Waccatee Zoo caretaker: Lila’s ‘health is fine,’ despite PETA warnings

Grand Strand

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says the Waccatee Zoo in Horry County has one of their biggest cats, Lila, living in deplorable conditions.

PETA says that Lila the Tiger is suffering from a medical condition, causing her to go bald, but caretaker Jeff Futrell says they’ve done several medical tests that have all come back negative.

“Her health is fine. You hear her purring,” said Futrell. “You see her moving. She’s not limping, she’s not in any distress. She’s just losing some hair.”

Despite PETA’s message that Lila the tiger isn’t being treated well, Waccatee Zoo caretaker Jeff Futrell says they’re maintaining Lila’s health.

“The animals are part of our family,” Futrell said.

Futrell, who’s taken care of the animals for 30 years, says this is all part of PETA’s fundraising campaigns that run every fall, spring, summer and winter.

“If you’re a fan of theirs, and you look at their website, you know, the first thing they do is begging for money, the middle thing they do is beg for money, the last thing they do is beg for money,” he said.

Futrell says veterinarians have performed many medical tests on Lila, and they tested negative.

“We have taken skin samples, we’ve taken skin scrapes, we’ve done hair samples, we’ve done blood samples, we’ve done toenail samples, we’ve done fecal samples and urine samples. About everything you can do,” said Futrell.

The Horry County Police Department’s welfare check concluded Lila’s lost some hair, but that the zoo owner told the officer that veterinarians have tested and will continue to test the tiger.

Futrell showed News13 the USDA inspections records and the records say there’s no evidence of non-compliance.

Horry County Police Department’s Statement on Lila

The Horry County Police Department is assisting in the investigation of recent complaints at the Waccatee Zoo in the Socastee area of Horry County. The majority of the recent complaints are in regard to Lila, a senior tiger at the facility. The USDA remains the primary agency responsible for the investigation and inspection of this facility and other similar facilities in the State of South Carolina.

At this time, Lila is under the care of a veterinarian who has provided assurances that the tiger is being well cared for and not in immediate danger, despite her appearance. Horry County Police officers conducted a site visit and spoke with several involved parties including the owner and the veterinarian caring for the animal. We are currently awaiting the results of recent testing conducted by the veterinarian overseeing Lila’s care and an inspection report from the USDA.

We are taking these concerns seriously, coordinating closely with State and federal agencies, and we will provide regular updates on the investigation.

“Just like any other animal that I’ve got here,” said Futrell. “If something’s wrong, it gets treated.”

He says Lila is 22 years old, older than most tigers in the wild, who may only live to 10 or 15.

“Genetics, what people do, what animals might do, at this age, you have no idea, because we just don’t know,” he said.

The police department is still awaiting the results from the USDA’s investigation.

If Lila’s health deteriorates due to her being past that life expectancy of a tiger, Futrell says they’ll do anything possible to take care of her.

PETA’s Statement on Lila

USDA inspection reports indicate that Lila is approximately 16 years old—not 22 years old, as Waccatee has claimed. While some of her hair loss may be related to advanced age, this needs to be properly diagnosed by a qualified veterinarian who has experience working with big cats. A qualified veterinarian would know, for example, that tigers don’t purr, they chuff—so Jeff Futrell’s claim that Lila has been heard purring is simply impossible.

Lila also exhibits signs of extreme discomfort—PETA representatives witnessed her firsthand repeatedly shaking her front legs and paws, licking her bare skin, and squinting and grimacing while sitting in a hunched posture—so she should also be receiving treatment to prevent the progression of her skin disease and to keep her as comfortable as possible.

At the Waccatee Zoo, Lila, as well as other naturally far-ranging species, are confined to virtually barren enclosures with no space to exercise and almost nothing to mentally stimulate them. Lila is constantly seen pacing in her enclosure, which is a sign of psychological distress and deprivation—and excessive stress can weaken the immune system, potentially exacerbating the underlying cause of Lila’s hair loss.

This is among the many reasons why PETA is calling on Futrell and the Waccatee Zoo to release Lila’s veterinary records and agree to have her transferred to an accredited sanctuary. There, she could spend the rest of her days with proper veterinary care, living in a vast naturalistic habitat and experiencing a bit of the life that the she might have had in the wild.

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