Feline Conservation Federation

Safety Net transports tigers from Wild Animal Orphanage

September 8, 2010
    The Feline Conservation Federation's Wildcat Safety Net Fund committee has approved a $1000 grant to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center for the transportation of 13 tigers from the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, Texas to its facility in Center Point, Indiana. The Exotic Feline Rescue Center provides superior habitats and high quality veterinary care to more than 200 exotic felines, and has been in operation for two decades.

    The Safety Net committee is proud to help with this rescue effort, as the love of exotic felines, and concern for their welfare is what led to the creation of the Feline Conservation Federation over fifty years ago.
    EFRC Facility treasurer Gene Herberg expects the transport costs to run between $5,000 and $6,000. A crew of nine workers, driving two vehicles and an 18-wheeler from Indiana and another vehicle from the Louisville zoo in Kentucky, made the trip to move the tigers.
    Thursday morning Joe Taft told FCF executive director Lynn Culver that all 13 tigers appear to be in good health.  In addition to the refuge center's presence, USDA big cat experts and animal care inspectors were on hand, as well as WAO volunteers. By Wednesday evening all tigers had been safely shifted into transport cages, loaded into the 18-wheeler, and the rescue team had began the long drive back to EFRC.
    Joe said six tigers were well socialized and voluntarily walked into the transport cages, six tigers had to be sedated using a pole syringe, and one needed to be darted. Louisville Zoo curator David Hodge used a range adjusted Pneudart CO 2 gun to anesthetize that feline.
    Joe says be believes other sanctuaries have committed to taking most of the cats and bears and wolves, but that there are primates still needing placement.
    The Wild Animal Orphanage is set on two separate pieces of property, one being 7 acres and USDA inspected as a public exhibit, and the other 100+ acre property was not in public view and so it was exempt from all government oversight or state regulations.
    Joe found the place in "pretty good shape" now that much of the overcrowding had been relieved. At one time the WAO sanctuary housed over 500 animals, but the recent call for assistance only listed about 300 animals needing placement. Heavy equipment on the property has been knocking down caging soon as it is vacated and it appears the facility is going to disappear later this year. Joe noted that one building represented a substantial investment, the office and gift shop complex and he was not certain if that would also be destroyed.
    Joe did not comment on the mismanagement by the founders, instead he gave credit to the many good people who have stepped up to help the animals in need. Joe says,  "The animals are very fortunate to have dedicated people working for them in Texas. There is a nationwide effort of committed people working to remove them and get them into safe and proper environments."
    For the past few weeks the workers at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center have been building climbing towers, constructing plywood houses and lock down cages, and fencing exercise areas for the tigers. Three separate habitat enclosures will house a group of five tigers, a group of six tigers, and a brother pair.
    The Feline Conservation Federation Wildcat Safety Net Fund approved the maximum grant amount of $1000 from the transport fund. To help assist with the additional costs this rescue will incur, the committee has launched a fund raising drive to FCF members to donate to the fund and it will be forwarded to the EFRC.
    Artist Teri Zucksworth has generously agreed to assist the FCF in this effort. Teri has donated prints of three beautiful colored pencil drawings; a white tiger, a snow leopard, and a black panther. Donors to the Wildcat Safety Net fund may chose one print as a thank you gift for each $50.00 donation to the fund to help EFRC. These drawings are 24 inches by 36 inches and are also listed on the FCF web site store page.
    Wild Animal Orphanage, founded by Ron and Carole Asvestas in 1983 rose from obscurity to national prominence in the sanctuary community during its 27-year history.
    Carol has long been an outspoken opponent of all captive husbandry, including private ownership, breeding, and wildlife exhibiting. Carol lobbied many states to prohibit captive wildlife and eliminate habitat through ban legislation.
    Carol attended the fall 2004 Kansas Parks and Wildlife monthly meeting. She had made the long drive north from San Antonio to encourage the agency to ban private ownership of wild felines and exempt 501 c 3 sanctuaries from state regulation.  The day previous, a dead cougar was discovered lying by the side of a highway just south of the meeting place. According to a Parks and Wildlife officer, the large feline had not been hit by a car, but instead, had been dumped, and was presumed to be a pet. No Kansas licensee was ever identified as the feline's owner, nor did anyone come forward with information on this animal origin. The suspiciously dead cougar on the side of the road was headline news the day of the public hearings, and increased the pressure to ban private ownership.
    Public trust and support of the Wild Animal Orphanage has been eroded by 18 months of investigative news that reported allegations of deliberate euthanasia of the sanctuary animals by Carol, severe overcrowding, poor nutrition, multiple USDA violations, and financial mismanagement. Over the decades WAO had built up a direct mail list of nearly half million donors, but it could no longer count on these supporters to meet WAO operating expenses.
    In August, the process of closing down the sanctuary and placing hundreds of mostly felid, primate and canids began. Emails circulated by the United States Department of Agriculture officials to AZA zoos, and USDA licensed sanctuaries, asked for emergency donations of food, and commitments to take in animals.
