Report Animal Suffering
Determine who has legal authority
The first step we take when concerned about an animal's welfare is to determine who may have the legal authority to step in. Citizens alone (or even a sanctuary) can do little to directly influence the actions of someone with whom they have no relationship and over which they have no legal authority. We recommend that you try to understand what law(s) are in place to protect the animal (which vary by species and origins) so you know who to reach out to for help, help that is available according to law:
Private owners are going to most likely be regulated, if regulated at all, by a city/town ordinance, county ordinance, and/or state law. Local oversite is typically provided by police and/or ordinance enforcement agencies. State oversight in Indiana is provided by either the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fish and Wildlife, or Board of Animal Health (BOAH).
Traveling circuses, petting zoos, animal "encounters", photo booths, etc. are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture. Local laws may also apply, and if applicable may be more effective and responsive.
Zoos & Other "Permanent" Exhibitors
Anyone who exhibits animals to the public is regulated by the AWA. Local laws may also apply.
Any other types of captive animal facilities may be subject to state laws, or, in the case of warm-blooded mammals, the AWA. Read on about the laws to help determine if any of them might apply. If not, concerns may still be reported to local law enforcement.
Review Local Laws
It is likely every county and town/city in Indiana has their own local ordinances and varying degrees of oversight related to the keeping of animals by their residents, or by those passing through (circuses and other traveling exhibitors). While not all locations might address the keeping or exhibiting of "exotic" (wild) animals, most will at least have some oversight for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and/or to protect public safety.
If an animal is kept or temporarily exhibited within town/city limits, contact your local city government, town manager, mayor's office, etc., and ask to be directed to local laws pertaining to animal neglect/cruelty and/or public safety. In most cases, local ordinances are published online for reference as well.
If an animal is being kept outside of town/city limits, contact county officials, such as the Animal Control agency, Plan Commissioner, or Ordinance Enforcement branch of county government. Again, in most cases, such information is likely published online. If that doesn't lead to any definitions or guide you to someone who has oversight authority, then call the county sheriff/police.
Your goal should be to learn who has the legal right to investigate or inspect, based on your eyewitness account and concerns. Don't give up - follow up and make sure someone makes a site visit and ask for their feedback.
Consider State Laws
The origins of Indiana's laws can be traced back, and correlated, to what animal species are or have been native to Indiana. The notion of needing to regulate the ownership of "exotic" (non-native) animals is a relatively modern development. Indiana is one of 14 states (as of 2018) that has a "permit system". No species of animals are banned from private ownership in Indiana, however some require one to obtain a permit and are subject to certain housing requirements, safety measures, veterinary care program elements, recapture plans, etc. Permit holders are subject to inspection and approval by the DNR and required to pay applicable fees. Permits are good for one year, and must be renewed.
Indiana requires a Wild Animal Permit for certain species, classified into three categories: Class I (certain rabbits and squirrels), Class II (includes foxes, raccoons, small wildcats), and Class III (includes purebred wolves, bears, large wildcats, venomous reptiles, and crocodilians over five feet long). It is illegal in Indiana to bring a raccoon into your home without a proper permit, let alone a fox, African serval, or black bear!
However, if any person or organization in Indiana intends to use any mammal in research, to exhibit to the public, breed, or transport (commercially), they may also be subject to federal law.
Report concerns about compliance with Indiana's Wild Animal Permit laws here.
Indiana's BOAH may be consulted with regards to criminal laws relating to animals, animal health, veterinary practices, horse racing, domestic animal laws, dog taxes, hybrid wolves or coyotes, livestock, pigeons, etc. Black Pine has reached out to BOAH regarding care for horses, for example.
Report concerns about compliance with domestic/farm animal laws here.
In Indiana, exotic animal owners are exempt from the Wild Animal Permit requirements if they hold a USDA APHIS (federal) license. This photo of Trouble, a black bear, was taken prior to his removal from Great Cats of Indiana. The water tub, an old bathtub, was only allegedly provided after the operator let his federal license to exhibit expire (some might conclude to avoid prosecution for animal welfare violations). Once his federal license expired, In order to keep the animals, the Indiana DNR had to issue a Wild Animal Permit, which they did. However, to get the permit, the operator needed to increase the amount of water provided to the bear to meet Indiana's welfare requirements. As bad as this looks, the state required better care for Trouble than did the USDA. Ultimately, the DNR ordered the animals removed, however it took them nearly three years to build a legal case they could act upon. The loophole in Indiana that exempts federal permit holders allows situations like this to go on for years, since the evidence the USDA likely had could not be used by the DNR to build a case.
