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Animal trainers Doc and Kody Antle — ©Rare Species Fund

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering a change of regulations that could jeopardize conservation efforts at TIGERS/RSF. In 2012 a group of radical animal rights groups, led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), petitioned USDA to “prohibit public contact with big cats, bears and non-human primates of any age.” USDA has accepted public comment, and will now decide the issue within the scope of the administrative “rule making” process. There will be no congressional vote nor oversight.

TIGERS/RSF Interactive Conservation
As most of you know, The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) and the Rare Species Fund (RSF) facilitate the most cutting edge interactive wildlife experience in existence. We are located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and bring millions of dollars into the local economy annually. Over the last decade we have donated over $1,000,000 as well as our time, effort and expertise, to grassroots conservation programs around the world.

At our Preservation Stations, our wildlife ambassadors; great apes, big cats, elephant and a stunning group of other highly interactive animal ambassadors, offer our guests a collection of experiences that can be life changing. While at the preserves, the participants’ senses are awakened to a whole new world; feeling the leathery hide of our elephant, the soft touch of a lynx, the sweet smell of a binturong and the heart pounding sound of tigers running at 55 miles per hour.

Our visitors see animals they know and love displaying their spectacular natural talents and have encounters with new ones they never knew existed. During these encounters our guests connect with wildlife in a very intimate way, which personally involves them in the lives of these amazing animals. They then walk away into the world with a desire to save these creatures and help preserve their environments. We often hear the opposite from those in the animal rights arena; that these experiences do not have an impact on the desire of people to go out and be a more active part of wildlife conservation. However, we have seen first hand, and have spoken to countless individuals who have had these experiences that are now actively involved in conserving those species.

All of our encounter programs are conducted in accordance with USDA’s rules and policies under the Animal Welfare Act, and our highly trained staff ensure that visitor and animal safety is a priority at all times. We believe our programs are a testament to the fact that interactive encounters can be a safe, positive, and truly impactful experience for the public, as well as a stimulating and socializing event for our animal ambassadors themselves.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the lead petitioner, and largest animal rights organization in the world, has become the bully of the animal welfare world. In 2014, HSUS and their subsidiary and co-petitioner, The Fund for Animals, along with Born Free USA (co-petitioner), settled a $15 million racketeering lawsuit filed against them by Feld Entertainment under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) after the court discovered the animal rights groups had paid a plaintiff for his participation in a related Endangered Species case, and then attempted to conceal those payments from the court. HSUS has since tried to distance themselves from their misdeeds by claiming that they inherited the lawsuit when they acquired The Fund for Animals, and therefore were not responsible for actions by the organization prior to acquisition. However, at the time of the acquisition, Wayne Pacelle, current CEO of HSUS, was the CEO of The Fund for Animals, and became CEO of HSUS in the wake of the acquisition. Pacelle is the primary signatory on the petition, and was the leader of The Fund for Animals when the transgression occurred, and the  RICO lawsuit was originally filed.

The petitioners not only mischaracterize animals welfare concerns in their petition, but they disparage all who don’t support their ideological goals. Further, several of the petitioners have recently expressed sentiments calling for an end to all zoos in the United States. Preferring that all zoo animals be transitioned into “last stop sanctuaries” until their deaths. With that course of action wildlife in zoos would become a thing of the past in about one generation.

USDA is currently assessing whether they will make an administrative change in the rules governing public contact. TIGERS/RSF understands that USDA is obligated to field all properly submitted petitions, but USDA is also bound to ascertain the credibility and motivations of the petitioners. In light of the philosophical bias exhibited by the petitioners, USDA should be careful not to allow powerful special interests to incrementally dismantle animal ambassador programs under the guise of animal welfare. It is clear that in an animal rights utopia, there are no animals in captivity for any reason. HSUS and their fellow petitioners seek to undermine conservation through manipulation of the Animal Welfare Act. With their recent record of transgressions under the RICO Act, USDA should question closely any information proffered by this unreliable source.