Protests at zoo as big cats are removed

A protester holds a sign as PETA removes a lion and two tigers from the Tri-State Zoological Park on Feb. 5, 2020.

CUMBERLAND — The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a petition from the Tri-State Zoological Park, upholding a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determination in favor of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in its federal Endangered Species Act lawsuit, which resulted in three big cats being removed from the zoo last year.

The appeals court ruled PETA had standing in the suit because “the roadside zoo created the misimpression that the conditions in which the animals were kept were lawful and consistent with animal welfare and because PETA’s mission demanded that it take action to correct that misimpression.”

In a media release Monday afternoon, Caitlin Hawks, PETA’s deputy general counsel for litigation, said another lawsuit against the zoo was already in the works — “one that aims to get the dozens of animals not protected under the Endangered Species Act out of this hellhole,” she said.

Tri-State filed an appeal in 2019 after United States District Court for the District of Maryland ruled in PETA’s favor.

“Something’s just broken, if I had $100 million like PETA, I could spend money and keep fighting and make up stuff like they do. Being a little guy, the court system here is not made for people that don’t have funds and that’s a shame — the little guy is not protected by our court system,” said Bob Candy, owner of Tri-State Zoological Park. “In the long run, we don’t have the lions and tigers here, but we’re still open and we’re still going forward.”

The three big cats were taken to a facility in Colorado after the ruling prohibited the zoo from owning or possessing endangered or threatened species.

PETA and a “concerned citizen” filed a separate suit in 2018 alleging that the zoo is neglecting and abusing more than 100 animals not protected under the ESA, and that it has created a public nuisance. The suit asks for the remaining animals at the zoo to be transferred elsewhere. Last week, the United States District Court denied a motion by the zoo to dismiss the suit.

As for Candy, he plans to do what he can and keep moving forward.

“They’re going to keep going no matter what we do,” Candy said. “We win that case or lose that case, they’re going to come up with something else. Their goal is to take all the animals, close all the zoos down — they believe that animals are better off dead than in captivity. I don’t know what the next steps are. I’m just going to run the zoo the way it needs to be run. I do it for the animals and for the community.”

Follow staff writer Brandon Glass on Twitter @Bglass13.

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Brandon Glass is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @Bglass13