The trucking industry lost a both beloved and controversial life on Monday. Tony, the live tiger who lived at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, La., passed away on Oct. 16. Tony has been the center of attention for many years as animal rights groups have protested the truck stop’s ownership of the exotic animal.
According to an announcement on Tiger Truck Stop’s website, Tony was euthanized after the tiger “began to exhibit typical signs that death was imminent.” At 17.5 years of age, Tony was nearing his life expectancy.
According to the Russian Geographical Society, Siberian tigers have a lifespan of 16-18 years and up to 25 years in captivity. Tony was a Siberian-Bengal tiger.
Tony arrived at Tiger Truck Stop when he was just 6 months old back in January 2001. Michael Sandlin, Tony’s owner, supplied the tiger with his own 3,200-square-foot facility by the truck stop.
“Tony knew many of the regular visitors to his Grosse Tete home and was known for rubbing against the bars of his enclosure and ‘chuffing’ to those he liked,” Tiger Truck Stop said in a statement.
Claimed to be the most photographed tiger on Earth, Tony’s tenure at Tiger Truck Stop was met by quite a bit of resistance animal rights groups. The Animal Legal Defense Fund brought on a lawsuit against the truck stop, arguing Tony’s captivity was neither legal nor humane. That case was thrown out as a similar case was already in process.
In 2012, Sandlin filed a lawsuit against the state of Louisiana through the Department of Wildlife over the constitutionality of a 2006 law banning the ownership of large cats. While that lawsuit has been in limbo, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an amendment to the law giving Sandlin an exception through a more detailed grandfather law.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s lawsuit dismissed in 2014 was in response to the amendment that favored Sandlin. They argued the constitutionality of that ruling. However, since Sandlin already had a pending suit arguing the constitutionality of the underlying law, the court ruled that both arguments would be settled with Judge Janice Clark’s ruling.
The lawsuit that would have determined Tony’s fate at the truck stop was never resolved before his death.
Earlier this year, ALDF filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for refusing to recognize a captive tiger as an “individual” whose physical safety is at risk and refusing to expedite the organization’s public records request.
Although seven tiger cubs have been born at the truck stop facility, Tony was the only tiger who lived on the premises.
Sandlin will have an autopsy performed on Tony “to benefit future tiger care,” according to a news release. Once the autopsy is complete, the tiger will preserved by taxidermy “in remembrance of the wonderful memories and enjoyment he provided to children of all ages at his free zoo in Grosse Tete.”
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