In a strange case involving a now-deceased tiger, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is claiming big cats (and by extrapolation, all animals) should be deemed individuals.
The tiger in question was a truck stop attraction in Grosse Tete – a village in Louisiana. Tony the Tiger was euthanized in October 2017 “to prevent Tony from suffering following typical signs that death was imminent,” according to a report in Theadvocate.com.
Tony, a Siberian-Bengal tiger was six months old when he moved to the enclosure at the truck stop in 2001.
Enter the ALDF who engaged in years of litigation and court battles against Tony’s owners and state and federal government agencies as they tried to move the tiger to a big cat sanctuary.
In April 2017, the ALDF requested the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service determine whether Tony’s owners and enclosure were in violation of the Animal Welfare Act. The ALDF later requested an expedited Freedom of Information Act request for records related to Tony’s medical inspection, said Theadvocate.com report.
The results of the FOIA request came on Oct. 20, three days after the tiger’s death. The expedited processing request was denied by the USDA on the grounds that “Tony the Tiger is not considered an ‘individual’” under the FOIA because “the term individual in this matter only encompasses human beings.”
ALDF attorney Tony Eliseuson argued that even a simple dictionary definition of ‘individual’ would encompass animals, pointing to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of individual as ‘a particular being or thing as distinguished from a class, species, or collection.’
The court disagreed, stating that its “ordinary meaning” in the context of a FOIA request is to mean “human,” and it would be up to Congress, not the courts, to redefine whether it can encompass nonhuman animals.