WARNING: The images below may be graphic for some viewers.

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The Animal Legal Defense Fund is suing the National Foundation for Rescued Animals, operating in East Texas as Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary, for allegedly violating the Endangered Species Act. Along with the organization, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is also suing the founder and former director, Brian Werner Ferris, and his daughter, chairman and executive director, Emily Owen.

The Endangered Species Act prohibits the import, export, or taking of fish and wildlife and plants that are listed as threatened or endangered species; provides for adding species to and removing them from the list of threatened and endangered species, and for preparing and implementing plans for their recovery…

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

ALDF alleges that Tiger Creek violated the ESA’s “take” and “transfer” provisions by harming, harassing and killing numerous animals including nine lions and tigers that have allegedly died there since 2018. ALDF says that Tiger Creek transferred members of endangered and threatened species across state lines without the necessary permits.

KETK News reached out to Tiger Creek for a statement and the following is what they provided:

“It’s hard to comment on a lawsuit that we have not seen… The love and care of our animals has and will always be our top concern.”

-Emily Owen

According to a release, the ALDF says that there is picture and video evidence, first-hand observations and government analysis, including a warning issued by the USDA, indicating that the animals at Tiger Creek that are protected by the ESA are mentally and physically suffering.

“The USDA has allowed Tiger Creek to continue to operate even though its inspectors have recognized the facility fails to meet minimum care requirements for animals,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Our lawsuit seeks justice for the big cats who have lost their lives and to ensure the animals still remaining at Tiger Creek are transferred to reputable sanctuaries.”

Instances of alleged inadequate animal care at the Tiger Creek facility were detailed in USDA inspection reports and public records indicate that care was withheld or delayed.

The alleged victims include:

  • A puma named Coco who was euthanized days after he began dragging his leg around his enclosure and became immobile
  • A tiger named Amir who allegedly stopped eating and was found dead in his cage
  • A tiger named Greg who was euthanized after developing a distended abdomen and rejecting food
  • A tiger named Nati who had a quarter-sized cyst in her abdomen that allegedly grew over several weeks to the size of a dinner plate before rupturing
  • A tiger named Tibor who refused to eat after being transferred to Tiger Creek, where he died after allegedly spending hours in the rain, laying in his own urine

Tiger Creek is also accused of keeping two ESA-protected ring tailed lemurs that are known to be highly social animals who typically live in groups, isolated in separate enclosures with “insufficient opportunities for enrichment and social interaction.”

The complaint alleges that in the past six years, Tiger Creek has allegedly acquired at least six protected animals out-of-state and transported them in interstate commerce. Tiger Creek is alleged to have acquired tigers Pomfret, Singer and Nati in December 2018, and Ava, Elouise and Rosie in July 2019, each from Doc Antle of Netflix’s Tiger King in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The ESA protects any members of species defined as “endangered” or “threatened” from a myriad of activities that cause them injury, death or other types of harm. In 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit unanimously affirmed the lower court’s decision applying the ESA to protect endangered animals in captivity — setting precedent for future challenges. This precedent-setting case was filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in 2014 against Cricket Hollow Zoo, a roadside menagerie in Manchester, Iowa, related to inhumane treatment of Siberian tigers and lemurs.