Joesph - (Deceased Lion)
August 28, 2015 - Statement from Joseph's owner:
First of all we were the "Siberian Tiger Conservation Association", a 501C-3 non-profit school. We were not rescue. Joseph nor any other of our cat's tongues hang out of their mouth. We were recognized by Universities and college students received credit for completing our training program. Our students came from Ohio State University (I did get paid to do lectures there), Cornell University, Michigan and many others. We were invited and did many educational programs including children's T.V. programs, schools, Children's Hospital Columbus, Ohio, etc. the list is long.
USDA denies Carole's claim of being in on her scheme to take my cats and move them out of the state. As far as USDA Ohio is concerned I still hold all legal documents to my lions and tigers.
When I was evicted I tried to give Christian and Donnalynn Lavor the 3 months worth of food I already had for my cats. They refused to take it and would not allow me on the property to feed my own babies. Then Mrs. Donnalynn Lavor lied to the county saying there was no food to feed the cats.
My tiger trainers told me that the Lavors' were promoting a grand opening using my cats with the general public. The Lavors' even put up a sign using a new name, their son's middle name, Issaha. Their son Timonthy I. Lavor was one of my student's. I immediatley called USDA to let them know what was about to happen. An undercover agent approached Donnalynn Lavor informing her she can not use my cats and Mrs. Lavor argued with the agent. The agent told her she would receive a fine if she continued. USDA also informed me that Christian and Donnalynn Lavor tried to file ownership papers with USDA as new owners of my cats. The Lavors' decided if they could not own my cats then they would not feed them.
The "Siberian Tiger Conservation" has received thousands of thank you letters and cards for having a wonderful, educational and once-in-a-lifetime experience, and from all of us we feel so blessed having been able to provide that to so many people from around the world.
Our enclosure's were and still are magnificent, we received a huge donation that put up 20 foot high fencing above ground and 6 foot below ground covering well over an acre of beautifully wooded hillside, on a 37 acre farm with a view from all around, only being surrounded by other farms/Amish. The cats had their own indoor/outdoor buildings complete with sliding doors, feed bowls, mangates and a beautiful filtered waterfall swimming pool; even I would go in the pool with them. Our cats had all the top-of-the line toy's made for large cats too. It literally makes me ill when I see the conditions my cats have had to endure living at BCR, in such small wire cages.
Our vet, Dr. Don Burton, also was on the Columbus Zoo Board. He told me that our cats were fat/chubby and that we tended to feed a little to much, especially giving them treats.
Regarding the USDA license remark, in or about the year 2000 we went to court with USDA about our license, and we won! We won the right to remain open as a school and so we did. We always stayed within USDA rules and regulations and have NEVER had to pay a fine. I've always had a friendly relationship with all my USDA inspectors.
These are my babies that literally have been ripped away from me. The fear that they must have felt being taken from their home, their mommy. I held each and every one of them in the palm of my hand and bottle fed, burped, and slept with them (even full grown). They each know and have their own lullaby song that they respond too, even full grown. Carole doesn't know that about them, but then Carole is in the business of making money off of stealing other people's babies/animals and claiming they were "rescued". I pray that someday the harm she causes others is brought to a stop.
The Evolving Stories
Big Cat Rescue - 2008 - (source)
Joseph may be the youngest cat in his pride, but he is the strongest and the most fearless. He fiercely protects both male and females in his family. He is the only one that was not defanged by his former owner, but he hangs his tongue out, like the defanged cats cannot help but do, just to be like them.
Siberian Tiger Foundation Rescue:
It took the combined efforts of USDA, undercover agents and concerned citizens seven years to shut down Diana McCourt and the Siberian Tiger Foundation. It wasn’t until her landlords were able to evict her from the property that Knox County was able to seize the six cats that had been used for years as props in a "tiger training" scheme. Even though McCourt lost her USDA license to operate the tiger-tamer camp in 2000, and permanently in 2006, she continued to charge people to come into her back yard in Gambier, OH and pet the adult lions and tigers. The cats would often be chained down so that people could touch them or have their photos made with the cats. To make the cats more pliable McCourt had their teeth and claws removed. Despite the abusive violations to their bodies and mobility, the USDA investigation included eight allegations of attacks on visitors in an 8 month period.
In August 2007 McCourt had been evicted and Knox County was awarded custody of the four tigers and two lions. Dean Vickers, the State Director for the Ohio branch of the HSUS contacted Big Cat Rescue and asked if we could take the cats, but six more big cats would increase our annual budget by $45,000.00. We agreed and took two tigers, Nik & Sim and two lions, Joseph and Sasha. The remaining two tigers were placed with another sanctuary in Texas with the help of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Big Cat Rescue - Present
Joseph the lion was rescued along with several other lions and tigers who had been bred to be used as photo and ego props.
