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Breeding for Greed

As animals such as chimpanzees and tigers grow older, they become impossible to handle safely. At facilities like Amarillo Wildlife Refuge (AWR), these older animals are bred to provide baby animals to use in lucrative photo shoots at shows and in malls, as well as for television and film contracts.

pit In less than four months, Azzopardi, a cement salesperson, bred and stole from their mothers seven baby animals: six 5-day-old tigers and an infant gibbon. Azzopardi also advertises white tiger cubs for sale in a publication that peddles exotic animals to private owners, breeders, dealers, and trophy hunters. AWRs Web site falsely implied that white tigers are in danger of extinction when, in fact, white tigers are not a species of tiger at all; they are an aberration caused by inbreeding, easily bred by people like Azzopardi, who prey on the public's naivet.

In one heart-wrenching scene captured on videotape, a lone mother gibbon in a barren cage hugs her newborn baby close to her chest, calling out in distress as Azzopardi fires sedation darts at her through a blowgundespite the risk of hitting the baby in the head. Torn from the comfort of his mother's arms, the baby screamed, flailed, and cried incessantly. Days later, our investigator found him clinging to a small stuffed animal in the corner of a tiny, dark cage in Azzopardi's kitchen, where he had been left alone, crying for food. Not long thereafter, the baby gibbon, whose name was Tonga, was exhibited in a bird cage in a mall and taken to an AWR volunteers lamp shop, where he was kept in a hanging bird cage in the middle of the store. Tonga was passed around and touched by almost 30 schoolchildren, paralyzing him with fear and causing him to urinate uncontrollably. Within a few weeks, he was used in a photo shoot, during which he was grabbed and held by even more strangers. At the shoot, Tonga was kept in the same enclosure as a tiger cub!

chubbs Another baby animal torn from his mother and forced to spend many hours posing for photographs in malls and parking lots was a tiger named Ziggy. Naturally rambunctious and full of energy, Ziggy routinely nipped and clawed at his handlers and tried to do the same to children who were taking part in the dangerous photo shoots. Video shows volunteer assistants roughly handling Ziggy to disorient him in the hopes of making him less likely to injure one or more of the dozens of shoppers who had paid to have their photographs taken with him. Despite, or perhaps because of, Ziggy's mishandling, on at least two occasions the agitated tiger cub tried to sink his teeth into the legs of the kids with whom he was being photographed. Little did the parents of the children (some of whom were younger than 4 years old) know that bites or scratches from tigers can cause blood infections. Our investigator contracted a blood infection from a tiger scratch and had to be treated for several days with intravenous antibiotics.

After Azzopardi forced Ziggy to work a six-hour photo shoot in the blazing-hot parking lot of a local business in Amarillo, the cub developed painful blisters on his feet from standing on the hot pavement all day. It was not uncommon for some animals at AWR to be denied veterinary care and fed late or not at all because they had been used for photo shoots all day. Azzopardi sometimes made thousands of dollars a day at the photo shoots, but he told our investigator that he could not afford to pay her to work as an animal keeper because his ex-wife had cleaned out AWRs bank account.

Azzopardi gave a baby tiger named Apollo to the pathetically substandard Corpus Christi Zoo as a replacement for another "defective" baby tiger the zoo had purchased from AWR. The zoo had complained that the first tiger cub was cross-eyed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture charged the Corpus Christi Zoo with such serious violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act that the zoo's exhibitor license was revoked and it was forced to get rid of all its animals. What has become of Apollo or the "defective" cub is anyone's guess.

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