Stark threatens to euthanize himself
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana––Former Wildlife In Need exotic animal park owner/operator Tim Stark was late on April 8, 2021 “taken into custody despite not facing any criminal charges,” WDRB-TV reported from Louisville, Kentucky.
” Scott Maples, chief deputy of the Clark County Sheriff’s Department,” in southern Indiana, “couldn’t elaborate Thursday about the nature of Stark’s situation,” WDRB-TV continued, “only saying he was in custody for ‘non-criminal-related concerns.'”
The Facebook page Roadside Zoo News, citing unidentified sources, reported earlier that a Facebook Live video in which Stark apparently threatened suicide ended abruptly after about 40 minutes.
“Heavy police and SWAT presence”
“We have now learned,” Roadside Zoo News said, “that there is currently a heavy police and SWAT presence at Stark’s house, along with an ambulance and drones.”
Added an update, “Sources say Tim Stark is safe and is in custody en route to the emergency room for psychiatric evaluation.”
Marion County, Indiana, Superior Court Judge David Dreyer on April 7, 2021 permanently enjoined Stark from acquiring, exhibiting, or even owning any animals, either exotic or native.
Dreyer ordered Stark to “return funds he misappropriated from” Wildlife In Need “for his personal use. A corporate receiver will handle the Wildlife in Need assets,” summarized Louisville Courier Journal reporter Billy Kobin, “and the Indianapolis Zoo will continue to care for all of the animals that were taken last year from Stark’s facility” in Charlestown, Indiana.
“Dreyer’s ruling is final,” explained Kobin, as Judge Dreyer also denied “numerous motions from Stark over the past few months that sought to have the court reconsider.”
Reality as the rest of us know it
“Tim Stark reality” has often appeared to bear only a passing resemblance to stark reality as the rest of the world knows it.
Stark underscored that point about 24 hours after receiving the Dreyer verdict, in a two-hour Facebook Live video broadcast from his home, in which he threatened to kill himself with “phenobarbital, the recommended drug for euthanasia,” and told Dreyer, “Try to send anyone on to my f***ing property, they will get hurt.”
From 43 animals to 293 in less than five years
Founding Wildlife in Need in 1999, staffed by volunteers, Stark by 2015 was pulling in more than $1 million a year in “donations,” mostly admission fees and additional sums paid by visitors to participate in “Tiger Baby Playtime.”
Breeding tigers to keep a stock of cubs for visitors to handle during “Tiger Baby Playtime” coincided with an increase in the number of Wildlife In Need animals “from about 43 in 2016 to 293 creatures in recent times,” wrote Kobin, citing court documents.
U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] chief administrative law judge Channing D. Strother on February 3, 2020 permanently revoked Stark’s license to exhibit animals, ending a 12-year running battle between Stark and the federal Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, the enforcement arm of the USDA.
Injunction against declawing baby tigers
Wildlife In Need had already been enjoined from holding the lucrative “Tiger Baby Playtime” events since February 2018 by a preliminary injunction won by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in a lawsuit alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act.
The injunction “resulted in a first-of-its-kind agreed-upon ruling holding that declawing ESA-protected big cats without medical necessity violates the ESA,” PETA spokesperson Michelle Kretzer posted to the PETA web site.
Several baby tigers reportedly died from botched declawing operations. Stark also allegedly hid declawed baby tigers from USDA inspectors.
Stark in 2008 pleaded guilty to selling an ocelot to a Texas woman without having the proper permit to sell a member of an endangered species, allegedly beat a leopard to death with a baseball bat in 2012, and in 2013 was believed to have been the owner of a leopard who was shot in a nearby backyard.
“15 to 20 animals died” en route to Oklahoma
The USDA tried to close Wildlife In Need for repeated Animal Welfare Act violations in 2015, but Stark won on appeal because the USDA had renewed his operating permit in 2014 despite the list of earlier violations cited in the closure order.
“Court records say Stark lived in Oklahoma between February 2019 and August 2019, where he intended to start a new business with Tiger King [Netflix video series] star Jeff Lowe, himself the subject of legal troubles over alleged mistreatment of big cats,” recounted Kobin.
“Stark intended to transfer all of Wildlife in Need’s assets to the new Oklahoma venture,” as detailed in the Tiger King series, Kobin wrote. “But Stark never consulted with or told Wildlife in Need’s board of directors about the Oklahoma plans, and 15 to 20 animals died during one of Stark’s trips, according to court documents.”
Threatened to “whoop his ass”
After Judge Strother issued the February 2020 closure order, ordering Stark and Wildlife In Need to pay $340,000 in accumulated fines, then-Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill moved to close Wildlife In Need for multiple alleged violations of state as well as federal law.
Deputy Indiana Attorney General Phillip Rizzo in March 2020 personally inspected Wildlife In Need.
Stark allegedly grabbed Rizzo by the arm and threatened to “whoop (his) ass,” recalled Louisville Courier Journal reporter Lucas Aulbach.
“Stark was charged last month with intimidation, a Level 6 felony, and misdemeanor battery in connection with the case, which was reportedly caught on video by a Tiger King 2 film crew,” Aulbach added.
Fled felony warrants
Losing a series of appeals, Stark in August 2020 lost 165 of the Wildlife In Need animals as well. Stark is believed to have relocated 23 others himself, however, before they could be impounded and transferred to the care of the Indianapolis Zoological Society.
Stark in September 2020 fled felony warrants issued for both the alleged assault on Rizzo and alleged contempt of court.
On the run for about a month, Stark in October 2020 was apprehended “at a bed-and-breakfast inn in Granville, New York,” Aulbach continued.
“A caller reached out to local police after speaking with Stark about his animals and subsequently researching Stark, where he read about the active warrant.
“Live hand grenade”
“Indiana officials told New York police,” Aulbach added, “that Stark was believed to be in possession of a live hand grenade, which he’d briefly shown during a Facebook Live video,” which which Stark “railed against those who had filed the charges over the course of the nearly hourlong video, at one point brandishing a hand grenade and saying it was ‘self-protection’ in case authorities attempted to take him into custody.”
The Granville police evacuated the bed-and-breakfast before arresting Stark, but the hand grenade turned out to be a plastic toy.
The attempted evasion of justice subsequently cost Stark jail time in New York state; Clark County, Indiana; and Indianapolis, Indiana.
“We want to send the message that in Indiana you can’t form a non-profit, get the advantages of it, and then use it as your own piggy bank,” Indiana Attorney General’s Office general counsel Joan Blackwell told the Indianapolis court.
Stark, reported Shay McAlister of WHAS, “teared up and blamed bad medication for much of his behavior over the last nine months.”
But bad medicine alone could scarcely explain Stark’s pattern of behavior over the preceding 20-odd years.