- Associated Press - Thursday, January 14, 2016

CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (AP) - A spokeswoman for a federal agency that’s been pressing for a southern Indiana wildlife facility’s license to be revoked says officials will look into a barn fire that the facility’s owner said killed 41 animals.

U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa told the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, (https://cjky.it/1KfBaRv ) Wednesday that the agency wants to know if Wildlife in Need had violated the federal Animal Welfare Act and if that may have contributed to the fire Tuesday.

Facility owner Tim Stark said Tuesday the animals killed in the fire were mostly birds and reptiles. He said he ran into the burning barn and was able to rescue a handful of animals, including three wolves.

The Charlestown facility’s tigers and other large cats were safe, Stark said. The facility is known for its fundraisers where people play with young tiger cubs.

The USDA is in charge of issuing licenses to harbor non-native species. Espinosa said the agency doesn’t believe any of the facility’s animals that were killed in the fire were USDA-regulated animals, but were native species not covered by the Animal Welfare Act. Native species are regulated by the state.

A USDA list of animals at the facility from October said it had 125 USDA-regulated animals, including 18 tigers, two lions, two brown bears and several primates.

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

In February, the USDA filed a motion to terminate Stark’s Animal Welfare Act license and is awaiting a judgment from the USDA Office of Administrative Law Judges. The motion says the USDA is seeking to revoke Stark’s license because he pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act in 2008 and that Stark “has been found to have harmed the animals in his custody.”

Charlestown Assistant Fire Chief Andre Heal said Tuesday the cause of the fire wasn’t known.


Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com

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