Joan Byron-Marasek and Jan Marasek

Neglect of Tigers -Revocation of wildlife sanctuary

Jackson Township, NJ

1983-March 2003

It took 5 years of court battles and appeals, but state wildlife and law enforcement officers seized control of the 13-acre Tigers Only Preservation Society compound and began confiscating 24 tigers to be moved to the Wild Animal Orphanage, near San Antonio, Texas. The Preserve, located at Route 537 and Alyson Road, in Jackson, NJ, was opened in 1976.

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife guard the tiger preserve. The preseve owners were escorted by the police to keep them from interfering with preparations to truck the tigers to Texase. Each tiger had to be separated and placed in an individual cage for transport.

Legal battles began in January 1999 when the police shot and killed a 430-pound Bengal tiger found roaming loose in the suburbs of New Jersey Pinelands. Six Flags Wild Safari theme park is nearby but all their 15 tigers were accounted for. At the time, Byron-Marasek's permit stated they had 23. Police and state wildlife officers spent 7 hours, but could only locate 17 tigers. Byron-Marasek's license was revoked to keep the exotic cats and state wildlife officials sued to seize the tigers on grounds that they were badly cared for.

Byron-Marasek, known as the Tiger Lady is a former circus animal handler. She went through 6 lawyers in her effort to block the confiscation of the tigers and the closing of the Preservation. She and her husband live on the preserve with 18 or so dogs as well as the tigers.

Carol Asvestas, of the Wild Animal Orphanage supervised the removal of the tigers. Asvestas stated that many of the tigers appeared to be filthy and in poor health, some have diarrhea and intestinal parasites. The tigers kept in some small chutes are covered with feces and urine. Many of the tigers will be tranquilized before being loaded into cages for the 30-hour drive to Texas. Metal panels were installed in some of the cages to block the view of the tigers that do not get along with one another. Veterinarians will accompany the tigers to Texas. 10 drivers rotating behind the wheel will make the 1,300-mile trip.

The move is expected to cost about $240,000. Half of the contributions came from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which often works with or helps move large or exotic animals to safety. More money is being raised to build special facilities for the cats at the animal orphanage.

(Jan Marasek & Joan Byron-Marasek) filed papers in State Superior Court for a summary disposition of the state's order in January 2001. She asked the court to overrule the state's order to get rid of the tigers on the grounds that the federal license supersedes any actions the state may want to take relative to her possession of the tigers. Byron-Marasek believes the animals were under federal jurisdiction according to the Endangered Species Act. The state of NJ does have an Endangered Species Act but its power only holds jurisdiction over animals indigenous to NJ.

In 1976, the Maraseks bought eleven acres in Jackson, NH and moved there with the tigers named Bombay, Chinta, Iman, Jaipur and Maya, five Siberian tigers they got from animal trainer David McMillan. Soon they had 6 more tigers, Bengal, Hassan, Madras, Marco, Royal and Kizmet from McMillan and from Ringling Brothers. The next 6, Kirin, Kopan, Bali, Brunei and Burma were cubs born in the backyard after Byron-Marasek allowed the male and female tigers to co-mingle.

In 1983, the Marasek's owned a tiger named Jaipur, who weighed more than 1000 pounds, who was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest Siberian tiger in captivity.

Over the years some of the animals died - Muji died after a bad reaction to an injection. Diamond had to be euthanized after Marco tore off one of his legs; Marco also killed Hassan in a fight in 1997. Two other tigers die after eating road-killed deer that might have been poisoned with anti-freeze.

Jan Marasek sustained injuries to his head and arm when he was mauled by one of the tigers on October 11th 2002. The incident occurred in the innermost fence area at around 3pm. Marasek was hospitalized for a week.

Chronological Events that lead to the removal of the tigers from the preserve:
1983:
The State Office of Noise Control gave the Marasek's a warning because it was reported to them that between the hours of 4am and 6am a recording of music or jungle drums would be played over the public address system at the reserve. The investigators found the conditions at the preserve to be a ramshackled arrangement with compounds, chutes, runs and shift cages, some covered by deteriorating plywood, stockade fencing and tarps. The periphery fence (along the border of the property) intended to keep out troublemakers was down in several places. There was standing water and mud in the compound. Deer carcasses were scattered around the property, rat burrows, and 35 large angry dogs in a separate pen near the tigers. The investigators were concerned that the 17 tigers, living in sorry conditions, and that the animals were being kept not for theatrical or educational purposes but as illegal pets.

February 1999: Tigers Only Preservation Society (TOPS) was sited for violation of NJ Administrative Code 7:25 for not ensuring public safety. Some minor improvements were attempted but the facility remained below safety standards.

May 1999: The state denied renewal of the exotic animal permit that Byron-Marasek has held since 1977.

