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Among the noise and bustle at last weekend’s TattooLaPalooza, a “tattoo & motorcycle extravaganza” at the Miami Beach Convention Center, was a tiger pacing in a metal cage, an alligator with his mouth taped shut, pythons, monkeys and other exotic animals. Attendees could–for a fee–get their picture taken with an animal.

The animals were brought to the convention center by a Miami-based organization called Zoological Wildlife Foundation. It’s president, Mario Tabraue, recently settled a court case with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in which he admitted to providing false information regarding the acquisition and disposition of two tiger cubs, in violation of the Animal Welfare Act. The case provides a look into the illicit exotic animal trade, and brings together a cast of characters even Hollywood would have difficulty assembling.

In an administrative court ruling dated May 27, 2009, Tabraue admitted that in September 2008 he acquired two tigers from T.I.G.E.R.S., a wildlife breeder/exhibitor based in South Carolina, arranged for transportation of the tigers to Florida, and then gave or sold one of the tigers to Ray Thunderhawk, a Florida resident who did not hold the required USDA license to possess the animal. The illegal transactions came to light when Mr. Tabraue attempted to submit falsified acquisition records, and then admitted that the forms were fraudulent.  The fact that Mario Tabraue blatantly attempted to deceive the USDA, and avoid regulations designed to protect animals, casts doubt on his commitment to the care and humane treatment of animals.

The cast:

- Mario Tabraue. Tabraue is well-known as an exotic animal importer and breeder. As President of Zoological Wildlife Foundation he promotes school field trips and rents animals for special events. Mario is also infamous for heading a violent drug smuggling ring that was broken-up with his arrest in December 1987. His trial brought to light lurid stories of crooked police officers and the murder and dismemberment of an informant. In 1989 Mario Tabraue was sentenced to 100 years in prison after being found guilty of racketeering and other charges, but he was released in August 2000 after serving 12 years. At last count, Tabraue had 6 tigers, 5 hyenas, 2 camels, and more than a dozen monkeys at his Miami property.

- Ray Thunderhawk. On July 8, 2009, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest of Ray Thunderhawk on charges of conspiracy to commit armed burglary and dealing in stolen property. The arrest followed an undercover investigation into a plan to steal an antique sword collection. For several years, ARFF followed the travels of Ray Thunderhawk and his organization, Thunderhawk Big Cat Rescue, who regularly loaded a truck full of tigers and drove them across the state for appearances at bars, sporting events and flea markets. ARFF pleaded with Mr. Thunderhawk to stop not only his cruel travels, but also his irresponsible breeding of tigers and other big cats.

- Bhagavan Antle. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle is the director of T.I.G.E.R.S., an organization which currently runs big cat shows in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and at Miami’s Jungle Island. Antle has been criticized for his creation of “ligers” (the result of breeding a male lion and a female tiger), hybrids that often suffer lifelong health problems.

You Can Help.
- Please contact the organizer of TattooLaPalooza and urge him to reconsider hosting Zoological Wildlife Foundation or similar exotic animal displays at future events. For a wild animal, exhibition in loud and unfamiliar surroundings, along with handling by members of the public, can be stressful and harmful experiences.


Mickey Steinberg, TattooLaPalooza organizer
E-mail: Conventionink@gmail.com

One Response to “What does a tattoo convention, Jungle Island and an antique sword collection have in common?”

  1. on 17 Jun 2011 at 5:36 pm James Nash

    I am the son of the murdered and dismembered informant mentioned in your article. If you have any detailed information would you please forward to me?
    Leonard James Nash

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