NJDEP DIV. OF FISH & WILDLIFE SEEKS COURT ORDER TO
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Division
of Fish & Wildlife has filed papers to obtain a court order to remove
all of the tigers from the Tigers Only Preservation Society (TOPS) in
If the court order is approved, it would set the stage for the eventual
removal of the tigers to a large, vet-staffed facility in Texas after
all necessary transportation arrangements have been made.
The papers were submitted this week to the Chancery Division of Superior
Court in Ocean County. The order would authorize the state Division of
Fish & Wildlife to gain access to the tigers and arrange for their removal
to a facility that has agreed to take them. The facility, Wild Animal
Orphange (WAO), based in San Antonio, would assist state officials in
the transport of the tigers and would ensure their protection for the
duration of their lives.
According to state Fish & Wildlife experts, WAO has extensive experience
in animal rescues and relocations of this nature. It is a member of the
American Sanctuary Association, is licensed by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,
and has been acknowledged by the Humane Society of the United States and
by the International Fund for Animal Welfare as a facility appropriate
for this relocation.
On May 3, 1999, Fish & Wildlife denied a request from Joan Byron Marasek
and Jan Marasek to renew the TOPS animal theatrical permit, a permit given
to those who own exotic animals for advertising, theatrical or similar
purposes. Fish & Wildlife had determined they did not meet the qualifications
for a permit, having repeatedly failed to prove that the tigers were being
kept for a purpose for which a permit could be issued. In addition, the
facility was determined to be inadequate for the number of tigers being
housed, and therefore, the welfare of the animals was in jeopardy.
After the permit renewal request was denied, the Maraseks requested an
administrative hearing to review DEP's decision. An administrative law
judge upheld the permit denial, stating the couple did not show they met
the permit criteria and the facility did not provide the tigers with the
required, proper living conditions. DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn issued
a final decision on the matter based on the judge's findings last June.
The Maraseks appealed the decision to the Appellate Division of Superior
Court and sought a stay from Commissioner Shinn while the appeal was pending.
Shinn granted the stay with five conditions, but subsequent inspections
of the TOPS facility showed two conditions were violated. Inspections
showed TOPS failed to separate the tigers to prevent breeding and failed
to refrigerate the meat fed to tigers. Therefore, Shinn rescinded the
stay, and the Maraseks had 15 days to file a plan to remove the tigers
or to appeal the decision. They appealed to the Appellate Division of
Superior Court seeking the stay, but the court denied their request in
December. At present, no stay is in effect, no plan has been filed by
the Maraseks for removal of the tigers, and during recent inspections,
Fish & Wildlife personnel observed the tigers breeding.
TOPS is now considered to be in possession of 24 tigers without a permit,
and is in violation of the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation
Act. Since December, Fish & Wildlife has been developing plans for the
relocation of the tigers. The relocation would cost WAO $100,000 to $120,000
with the state possibly paying $55,000 to $60,000 of that sum. The state
would attempt to recover its costs from TOPS.
"State regulations are designed to protect the health and well being
of exotic animals kept in captivity," said DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn.
"The regulatory process also provides an appeals process to give due consideration
to the rights of the owners. In this case, no stay request is pending,
and a plan to relocate the tigers has not been filed by the owners, so
we are taking the necessary steps to permanently protect these animals."
DEP is finalizing plans for the relocation. State wildlife officials,
working with the Texas organization, will take every precaution to ensure
that the relocation is carried out with the utmost respect and consideration
for the safety of the animals and the attending staff. Trained staff and
veterinarians will accompany the tigers throughout the relocation process.
In recognition of the high level of interest in this case, DEP is committed
to keeping the public and news media informed of the status of the tigers
and the facility. We are developing plans to address the needs of the
media while ensuring the safety of the animals and on-site personnel during
the relocation. However, if this enforcement action is appealed, actual
relocation may still be six months to a year away.