February 2000: The US Dept. of Agriculture (APHIS) charged TOPS with violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
The problems: 1. TOPS failed to maintain programs of disease control and prevention, euthanasia, adequate veterinary care.
2. Failure to maintain complete records, showing the acquisition, disposition and identification of animals.
3. Failure to allow APHIS employees to conduct a complete inspection of the facilities
4. Failure to construct structurally sound housing facilities and maintain them
5. Failure to provide for the removal and disposal of animal wastes so as to minimize vermin infestation, odors and disease hazards
6. Failure to provide animals kept outdoors with adequate protection from inclement weather
7. Failure to provide a suitable method to rapidly eliminate excess water from outdoor housing facilities
8. Failure to construct and maintain primary enclosures so as to provide sufficient space to allow each animal to make normal postural and social adjustments with adequate freedom of movement
9. Failure to provide clean primary enclosures
10. Failure to establish and maintain an effective program for the control of pests.
11. Failure to provide animals with wholesome and uncontaminated food
12. Failure to keep the premises clean and free of trash

March 2000: Byron-Marasek appeals the state's decision to deny the permit.

April 2000: Administrative Law Judge John R. Tassini upholds the state's plan to shut down the preserve.

June 2001: A state appeals panel upholds the state's denial of the permit

December 2001: Byron-Marasek says she will move the tigers to another state rather than continue fighting to stay in NJ.

May 2002: NY officials revoked a permit that would have allowed Byron-Marasek to move the tigers to Hamptonburg, NY.

July 2002: A team of DEP investigators went to the TOPS compound to conduct an inspection of the property. The tigers were very thin and there was little evidence of food for them to eat. Rats were burrowing in the tigers' holding area.

The investigators also found evidence that the tigers were beginning to try and dig their way under the compound's fence.

July 30th 2002: Superior Court Judge Eugene D. Serpentelli, closed the case, but said he would reopen the hearing if Byron-Marasek offered a better relocation plan than the one being proposed by the state. Byron-Marasek filed a motion requesting the hearing be reopened. It was scheduled for 10/25/02.

October 11, 2002: Jan Marasek is attacked by one of the tigers.

November 8, 2002: Judge Serpentelli orders the 24 tigers to be relocated to the Wild Animal Orphanage in Texas.

March 2003: Byron-Marasek plans to move the tigers to Steuben, Maine but the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stated she must build a facility for the tigers before they can consider giving her a permit. The Dept. commissioner, Ronald D. Martin, denied Byron-Marasek's request basing the decision on a review of court records and administrative actions involving the problems in NJ. 100 acres would have been leased from Marilynn English, a Verona, ME banker and animal rights activist for $1.00.

Only 12 states prohibit the ownership of wild animals.

The Animal Protection Institute of Sacramento, CA estimates that there are about 10,000 tigers in the US. The organization has documented 130 injuries and 19 deaths from big-cat attacks since 1995. Most of the accidents were in zoos but escaped pet tigers caused 6 deaths.

For a long time, there were no restrictions in NJ on owning wildlife. But in the 70's, there were reports of monkey bites and tiger maulings. This lead to exotic animal owners having to register with the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection Dangerous exotic animals were permitted only if it could be shown that they were needed for education or theatrical performance. 10,000 permits for small exotic pets such as ferrets and Siberian hamsters and just shy of 300 for dangerous animals, which included performance monkeys and lions, were issued in 2002.

One reason it is particularly easy to get tigers is that they bred easily in captivity. There are fewer than 8000 wild tigers left in the world and 3 subspecies have become extinct just in the last sixty years. During the 70's and 80's, many zoos bred excessively because zoo visitors preferred baby animals to mature ones.

Congress is trying to pass the "Captive Wildlife Safety Act" which would ban interstate shipment of big cats and bears for use as private pets, but would still allow shipments to zoos, circuses, sanctuaries, humane societies and other operations licensed and inspected by the US Dept. of Agriculture.

The Humane Society of The United States estimates that 15,000 tigers, lions, cougars and other large cats are living as pets in US homes, more than live in the wild.

Websites offer lions and tiger cubs for $1,900 apiece and cougars for $1,500.

The USDA regulates the people who sell exotic animals, but not the people who buy them. Ill-prepared owners pose a threat to themselves, their neighbors and the animals.

Update March 2, 2004:  In January 2004, one of the two dozen Bengal tigers seized gave birth to four cubs at her new home in the Texas wildlife sanctuary

References:

NJ News Transcript

APHIS

Wild New Jersey

NJ Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife

The New Yorker

NJ Tri-Town News

5Tigers

The NJ Examiner

1010 Wins

The Courier Post

The Philadelphia Inquirer

The New York Times