As It Happens

The battle over Tony the gas station tiger, the Louisiana roadside animal attraction

When you drive off the I-10 in Grosse Tête, Louisiana, you'll run into a roadside attraction at the Tiger Truck Stop. No, not a giant statue or an object declaring itself to be the "World's Largest," but a live 550-pound Siberian tiger named Tony. The 14-year-old animal has lived near the gas station in a 12-by-24-metre enclosure his whole life....

When you drive off the I-10 in Grosse Tête, Louisiana, you'll run into a roadside attraction at the Tiger Truck Stop. No, not a giant statue or an object declaring itself to be the "World's Largest," but a live 550-pound Siberian tiger named Tony. The 14-year-old animal has lived near the gas station in a 12-by-24-metre enclosure his whole life.

Tony the tiger in his enclosure (Photo: Patrick Dennis/AP)

Animal rights groups have been trying to free Tony for years, but his owner, Michael Sandlin, has succeeded in challenging local laws that would remove the tiger from his gas station. The battle between Mr. Sandlin and animal rights groups has been acrimonious to say the least.

"The animal rights organizations we do believe are domestic terrorists in nature," Mr. Sandlin tells As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner. "They're anti-caging, anti-circus, anti-rodeo, anti-animal agriculture, you know, they spend every dollar they take in to further the agenda to disrupt every animal industry in the country... it's actually trying to exalt animal rights over human rights and we don't agree with that kind of extremism."

Mr. Sandlin also keeps signs at the Tiger Truck Stop that denounce "the evils of animal rights."

"My dad purchased him from a breeder in Texas and I acquired Tony when he was six months old and brought him to Grosse Tête," Mr. Sandlin says. "He's been here 14 years, but there's been tigers in the exhibit for 26 years."

An aerial view of the Tiger Truck Stop (Photo: Google)

In 2006, a Louisiana state law was put in place banning Mr. Sandlin from purchasing more tigers for his exhibit. Tony was not removed when that law went into effect, as it didn't apply to animals that were being exhibited before the law went into place. In 2012, an appeals court declared the permit for Tony invalid, but Mr. Sandlin successfully sought an exemption, and a bill was passed especially to keep Tony at the gas station.

Mr. Sandlin continues, "We probably get 200 or 300 people a day stop to see Tony, I don't know how much of that is just to see Tony... he's very important to us and it really has defined us over the years, as setting us apart from other locations."

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