Judge: Indiana wildlife facility can keep federal license

CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (AP) — A judge has ruled that a southern Indiana wildlife facility can keep its exhibitor’s license despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to revoke it.

Administrative Law Judge Janice Bullard found that the USDA failed to show that Wildlife in Need owner Tim Stark was unfit to hold an Animal Welfare Act exhibitor’s license, the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, reported.

The agency filed a motion in February 2015 to revoke Stark’s license, saying that he was unfit to exhibit animals because he pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act in 2008 and that he “has been found to have harmed the animals in his custody.”

Bullard’s judgment said the USDA failed to show Stark isn’t fit for the license “for a conviction pertaining to the transfer of an animal protected by the Endangered Species Act more than 10 years ago.” Stark’s counsel maintained, and Bullard agreed, that the USDA renewed his license in 2014 after he violated the Endangered Species Act, according to the judgment.

Bullard also discounted the agency’s inspection reports of the Charlestown facility and Animal Welfare Act noncompliances.

The USDA has 35 days to appeal Bullard’s decision. A USDA spokesperson said Wednesday that the agency is reviewing the decision and determining its next steps.

The facility is known for its fundraisers where people play with young tiger cubs. A fire broke out at the facility last week, and Stark has said 41 animals were killed. He said they were mostly birds and turtles, and that the facility’s tigers and other large cats were safe.

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa has said the agency would look into the fire. Charlestown Assistant Fire Chief Andre Heal said last week that the fire’s cause wasn’t known.

Inspections of the facility in the fall by the USDA found abuse of animals and unsafe conditions for visitors. Stark has denied any wrongdoing.

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