BALTIMORE (WMAR) — A federal judge has ordered a small zoo in Cumberland, Maryland to surrender a lion and two tigers to a Colorado animal sanctuary.
On Wednesday morning, Peka the lion, and Cheyenne and Mowgli the tigers began their journey to their new home at The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
The order stemmed from a July, 2017 lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), against Tri-State Zoological Park and its owner Robert Candy.
PETA alleged that the 16-acre former campground turned non-profit zoo, was in violation of the Federal Endangered Species Act.
The lawsuit accused the zoo of harassing two lemurs, five tigers, and two lions by displaying them in decrepit enclosures without appropriate companionship, potable water, or proper enrichment, food, or shelter and by denying them adequate veterinary care.
"The evidence showed that every endangered animal at Tri-State was left to languish in squalid conditions, often seeing a veterinarian only when on the brink of death," says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. "These three big cats were lucky to survive, and PETA looks forward to seeing them explore their lush new sanctuary home."
PETA filed suit after capturing footage during multiple undercover visits in 2014 and 2015.
Court documents reveal since December 2016, five of the nine animals named in the lawsuit died.
Before his death, documents show Bandit the lemur "bit, picked, and tore at his own penis." In her order, the judge found "that was mostly likely the result of significant distress that was the natural byproduct of his living at Tri-State." The surviving lemur, Alfredo, was transferred to an accredited zoo on December 26 last year.
India the tiger died of sepsis and an enlarged heart, which likely caused pus-filled pockets to form in her heart, tongue, and diaphragm. An expert witness and doctor in the case claimed “Sepsis doesn’t happen in zoos. Tigers don’t die of sepsis. This is just unbelievable to me.”
The pathologist report suggested the sepsis was likely due to an untreated or poorly treated bacterial infection and that the enlarged heart was the result of the sepsis.
When she died the court noted that India’s ears were so mangled by flies, "that the veterinarian who performed the necropsy, mistakenly believed her ears had been surgically truncated."
Another tiger named Kumar also died of a spinal stroke, which court documents say was a rare condition that can't be attributable to the zoo's acts or omissions.
The necropsy revealed that Kumar suffered from broken, pulp- exposed teeth, ulcerated gums, and a punctured lip, which affected his ability and desire to eat.
After his spinal stroke, court documents say Kumar was left in his enclosure on filthy concrete, which likely caused his paws and hind leg to become pocked with ulcers.
Additionally, the necropsy revealed stomach ulcers, a distended colon, and a two-centimeter long tear and hemorrhaging in the membrane of Kumar's abdominal cavity, which the court said was likely a direct cause of inadequate veterinary care.
Then there's Bu the lion, who in the judge's written opinion died starving and emaciated.
At one point, the USDA required the zoo to provide Bu adequate veterinary care under the penalty of losing their exhibitor license.
Court documents show the veterinarians tasked with caring for the animals at the zoo didn't have any formal or informal training, education, or experience working with Big Cats or primates other than at Tri-State.
PETA says the zoo has been cited multiple times since 2005 for violating animal welfare standards.
Throughout her 45 page opinion, United States District Judge Paula Xinis described the animals living conditions as deplorable, filthy, fetid, and dystopic.
PETA investigators testified and presented video evidence of the big cat enclosures being filled with feces and decomposing carcasses. In court the zoo's owner admitted to allowing carcasses to remain in the enclosures for up to three days, six times longer than what's recommended by the USDA.
As part of her order, the judge terminated Tri-State's ownership of the animals and prohibited them from owning or possessing endangered or threatened species in the future.
On the zoo's Facebook page, many followers defended the owner and the care he showed for his animals. Others talked about organizing protests over the judge's decision.
The zoo has appealed the ruling, and is looking for donations to help with their legal fees.
Read the entire lawsuit below.