony doesn’t have a book to sell or a movie to promote!
Still, I’m a firm believer in the power of education and information. Which is why this blog exists and which is why I chose to pursue a career as an educator and broadcaster – young people are often far more eloquent and compassionate than we give them credit for (there I go, sounding like my grandmother again…!). Here’s an example of a young voice speaking up for poor Tony and tigers all over America that are subject to such ridiculous conditions.
So if you’ve managed to get to the end of this blog post…thank you! And now, before you close out of this webpage, here’s how you can make your voice heard. And it will be heard – you must at least try, for Tony’s sake. I know I’m referring to him as if he’s my own cat, rather than a tiger, but I’m not about to start apologising for that now.
VISIT THE EXCELLENT WEBSITE TO FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN HELP FREE POOR TONY AND ENSURE HE SPENDS HIS TWILIGHT YEARS IN A SANCTUARY RATHER THAN A TRUCK STOP.
Take Action – it won’t take more than a few minutes.