Owner of truck stop fighting to save live tiger exhibit

Tiger Truck Stop exhibit
Tiger Truck Stop exhibit
Tiger Truck Stop exhibit
Tiger Truck Stop exhibit
Michael Sandlin with a visitor from Connecticut
Michael Sandlin with a visitor from Connecticut

GROSSE TETE, LA (WAFB) - The owner of a big tourist attraction off Interstate 10 is fighting to save his exhibit. A judge ruled the State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries should have never issued a permit to Michael Sandlin to house a live tiger at his truck stop. Now Sandlin is hoping for an appeal.

Sandlin wants everyone who travels through Grosse Tete to take a walk on the wild side. The Tiger Truck Stop is home to 12-year-old Tony the tiger. The popular roadside zoo offers an experience like no other in Louisiana, with a small slice of history.

"We have years of thousands of people who stop by and have been able to enjoy the tiger, have been able to get too close to the tiger and a lot of people say they haven't been that close to a tiger before," said Sandlin.

Jimmy Hendrix is one of them. The Mississippi native says it's a childhood experience he's now happy to share with his new wife. "I stop by and see Tony every time I come through here. Twice, three times a year," said Hendrix.

Not everyone is thrilled with having a caged tiger close to civilization. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and several residents took Sandlin and his truck top to court. A judge ordered that the state agency revoke Sandlin's permit, but he's not done fighting.

"If Tony at Tiger Truck Stop is dangerous to the public then certainly Mike the Tiger at LSU is dangerous to the public around 65,000 fans cheering at LSU stadium," said Sandlin.

Sandlin's attorney Jennifer Morris believes because public safety and animal welfare have never been cited as concerns by the law, the appellate court should overturn the trial judge's ruling and allow her client to keep Tony on display.

"There has been zero, never in the history of Tiger Truck Stop, of an animal getting out of a cage," said Morris.

Sandlin says his live tiger exhibit is no different than those housed elsewhere.

"I have the same exact federal license that LSU has for Mike. I have the exact same federal license that the Baton Rouge Zoo, Audubon Zoo has for their tiger," said Sandlin.

A spokeswoman for the ALDF released a statement saying the organization has submitted letters from experts in animal behavior who agree that Tony does not belong at a gas station.

It could be six months before the appellate court rules on the appeal.

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