PHOTO BY JANUSZ SOBOLEWSKI
Tony — a 17 year-old Siberian Bengal tiger — has died, after living his life as a Grosse Tete truck stop attraction at the center of a controversial legal battle over his ownership and life in Louisiana.
According to a statement from the Tiger Truck Stop website
, Tony was euthanized Oct. 16 after exhibiting "typical signs that death was imminent" to "prevent Tony from suffering." The statement says Tony will be "preserved through taxidermy" following an autopsy.
Tony had lived at the truck stop since January 2001, when the tiger was six months old. "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," the statement said.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) — the animal welfare organization that led several legal challenges to move Tony to an animal sanctuary — says the group is "deeply saddened" by Tony's death.
"For more than seven years, we litigated on many fronts to free Tony, and we are devastated that despite our best efforts, he lived and died caged at a truck stop that could never provide the life he deserved," the Oct. 16 statement said.
In July, the group had filed Freedom of Information Act requests from the U.S. Department of Agriculture related to the tiger's health and wellbeing. The group is "frustrated and angered" Tony remained at the truck stop despite a 2012 judgment prohibiting the state from issuing permits allowing Tony's captivity, which the ALDF says would require Tony be moved to an animal sanctuary. Tony's owner Michael Sandlin argued in a 2012 lawsuit that the state's ban on private ownership of big cats is unconstitutional.
In 2014, the Louisiana Legislature and then-Gov. Bobby Jindal passed a law
exempting Tiger Truck Stop from that ban on captive big cats, effectively undermining a previous court ruling.
"Despite our best efforts, we were unable to get that corrupt legislative maneuver declared unconstitutional in time to save Tony," the ALDF statement continued. "But rest assured our litigation efforts on behalf Tony’s fellow big cats will not end," with a renewed effort to "ensure that Tony will be the last tiger to suffer at the Truck Stop and there will never be a Tony II or Tony III who will have to suffer the same fate."