A Lion Pride of a Different Stripe
It took the combined efforts of USDA, undercover agents and concerned citizens seven years to shut down Diana McCourt (aka Cziraky) and her Siberian Tiger Foundation. It wasn’t until her landlords, Donnalynn and Christian Laver were able to evict her from the property that Knox County was able to seize the six cats who had been used for years as props in Diana McCourt’s “tiger training” scheme.
By the end of the ordeal eye witnesses said that the cats were starving and they still have inadequate shelter from the elements. Even though McCourt lost her USDA license to operate the tiger-tamer camp in 2000, and permanently in 2006, she still continued to charge people to come into her back yard in Gambier, OH and pet the adult lions and tigers.
The cats would often be chained down so that people could touch them or have their photos made with the cats.
To make the cats more pliable McCourt had their teeth and claws removed. (Joseph still has his canine teeth) Despite the abusive violations to their bodies and mobility, the USDA investigation included eight allegations of attacks on visitors in an 8 month period.
Most cases that 6 years or more to prosecute so animals suffer most or all of their lives waiting for help to arrive. The only way to put an end to the suffering is to end the private possession of big cats and eliminate the USDA loophole that allows people to keep big cats if they have a $40 USDA license. It is too easy to get and too hard to lose to provide any sort of enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.
In May of 2007 Diana McCourt emailed Carole Baskin asking if she could move her operation to Tampa and bring her cats to Big Cat Rescue. Our response was that her cats were welcome here but her brand of animal abuse was not. By August McCourt had been evicted and Knox County was awarded custody of the four tigers and two lions. Dean Vickers, the State Director for the Ohio branch of the HSUS contacted Big Cat Rescue and asked if we could take the cats, but six more big cats increases our annual budget by $45,000.00.
When Sarabi, our lioness died, her half acre enclosure was opened up so that Nikita our only other lioness could have the run of both half acre enclosures. This large enclosure has an open roof and is only suitable for lions because they don’t climb, or very old, declawed tigers, who would be unable to climb. Taking on two lions, age 9 and 13, who have a 20 year life expectancy means a cost of $15,000.00 annually and $150,000.00 in the long run. Lions often end up in canned hunts, especially males who are coveted as wall trophies, so we felt certain our donors would help us rescue these two cats. Our board convened and agreed that the lions would be rescued as soon as we could make travel arrangements for them.
Calling with the good news, that at least the lions would be spared, we were told by the landlord, who has been caring for the cats since evicting Diana McCourt, that the male tiger, Nikita, would be heartbroken that his best friend in the world, Joseph the lion, would be leaving. As the conversation unfolded it appears that for the last 13 years, two tigers and two lions have shared a cage. (Joseph only coming along in the past 9 yrs) Instead of being elated for the lions, we now felt sick that they would be separated from the only pride (albeit tigers) they had ever known. And thinking about how they would feel, of course, led to thinking about how the tigers left behind would feel.
We appealed to our supporters, asking if they would be willing to help us rescue all four cats who have lived together and the response was an overwhelming, “YES!”
On Oct. 19th Big Cat Rescue’s President Jamie Veronica, VP Cathy Neumann, Operations Manager Scott Lope and Veterinarian Dr. Liz Wynn, DVM flew to Columbus, OH to rendezvous with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) staff and a driver and vet tech from the Animal Sanctuary of the United States (ASUS) at the Columbus Zoo at 6 am on the morning of the 20th. From there the entourage drove an hour to the Gambier, OH facility and met with the property owner and the Knox County Animal Control Officer, Rich Reed who had been granted possession of the six cats.
Within just a few hours all of the cats were safely loaded and on the way to Florida where they arrived at 6 am the morning of the 21st. While the weary drivers slept, the Big Cat Rescue team unloaded Nikita, Simba, Sasha and Joseph into their new enclosure, which is a little more than half an acre of lakeside living with high grass, cave like dens and hills from which they can survey their new kingdom.
We let you know that the rescue would cost us $34,000.00* and 294 of you responded. As of 11/16/07 $29,435.00 has been raised to save these four cats. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) agreed to help rescue the last two cats and IFAW paid to transport all six cats to their final destinations. That saved us $4,000.00! We are now only $565.00 short of what this rescue will cost us in the first year. Thank you everyone who has helped so far! If you haven’t helped yet, keep in mind that your donations are tax deductible and that these cats rely entirely on your generosity.
See slideshow of photos taken 9/26/07 in Ohio: Siberian Tiger Foundation
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) agreed to help rescue and place the last two cats, Sierra and Ekaterina who are now at Wildcat Sanctuary.
Sierra the white tiger lives with Ekaterina and still needs a home too! Ekaterina the tigress lives with Sierra the white tiger and still needs a home too!
Should there be any surplus in the donations made to this rescue they will be used for the continued care of the cats.