White tigers exhibit shut down at Navy Pier

January 25, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is revoking the exhibition license of owner Marcus Cook for health and safety violations.

The agency claims the company ZooCats Inc. failed to provide a proper diet for the tigers and did not keep proper facilities. Cook says government bureaucrats have a militant animal rights political agenda.

Cook is well known to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's animal agency. Court documents show that for about 15 years he has run afoul of federal animal protection laws.

The white tiger show had been playing to appreciative audiences since the new year. Cook even showcased them on ABC7 News last Sunday morning.

But in 2008 an administrative law judge in Texas upheld 15 years worth of complaints against Cook. In a hearing where the USDA sought revocation of his exhibitor's license, Cook was shown to have used abusive training methods on his animals and provided inadequate veterinary and living conditions. His tigers were often underfed and sick. And he would pose them for a fee in photos with children without proper supervision

"To permanently revoke someone's USDA exhibitor's license is quite a big deal," said David Sacks, spokesperson, U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Our legal system are not going to put in for such an action if we didn't think that these violations were of an egregious nature."

Navy Pier said it did not know of Cook's history when it contracted with Zoo Cats. Cook's lawyer says the way the closure "was handled was not permitted under the contract... And we will be looking for a solution that is not so punitive."

"I can guarantee you that the United States Department of Agriculture has no ideological agenda involved in these animal welfare matters. We simply enforce the animal welfare act," said Sacks.

At Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society, president Dr. Robyn Barbiers, who is also a veterinarian, supports the USDA and points out that white tiger displays take advantage of an animal that is being bred for its color, which is a genetic mutation that signals weakness in the wild.

"They are not a natural phenomenon. Isn't it better to look at a regular tiger like it's supposed to be in the wild rather than a genetic mutation?" said Dr. Barbiers.

The Navy Pier display passed an unannounced USDA inspection Monday and there is no allegation the facility did anything wrong.

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