Judge: Ex-Indiana wildlife center proprietor owes PETA $734K

Published 5:52 am Thursday, June 17, 2021

A judge has ordered the former proprietor of a Indiana wildlife center and his ex-wife to pay People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals more than $700,000 in attorney’s fees stemming from the group’s successful lawsuit alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young ruled Monday that Timothy Stark and his ex-wife, Melisa Lane, must pay PETA nearly $734,000 to cover attorney fees and expenses related to the animal rights organization’s 2017 lawsuit against the pair. Stark gained attention last year as one of the people in the Netflix true-crime series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”

For over 20 years, Stark and his volunteers handled hundreds of exotic animals, showing them off to the public at Stark’s Wildlife in Need center in Charlestown for the price of a $25 or more admission, the Courier Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, reported.

Young ruled in August 2020 that Wildlife in Need, Stark and Lane had violated the Endangered Species Act “by taking tigers, lions, and hybrids thereof” and had “wounded, harmed, and/or harassed at least twenty-two Big Cats via declawing.” Fifty-three cats were also harmed, according to court documents, by being separated from their mothers too soon.

Young’s ruling also granted PETA a permanent injunction barring Stark and his ex-wife from owning or possessing without court approval any big cats.

“For years, Tim Stark cruelly tore big-cat cubs away from their mothers, removed their claws, and used them as photo props to make a buck, but now the long arm of the law has caught up with him,” PETA Foundation Director of Litigation Asher Smith said Tuesday in a statement.

With PETA previously owed over $19,000 in unpaid fee awards from Stark and Wildlife in Need, the nonprofit group said it will seek to recover over $750,000 in court fees and expenses.

Online court documents do not list attorneys for either Stark or Lane. Court documents show they represented themselves in PETA’s lawsuit and provide no contact information for Stark or Lane.
As part of PETA’s lawsuit, 25 big cats were transferred from Stark and his former business partner Jeff Lowe — who also was part of the Netflix series— to accredited sanctuaries.

The Indiana attorney general’s office sued Stark and his wildlife center last year, alleging animal abuse and neglect. A Marion County judge ruled in the attorney general’s office’s favor in April and permanently barred Stark from acquiring, exhibiting and owning any exotic and native animals.