Judge: Zoo must relinquish big cats

CUMBERLAND — The Tri-State Zoological Park was ordered Thursday by a federal judge to relinquish three big cats currently kept at the zoo.

Robert Candy, the zoo's operator, said Monday the decision impacts two tigers and a lion at the facility located on Christie Road, that he "expected the ruling" and the decision will be appealed.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued the ruling in response to a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lawsuit filed against the zoo. PETA sued under the federal Endangered Species Act.

According to PETA, the ruling states the zoo's three big cats must be moved to an accredited sanctuary. In addition, the zoo must refrain from possessing endangered or threatened species in the future.

Following a six-day bench trial that took place in Baltimore in November, U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis found the zoo in violation of the act. In its ruling, the judge called conditions at the zoo "fetid and dystopic."

Candy said he is limited in what he can say because the case remains active. However, he said he, nor defense experts or his veterinarian, were permitted to testify at the hearing.

"It is something we expected based on the judge's past history," Candy said. "We are appealing it and the details and instructions have been sent to my lawyer. They came in with their experts and we didn't have the same opportunity with our people. We will just stick with the facts and the truth."

Candy said PETA has millions of dollars in funding, and often supplies paid experts at trial.

"Because of the ESA, (PETA) has the right to sue; it's the rules," he said. "PETA had six lawyers and we had one. There was old material used. But I can't say much at this time. It was a tough case, but we think the appeal process will be more positive for us. It really only impacted the two tigers and a lion. We don't agree and the judge was hard on us in the ruling."

The lawsuit alleged that two lemurs, five tigers and two lions were harmed and harassed by displaying them in decrepit enclosures without appropriate companionship, potable water, or proper enrichment, food, or shelter and by denying them adequate veterinary care, according to PETA. Since 2016, five of the original nine animals at issue have died, including a lemur and a tiger named India who was, "ravaged by sepsis," PETA said.

"This landmark ruling sends Tri-State and every other roadside zoo a clear message that keeping social species in isolation and sentencing sick animals to slow, painful deaths will not be tolerated," said Brittany Peet, PETA foundation director of captive animal law enforcement, in a news release.

Candy said he will not give up on the zoo.

"We have been through a lot of hardships before but we will keep moving forward," said Candy. "If we have to, we will change direction but I invite anyone to come and see (the cats and other animals) for themselves."

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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