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FWC Report Response – 7/15/2011

April 22, 2012 in Admin

 Subject
Linda – Live Rabbits being fed to Big Cats in Tampa (BCR)
 Discussion Thread
 Response Via Email (LE-MC)

07/15/2011 10:26 AM

Dear Ms. Linda:On behalf of Executive Director Nick Wiley, this is in response to your concerns regarding the transport of bobcats across state lines and feeding of live rabbits as prey by Big Cat Rescue (BCR).The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is charged with regulating wildlife in Florida. This incident came to FWC’s attention in March, 2011, and the FWC law enforcement staff conducted a thorough investigation into these allegations. This investigation included support and coordination from the following federal, state and local agencies: US Department of Agriculture-APHIS-Animal Care (USDA), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office (SAO), Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and the Hillsborough County Animal Services (HCAS).

The FWC investigated the allegations of illegal transportation of the bobcats across state lines, the lack of a valid health certificate, a Lacey Act violation and the inability to be rehabbed and released in either Alabama or Florida. The findings are as follows.

Through coordination with ADCNR, it was determined that a violation of Alabama law existed with regards to both Opp Paws and Claws (OPC), the original facility, and BCR possessing the bobcats in Alabama without a permit. It is noted that the OPC contacted and requested BCR acquire the bobcats for rehabilitation purposes. BCR requested a transport permit from the FWC on April 21, 2010, and a valid import / transport permit was issued on April 23, 2010. BCR also requested to have a health inspection completed on the three bobcats prior to importation, as required by Florida Law and FDACS. A health inspection was conducted by “Opp Veterinary Hospital” in Alabama and a valid health certificate was issued by ADAI on April 21, 2010. We contacted both FDACS and ADAI and obtained copies of the health certificate that was issued in reference to the three bobcats. FDACS advised that there was no apparent violation of their rules. By taking possession of the bobcats in Alabama, BCR committed a violation of Alabama law. Through discussions with ADCNR, they declined to pursue charges on either BCR or OPC for possession of the bobcats without a permit. A Lacey Act violation occurs when there is a violation of state law and, subsequently, a state or federal boundary is crossed; in this instance, the Florida / Alabama state line. BCR imported the bobcats in compliance with Florida regulations, but because there was a violation of Alabama law and the bobcats were transported across state lines, FWC coordinated with USFWS with regard to pursuing Lacey Act violations and it was deemed that this was not a priority and charges would not be pursued. It is noted that the wild Alabama bobcats are of the same subspecies as the native Florida species and would be considered native and deemed releasable by Florida law.

During the investigation, FWC staff discovered that the bobcats in question, “Midnight,” “Storm” and “Rain,” died approximately one month before the initial complaint was received by FWC. FWC staff reviewed the necropsy reports for these bobcats. The cause of death was identified by the Veterinarian of record as congenital heart disease for “Storm,” a ruptured duodenum at the junction of the pancreas and congenital heart disease was also noted for “Rain,” and Feline Panleukopenia for “Midnight.”

In regards to the feeding of live rabbits to the BCR inventory of predatory Felids, the FWC investigated the allegations of animal cruelty and the exhibition of wildlife under rehabilitation. The findings are as follows.

On March 23, 2011, FWC staff made contact with HCAS, Animal Cruelty Section and ensured they had received the complaint of animal cruelty at BCR. HCAS advised they had received the complaint and would be officially deferring “lead” of the investigation to FWC due to the bobcats being classified as wildlife.

On March 25, 2011, FWC staff made contact with USDA to ensure they had received the complaint. USDA advised they had received the complaint and would be investigating the feeding of live rabbits to the commercial exhibited wildlife. USDA does not regulate the rehabilitation of wildlife. Through coordination with USDA, we were able to ascertain that on March 30, 2011, BCR had only fed live rabbits to bobcats under rehabilitation status and not to any of the commercially exhibited wildlife. It was also concluded that BCR was no longer in possession of live rabbits or bobcats in rehabilitation status. USDA did not find any “non-compliance” issues during their inspection.

On March 25, 2011, FWC staff made contact with the Hillsborough SAO, Felony Intake Division, in regards to possible charges of animal cruelty against BCR. The SAO advised that the facts presented did not meet the “burden of proof” standard to substantiate a successful prosecution of animal cruelty.

On April 7, 2011, FWC staff also confirmed that the practice of feeding of live rabbits was conducted to felids undergoing rehabilitation and had currently ceased, and there are no longer any live rabbits at BCR. There was no wildlife under rehabilitation status at that time.

It is noted that FWC regulates the activity of wildlife rehabilitation – animals of indigenous wild origin species, undergoing preparation for release into the wild. In this case, the function of the wildlife rehabilitation process was to prepare and teach the orphaned Bobcat kittens to stalk, hunt and feed on prey items, since they were not afforded the opportunity to learn this instinct from the parents or older siblings. FWC Legal Section notes that the practice of feeding live prey items to carnivores undergoing wildlife rehabilitation, for the purpose of preparing the wildlife for release to the wild, is a documented and acceptable industry procedure.

With regards to the allegations of exhibition of wildlife under rehabilitation status, FWC staff investigated and was able to confirm that BCR did, in fact, post a video on the BCR website and “Youtube” of wildlife being fed in rehabilitation status. BCR was advised of the violation and was ordered to remove the video from the public website and BCR corporate officer “Jamie Veronica Murdock” was issued a warning on March 17, 2011, for a violation of Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) 68A-9.006.

We appreciate your concerns regarding this matter. If you have any further questions, please call Captain Jason Marlow at (850) 488-6253, or write to him at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Law Enforcement, Captive Wildlife Office, 620 South Meridian Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1600.

 

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