Reprint of an article found in the Houston Chronicle, Sunday
June 22, 1997
Darlingbut dangerousby James Pinkerton
Sales of wild animals flourish in Texas because high-powered lobbyists and
public interest in exotic pets fuel the marketdespite
dangers to humans and animals alike.
BoerneAll but concealed in a tangle of oak and
cedar outside this quaint Hill Country town, Lynn Cuny runs an orphanage
for cougars, bobcats and jaguars, wolves, alligators and a host of
other pets that their owners couldnt handle.
You show some unassuming, unaware member of the
public this little cub that is spotted, has blue eyes, chirps like a bird,
and theyll write a check easily, said Cuny, who founded the
nonprofit Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Inc. 20 years ago.
And theyre told, Yes, they get a little
larger, but they stay very compatible with your family members. And
theyll like to play with the (other) pets. And if you dont
treat them rough, and spend a lot of time with them, theyll act like
a big dog.
Which is an absolute lie.
A hundred and fifty miles away, at Zutu Exotics,
a three-acre animal farm outside Hearne, Rudy Ryder sells cuddly black
panther cubs for $2500 each.
The main people who buy from us are people
who have a lot of money, Ryder said. They have a lot of money,
theyll put some habitat around their home, and have their friends
come over to have a martini and watch the cats.
Ryder and Cuny are on opposite sides of a growing
debate over Texas booming exotic animal trade. The rhetoric grows
more heated each time a child is mauled by an animals whose owner
couldnt control it.
There is not hardly anything good that can
happen from having a big cat in private hands," said Jim Stinebaugh, a
longtime U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent stationed in San Antonio. Even
if you dont care about the animals, it could end up in a tragedy
where a human gets hurt. With all the younguns around, they are going
to get hurt.
In Austin this year, the influence of private
animal owners and breeders prevailed. Lobbyists blocked a legislative
effort to bring some regulation to the trade. The bill, unanimously
approved in the state Senate, was held up in a House committee and never
saw a vote.
Theyre not going to tell me what
Im going to breed, no, thats my constitutional right,
said Ryder. Dont tell me youre going to come in and take
my animals because I wont spay or neuter them.
Thats the state (of Texas) trying to
do what the government has been trying to do to us all along, and
thats screw us.
Ryder also proudly noted his own screening of prospective
buyers. He tries to weed out drug dealers, who buy big cats to protect
their merchandise, and canned hunt promoters looking for older animals. He
also avoids adults in their 20s, who tend to be impulse buyers likely to
return the animal, and wont sell a big cat to a family with
Last night a man called me, an idiot from Houston,
who wants to get his daughter a unique gift, and the girl is 4 years
old, said Ryder. So he he wants a baby African lion because he
always wanted one as a child. I said, Where are you going to keep
him? And he said they were going to keep it in the house and would
that be a problem?
I said, yes, hes going to eat
Ryder said he advised the man to buy his daughter a stuffed toy.
[Edited for space]
The senators staff has assembled details on recent
maulings by wild animals, including several that occurred while the bill
was being considered by the Legislature.
The list is long and grisly:
March 12: a 13-year-old boy was attacked by a tiger
and lion kept in a cage built onto the side of his grandfathers home
near Caldwell. My son was not mauled, Jodie Grubbs Jr. told the
Bryan-College Station Eagle. He was being eaten alive. The boy
spent a week in the hospital, but did not suffer permanent damage.
April 3: Two-year-old James Ramos was rushed to a
hospital after he was attacked by a male bobcat, one of two in violation of
city ordinance in a north Dallas home of his mothers boyfriend.
Animal control workers investigating the attack said the boy who was
bitten on the cheek, finger and heel is recovering.
April 28: The mother of an animal care worker at a
Luther, Okla., cat breeding farm was killed and partially eaten by a rare
Persian leopard. The woman, who was visiting her son and not a trained
worker, was alone at the facility and was attempting to feed the cat.
May 8: Big cat owner Gene Light of Lubbock was
seriously injured when he entered the cage to work with one of his tigers.
Lights son and a friend had to shoot the tiger while his
owners head was still in the big cats jaws.
Law officers often first discover potentially dangerous
animals in their community when they arrive to answer an emergency call.
[Edited for space]
The big cats, even if they are not declawed and defanged,
cannot be returned to the wild because most were raised in captivity, Cuny
said. They have not been taught to hunt and have been conditioned to seek
out humans to provide food.
[Edited for space]
Still, many wildlife breeders see themselves as the last
hope for many of the critically endangered big cats.
People dont understand, especially these
animal activists who think they know everything, that in the wild, the life
expectancy of a big cat is five years, said Mickey Sapp, a San
Antonio-area animal breeder.
They kill them for their hides and bones, and now
(poachers in Asia) have switched from the rhino horn to the tiger bones -
they grind up the tiger bones to make an aphrodisiac. Tigers are about to
be wiped off the face of the Earth.
Sapp, who advertises big cats for sale in the newspaper,
can often be seen hawking tiger cubs alongside highways outside of San
People like me, we are trying to conserve these
animals, and were one of the last few states that are allowed to have
this, Sapp said. Id hate to see that right taken away
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