November 14, 2003
Tiger rescue

In the spirit of Friday cat blogging, I see that San Antonio is getting some new feline residents.

The first tiger of 24 rescued from a New Jersey sanctuary greeted Texas on Thursday with a spine-tingling roar.

"Stop it! Get back, get back," said Carol Asvestas, 52, director of the Wild Animal Orphanage, a 112-acre San Antonio nonprofit that agreed to take in the two dozen Bengal tigers.

The big cats were collected Tuesday from the Tigers Only Preservation Society, a Jackson, N.J., organization that the state for five years has worked to shut down because of squalid conditions.

Asvestas, who traveled to New Jersey to assist in the transfer, called the animals' living quarters "appalling." Several of the tigers, which range in age from 3 1/2 to 10 years old, had burns on their feet from standing in urine. Hip bones on some of the animals protruded from their sides because they were forced to compete with more dominant animals for food and were malnourished, she said Thursday.

Most were housed in narrow metal cages called shoots and couldn't turn around. One lived in a windowless trailer and never saw daylight. Another was found covered in its own feces, Asvestas said.

The tigers' rescue, one of the largest in the United States, was delayed in court for years by owner Joan Byron-Marasek's attempts to keep the collection. The legal battle, and the oddity of so many cats in suburban New Jersey, generated countless news stories along the East Coast and earned Byron-Marasek the moniker of "Tiger Lady."

Even this week, Byron-Marasek sought the court's help in stopping the transfer, arguing that it was an unlawful taking of property prompted by real estate developers who wanted her land cheap. A federal judge on Wednesday, however, declined to stop the convoy of tigers, already on its way to the northwest Bexar County animal orphanage, about 20 miles from downtown San Antonio.

Makes you wonder why it took so long to get that place shut down. Though the conditions described make Ms. Byron-Marasek sound like a collector, her compound apparently dates back to 1977. Maybe funding was drying up, I don't know, but something had gone off the rails.

Here is a local paper's account of the court ruling. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has a press release with some photos of the tigers' living quarters. Here is the Tigers Only Preservation Society web page, which has an understandably different view of the situation. Personally, I just think it's a shame these cats can't live where nature intended them to. Being cared for is the next best thing, but it's still a shame.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 14, 2003 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack

This story has been in the New York metropolitan area news for several years, starting with the initial attempts to remove the tigers from Joan Byron-Marasek's home.

On the other hand, with the recent discovery of a tiger living in a Harlem housing project, this probably got pushed along in the courts.

Posted by: William Hughes on November 14, 2003 6:47 PM

I happened to live in the great state of New Jersey and in the town of Jackson. I find what they did was outrageous. I am not a close friend of the owners of the tigers but I had the opportunity to go there and help vaccinate there dogs. The compound I found was clean and the tigers were very content. I truly believe the tiger that was roaming around Jackson was not theirs. It comes down to the property. She is located on land that is very close to Great Adventure and the Jackson Outlet Mall. Prime land!!
Thanks for the space for me to tell you what I know and feel.

Posted by: Linda on November 21, 2003 8:22 AM

I was a volunteer of this compound. I went to court with Ms. Byron-Marasek and Judge Serpentelli declared that the autopsy of the wandering tiger basically proved that it was not from TOPS. This never hit the media. I wonder why???Maybe, it's because the tiger preserve is located on prime commercial property. I know first hand that these big cats were happy and healthy and never looked happier than when the "tigerlady" was around.

Posted by: Alyssa Howard on February 29, 2004 7:39 PM

Something is very wrong at Animal Protection Institute's Primate Sanctuary.

As far as where the N.J. tigers went, here is a USDA address showing concerns (federal charges) over the facility who *rescued* them (for 350,000 dollars)!

Here are photos of the animals there at WAO.

They were taken from the NJ place (described above) and sent to WAO. An outrage!

Posted by: Donna on September 22, 2004 2:22 PM