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A KyCIR investigation found that a Louisville-area nonprofit housing wild animals has a troubled record; that state and federal officials have done little to address complaints; and the handling of lions and other exotic animals is potentially putting the public's safety at risk.

Bill to Regulate Indiana Animal Exhibitors and Dealers Dies in Committee

Kristina Goetz


Federally-licensed exhibitors and dealers of dangerous animals in Indiana won’t be subject to additional state regulations.

A legislative proposal that would have required certain animal owners to apply for a state license and submit to annual inspections was voted down this week by Indiana’s Senate Natural Resources Committee. The proposal centered on owners of Class III animals, such as wolves, bears and big cats.

Indiana law says that dealers and exhibitors licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are exempt from state rules, which means there is no state oversight of the facilities. State Sen. Michael Crider, a Republican who represents parts of Marion, Shelby and Hancock counties, had hoped to change that.

In pushing his proposal, Crider cited recent reports from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. An investigation into a non-profit animal refuge in Charlestown called Wildlife in Need found numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act and issues that potentially put the public’s safety at risk.

KyCIR found that federal inspectors had cited Wildlife in Need owner Tim Stark multiple times over the past several years for not having cages tall enough to prevent big cats from escaping. For years, he did not keep proper records to show what kind of animals he had on the property and how many.

Crider said he was disappointed that people from organizations such as city-owned zoos and animal rescue groups did not show up and testify at the hearing. It came down to legislators not wanting more regulations, he said.

“Unless I have a huge outcry from folks, you know, I’m in a real uphill battle,” he said.

State Sen. Brent Steele, a Republican who represents Lawrence, Jackson and Brown counties as well as parts of Bartholomew and Monroe counties in southern Indiana, voted against the measure.

“I, along with the majority of the committee, felt that the federal law and permitting process was adequate,” he said in a released statement.

Last summer, Stark hosted a popular fund-raising event called Tiger Baby Playtime. Visitors paid a fee to play with baby tigers. USDA inspectors have also cited problems with the event.

In June 2013, Stark’s neighbor fatally shot a 48-pound leopard after the animal allegedly killed several cats and dogs. Neighbors believe it was Stark’s leopard. Stark denies the animal belonged to him.

"I'd be willing to help with the next proposal, but this is my third year in a row of trying to get something that makes sense passed, and it just won't pass," said Crider, who is also a former conservation officer.

Reporter Kristina Goetz can be reached at kgoetz@kycir.org or (502) 814.6546.

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