    The decision to close the sanctuary had been made by the remaining three board members.  Carol and Ron Asvestas, voted off the board in 2009 were replaced by their daughter Nicole Garcia, to help straighten out the troubled sanctuary. Ron and Carol have filed lawsuits against Nicole and the remaining officers.
    Carol was one of the original board members of the American Sanctuary Association, formed in 1996 to accredit non-profit facilities in the business of providing refuge to animals. According to the humane watchdog publication, Animal People, Carol, who was philosophically against the human/animal bond, circulated her proposed accrediting guidelines in 2001 to news agencies prior to their being adopted by ASA, which upset the other board members. Carol's guidelines were rejected by ASA, and Carol stepped down from the board.
    Carol advocates a no handling policy, or any encouraging of the touching of any non-domestic animal in public view, lest this encourage the public to want exotic pets.  This logic is even extended to educators. Carol proposed in her ASA standards, "Animals must never be handled for educational, entertainment or emotional purposes", and extended this view further adding, "No taking non-domestic animals off premises for educational purposes." Carol formed her own accrediting association called Animal Centers of Excellence, but it never caught on.
    Over the years WAO was the recipient of many grants to support the animals. In 2002 with the backing of the International Fund For Animal Welfare and with much news fanfare, Carol drove her "humane train" to Keystone ND to pick up many of the big cats from the chronic USDA violator, Ken Alveraz. In 2003, IFAW, the Human Society of the United States, and the New Jersey Wildlife Department, donated $240,000 to WAO to transport 24 tigers from the Tigers Only Preservation Society and give them lifetime care. Another high profile rescue case IFAW financed was for the 2008 transport and lifetime care of two tigers from the notorious Ohio exhibitor, Diana McCourt of the Siberian Tiger Foundation. Now Wildcat Sanctuary in Oregon is fund raising to rescue those two tigers from WAO.
     WAO took in animals relinquished by their owners, but not without a price. For example, one former cougar owner who was forced to give up his feline told FCF executive director Lynn Culver that Carol charged him $2,500 to accept his feline.
    Wild Animal Orphanage was featured in Animal Planet's, "Growing up Lion". However, after the show aired, Carol tried to hide the fact that the young lion featured in the program had been killed by the tiger housed with it.
    More recently Carol appeared in the documentary film about former USDA licensed tiger breeder Dennis Hill, called, "The Tiger Next Door". Carol appeared as an arrogant and hostile sanctuary operator voicing her viewpoint of captive wildlife owners. Breeders especially outraged her. Carol predicted imminent mass euthanasia for cats because of sanctuary overcrowding. Accusations by former board members reveal that Carol's anger probably stemmed from her own outrageous practice of using lethal methods to free up cage space for the next round of "rescues".
    Providing a stable lifetime home to animals is the hallmark of a well-intentioned owner, but as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intensions. Other sanctuaries have weathered rough times, but in this case, the damage incurred at WAO was deemed beyond repair.
    Carol is the classic example of the Embittered Sanctuary Owner Syndrome. Compounding this disorder was the fact that Carol forbids emotional connections with any of the animals residing at WAO. Providing lifetime care to unfortunate animals that need to be rescued can be a depressing and spiritually draining livelihood. Only the love between the species heals though its "chicken soup for the soul". In Carol's case, it appears she was motivated not by love, but by a lust for money and power. Carol was synonymous with WAO, and when she developed hardening of her heart, it eventually led to the death of Wild Animal Orphanage.
    Carol Asvestas hostile diatribe against private ownership occurred during the same time she was literally murdering tigers to gain more money, in violation of not only of common decency, but also the Endangered Species Act. This is a worst-case example of actions speaking louder than words. Carol's words were a smokescreen that concealed her despicable actions for years. While portraying herself as the savior of abused animals, she was in fact, doing greater harm to more animals than all the people she constantly attacked.
    Carol got away with this because animals cannot talk and because most of her operation was exempt from public scrutiny. She was finally stopped and exposed when her own board of directors and daughter and volunteers could not take it anymore.
    There are other Caroles out there running similar scamsuaries, and their words against all animal lovers can be even more harmful than Carol Asvestas' actions. Abuses of animals and the public trust demand public scrutiny of the relatively few people who, through their propaganda, have gained possession of most of these animals.
    What makes this latest animal rescue story particularly disturbing is that in many states, including Texas, the sanctuary community has gained itself exemption from government regulation and oversight. Carol was a founding member of ASA, and Carol is the cause of the collapse of Wild Animal Orphanage. It is time for the tax-exempt sanctuary community to take a good look at their leaders and make sure that other prominent members do not follow the example of Carol. Carol has not only damaged all charities through her disreputable practices, but her repeated attacks on captive conservation have harmed individuals and organizations alike, including the Feline Conservation Federation.