Review Federal Laws
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is regulated and administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Any person or organization who holds a valid license issued by the USDA is exempt from Indiana's regulations. (This is not spelled out very clearly, however is fact based on the "Applicability of chapter" in IC 14-22-26-1 of the Wild Animal Permit regulations.)
The AWA requires that minimum standards of care and treatment be provided for certain animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. "Certain animals" includes all mammals, including marine mammals, but does not include any birds or reptiles. (This is why it is so common to see primarily birds and reptiles offered for sale in pet stores. Indiana's state laws only regulate venomous reptiles, and don't oversee non-native birds, either.)
Be prepared to provide the operator's name or USDA license number, if possible. If you cannot obtain it directly from the operator, see if the event organizer (in the case of a traveling exhibitor). Any responsible venue/event should require evidence of compliance with federal laws from any exhibitor.
Report concerns about compliance with the USDA's AWA here.
This photo, captured by a Black Pine staff member, is that of a male lion that spent his days and nights for several years in this cage - a re-purposed corn crib on a concrete slab, at Maple Lane Wildlife Farm in Topeka, IN. This small zoo was, at the time, a federally licensed exhibitor. This "cage" exceeded the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act, federal law, for adequate space and shelter. The AWA does not require any enrichment program for wildcats. Maple Lane voluntarily closed in September 2017, reportedly in response to an industrial company's offer to purchase the land for development. It is unclear where the animals were sent, but likely to another similar roadside zoo and/or breeding facility.
Use your voice to advocate!
If the person or facility you are concerned with is open to the public, use public resources to share your concerns. Be respectful! Refrain from personal attacks and stick to the facts - authorities will be more likely to respond to your concerns if you sound like someone who understands the laws. Use photographic or video evidence to back up your claims.
There are several public websites where you can post your "feedback" where others can see what you have seen. Your voice may sway others from patronizing the business, and perhaps help drive the offender out of business. Most road side attractions fail not because authorities step in and take animals, but because patrons stop coming. A loss of income gives authorities little hope for improvement, in which case they tend to "move" more quickly to help.
One might argue that Indiana's wild animal possession laws currently ensure a better quality of life for a privately owned animal that falls under DNR's oversight than a similar animal living in a zoo, traveling circus, research lab, or other circumstance that is regulated solely by the USDA.
The state's requirements related to space and enrichment are typically "better" than federal, and more clearly defined. Much of the AWA is very vague, leaving it up to the individual discretion of USDA inspectors to determine if someone is compliant or not. This has historically caused years of suffering before licenses are revoked. This is why it is SO critical to educate the public, use tools provided to leave traveler reviews for others to read, etc. A facility is more likely to close under financial pressure (from lack of patronage) than from having a USDA license revoked. By the time the USDA revokes a license, the conditions are typically beyond bad.
The State of Indiana employs over 200 conservation (DNR) officers responsible for oversight of those who hold wild animal possession permits. The USDA employs just two inspectors who are responsible for conducting routine inspections of all of Indiana's zoos, aquariums, (warm-blooded mammal) breeders (including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, cows, monkeys, horses, etc.), livestock operations, animal dealers, animal transporters, auction operators, research facilities.... you get the idea.
These circumstances are why sanctuaries like Black Pine have endorsed The Big Cats and Public Safety Act for several consecutive years in hopes that new federal laws might be passed that would ban private ownership of dangerous wildcats. This is why we support the Humane Society of the Unites States (HSUS) in their efforts to develop and lobby for improvements to Indiana's laws that would (among other things) remove the exemption for federal license-holders.
The single most effective thing you can do as a citizen to end captive animal suffering is to NEVER pay fees to visit, support, or encourage a facility that is not in compliance with laws, exploits animals for personal gain or "entertainment", places animals in harm's way, or puts people in harm's way by allowing direct contact with dangerous animals... and to teach and encourage others to refrain from doing so, too.
And... Adopt! Don't shop!