Monday, November 25, 2002

New Jersey: Judge orders Joan Byron Marasek's tigers to be sent to Texas

NEW JERSEY -- After almost four years of legal wrangling, a New Jersey judge has ruled that the state Department of Environmental Protection could begin moving 24 tigers to a sanctuary in Texas from the private preserve run by the woman widely known as the Tiger Lady.

The judge said the woman, Joan Byron-Marasek, had had "by any definition, a reasonable time" to argue her case against moving them. But Byron-Marasek can still appeal the ruling.

The order by Judge Eugene D. Serpentelli, of Superior Court in Toms River, could end one long chapter of the state's fight to close the Tigers Only Preservation Society in Jackson Township, which began after a Bengal tiger was found roaming the nearby woods in January 1999. The 430-pound cat was shot and killed by the authorities.

Although it was never proven that the animal belonged to Byron-Marasek, who owns and operates the preserve, the state revoked her permit to keep the tigers, saying conditions there were inadequate.

Byron-Marasek said she was unhappy with the decision to move the tigers to the Wild Animal Orphanage near San Antonio. As she has for months, she continued to criticize the sanctuary, which the state chose.

"It is tantamount to taking children who are happy and healthy and loved and putting them in the home of a known child abuser and rapist," she was quoted as saying.

Carol Asvestas, the director of the San Antonio preserve, said that because of Byron-Marasek's complaints, many agencies had inspected the sanctuary in recent months, and all had given it their approval.

State officials said it was too early to discuss the details of the move, or even when it would begin.

"Our foremost concern is for the public safety," said Amy Cradic, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "We also are concerned about the humane treatment of the animals, and we want to ensure that they are transported safely."

Asvestas said she was relieved at Serpentelli's decision, but expected Byron-Marasek to appeal. "Hopefully," she said, "we'll get the animals by midyear next year, maybe a little bit sooner. We could do it in four to six weeks. It's the legal issues that could take longer.

"But we're ready," she said. "I think it's time. These animals need to be situated in a better place, and they need to stay together."


She said the Tigers Only Preservation Society was never an adequate place for wild animals, especially because Byron-Marasek tended to treat them as pets. Byron-Marasek's husband, Jan Marasek, 70, was attacked by one of the tigers on Oct. 11 and was hospitalized for a week with injuries to his head, face and upper left arm.

"I believe Joan and her husband had a very false sense of security around those animals," she said.

"They want to treat them like little kitty cats. They're not. They're dangerous and wild, and you have to be able to control them. He's lucky to be alive."

In a 40-page ruling, the judge detailed the long legal dispute that pitted the state against Byron-Marasek, who has housed the tigers on her property for almost a quarter of a century, since long before housing developments and shopping centers hemmed in the preserve. After the state environmental commissioner determined almost two years ago that it should be closed, Serpentelli said his only tasks were to determine who would move the tigers, and where.

(Baltimore Sun - November 24, 2002)