NEW ORLEANS – A tiger kept at a Louisiana truck stop has died at the age of 17.
Tony, a Bengal-Siberian mix, was euthanized Monday night because he was old, ill, and had not responded to injected antibiotics, said Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, near Baton Rouge.
He said antibiotics had helped the tiger recover from kidney problems about six weeks ago, but they didn’t seem to be working this time. Since Tony wasn’t eating, oral antibiotics couldn’t help him as they had before.
Bengal tigers in zoos generally live 16 to 20 years, according to The Indian Tiger Welfare Society ‘s website.
Even though Tony was old for a tiger, the decision to euthanize him was hard, Sandlin said in a telephone interview.
He said his family and truck stop staffers were with Tony at the end.
“We had a pastor from Metropolitan Community Church in Baton Rouge,” Sandlin said. “We were able to thank Tony for 17 years of being a good boy and being such a blessing to us and lots of other people, and say a prayer and talk to him.”
He said he put a wreath and a cross of flowers on Tony’s cage. “I understand more were placed there today by people in the area,” Sandlin said.
After undergoing a necropsy to benefit tiger care, Tony will be taxidermied and displayed in the truck stop restaurant where a predecessor named Sabrina, which died of cancer, is already shown.
“We continue to enjoy her, and people enjoy her still,” he said.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund had asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture in April to investigate Tony’s care, saying the tiger reportedly had diarrhea and a private investigator’s photos and video showed a limp and spinal curvature.
Sandlin said at the time that the tiger was seen regularly by a veterinarian, limped from arthritis and only had loose stools after getting anti-worm medicine. “He is not sick. He’s simply an old man with some arthritis,” Sandlin said in April.
The animal rights group also had fought to move Tony from the truck stop to a tiger sanctuary.
A state district judge ordered the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in 2011 to revoke Sandlin’s permit, but the Legislature passed a law exempting Sandlin from state restrictions on owning exotic cats. That case was still in court.
“For more than seven years, we litigated on many fronts to free Tony, and we are devastated that despite our best efforts, he lived and died caged at a truck stop that could never provide the life he deserved,” it said in an emailed statement.
Tony’s 3,200-square-foot cage included grass, stone, a large water tank to swim in, a hanging tire and other toys, Sandlin has said.
An obituary at the truck stop’s website described the enclosure as “four times larger than the recommended size for animals of his type.”
It’s double the minimum tiger enclosure recommended by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums , but about 58 percent of the 5,500-square-foot average for AZA members’ exhibits. The organization strongly recommends that new tiger exhibits exceed the minimum, according to its 2016 tiger care manual .
The Animal Legal Defense Fund said it will keep fighting to uphold Louisiana’s ban on private ownership of big cats to ensure “there will never be a Tony II or Tony III.”
Sandlin said he will also keep up the fight.