Caspar the camel has taken the place of Tony the tiger — for now.
With state laws preventing him from obtaining another exotic cat after Tony's death in October, the owner of a landmark Iberville Parish truck stop says he intends to continue fighting for what he considers the tiger's rightful successor. Animal rights groups have expressed adamant opposition, and the conflict is playing out in court.
In the meantime, Michael Sandlin has settled for Caspar, who was moved into Tony's old enclosure earlier this week. Sandlin said the camel is five months old but is nonetheless large because "they grow up fast."
The camel came with another baby exotic animal: a coati, which is a member of the raccoon family native to South and Central America. His name is Cody and he's two months old.
Sandlin said he might bring in more animals in the coming months as he is considering expanding his facilities and creating a petting zoo attraction for children, starting with "Caspar the friendly white camel."
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A 2006 state law bans private ownership of large and exotic cats but Tony was grandfathered in because he had been living at the truck stop since 2001.
By the time attorneys from the Animal Legal Defense Fund received the results of a records request for Tony the tiger’s veterinary checkup, it…
In addition to giving people more reason to visit the truck stop, Sandlin said, the new animals at his site send a message to the groups that he believes have unfairly targeted him with false accusations surrounding the living conditions of his tiger exhibit, which opened in 1984.
"I think this shows that we're not quitters and that we don't just let the state or anyone else come in and run over us," Sandlin said. "I hate to see that exhibit sitting empty when there could be something there for people to enjoy. … I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world — seeing the excitement on children's faces when they get up close and personal with these animals."
But the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that has taken the lead in legal opposition to Sandlin's tiger exhibit, said replacing one animal with another doesn't solve the problem.
"No wild animal deserves to follow in (Tony's) steps," Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a statement on Saturday. "Wild animals do not belong in captivity. An environment like a truck stop with loud noises and gas fumes completely fails to meet any wild animal's mental and physical needs."
Tony was euthanized in October at age 17 after experiencing kidney failure. He had moved to the truck stop when he was six months old and spent the rest of his life there. Tigers typically live between 14 and 18 years in captivity.
Tony, the tiger housed for 17 years as a roadside attraction at the Tiger Truck Stop in the Iberville Parish community of Grosse Tete, has bee…
Sandlin spoke heatedly in an interview Saturday and firmly disputed the claims that Tony experienced a poor quality of life because of where he lived.
"Are we going to start taking people's children away if they don't live in a mansion?" he said, acknowledging the differences between Tony's enclosure and LSU's tiger habitat while challenging the idea that one is humane and the other isn't.
Sandlin said the advocates fighting him in court are taking their arguments too far without reasonable consideration of the animals they purport to defend — arguments that members of the public and state legislators have taken to heart.
"I resent living in this state that turns small business owners into criminals overnight and tries to take their personal property without compensation," he said. "I feel it's tyrannical and hypocritical, and I resent that."
The owner who decided to euthanize Tony, the Bengal tiger that spent the 17 years of its life as the roadside attraction for a Grosse Tete tru…
A state judge is set to rule in coming months on the legality of Louisiana's big cat ban in response to a lawsuit from Sandlin, which holds that the ban is unconstitutional. Attorneys for the state and the Animal Legal Defense Fund maintain it's legal. The 2006 law forbids anyone other than colleges, sanctuaries, zoos, wildlife research centers and scientific organizations from possessing big exotic cats.
At a hearing in April, Sandlin's attorneys argued that Sandlin is "the true sanctuary" because "it's not for economic reasons at all. He has a true love for these animals."
That case is the latest of several over the past decade as animal rights groups sought to get Tony removed from the truck stop because they believed he wasn't receiving adequate care.
Sandlin is hopeful the judge will rule in his favor. But he is also willing to branch out with other animals in the meantime, in part to maintain his license that allows him to keep exotic animals of any kind.
A state judge said Tuesday she'll rule on the legality of Louisiana's big cat ban after hearing arguments from attorneys for the state, an ani…
Sandlin said Caspar is a name of Persian origin that means "keeper of the treasure" — which he said could refer to the camel's role in holding down the tiger enclosure until the business is graced with another striped predator.
"There was a lot of love and community here and I find it's tragic that for the first time in 30 years, there's not tiger living in Grosse Tete. But I have not given up and I'm hoping that this situation will be corrected," Sandlin said. "It's still Tiger Truck Stop, not camel truck stop."