Animals seized at Great Cats

Nine animals were seized on Tuesday from Great Cats of Indiana, just west of Idaville, due to concerns about the big cats’ health. Photo by SCOTT ALLEN

IDAVILLE — An exotic cats facility may have suffered a final blow to its operation Tuesday.

Nine animals were seized from Great Cats of Indiana on Tuesday by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement division and White County Animal Control. The permit allowing Great Cats to possess the animals was also suspended.

Conservation Officer Todd Pekny was among several DNR officers who investigated a complaint about the health of the animals and the conditions of their quarters this month.

“We went out there last week and realized the conditions of the cages and animals had deteriorated from the last time we were out there, to the point where the animals’ health was in jeopardy,” Pekny explained.

The officers were joined by animal professionals from a USDA-licensed facility, the same facility where the animals are being held for evaluation, to aid in the seizure of the animals. Some animals were tranquilized to safely remove them from their cages.

The DNR seized seven animals: four tigers, a mountain lion, a bobcat and a lion. Two wolves were taken by the White County Sheriff’s Department.

Pekny said that because owner Rob Craig had state-issued permits allowing him to own the animals, DNR was able to go in and seize the animals.

“There’s an appeal process he can go through, but his license to possess the animals has been suspended,” said Pekny.

Calls to Craig were not returned Wednesday; the Great Cats website is no longer online and the landline phone for the facility has been disconnected.

Pekny explained that in better times, animals at the facility were probably overweight. Such was not the case when officers arrived on Tuesday.

“All the animals had lost a bunch of weight,” he said. “You could see not only their ribs but their hip bones and spines.”

“There was a large amount of feces in the cages,” he added. “It was just a health issue for the animals.”

Pekny explained that the facility holding the animals, which was not disclosed Wednesday, has been licensed for nearly 30 years. The cats are being evaluated by a veterinarian.

The conservation officer explained that any criminal charges are dependent on the vet’s findings.

“We’re still waiting on the report from the veterinarian,” Pekny said. “From there, we’ll … build from there as far as any charges that could be filed.”

It’s been at least two years since the Great Cats facility was open to public tours. In October of 2010, two Bengal tigers escaped a pen.

Though they didn’t escape the perimeter fencing, the animals were jumping against it and Craig took action; he shot both, killing one tiger and wounding the other.

In 2009, workers from Great Cats assisted local law enforcement in the search for a cougar that was reportedly running loose in the Idaville area.

Authorities determined at the time that the cougar was not an escapee, as some believed, from Great Cats.