The Summit County fair board is cautiously looking into the possibility of adopting a policy against wild animal displays following a controversial tiger show in July.

The Nerger tiger show was part of the entertainment lineup at the Summit County Fair, which ran from July 24-28.

The tiger show triggered a social media outcry during the fair’s run, with some area residents expressing concern over the big cats’ welfare.

Fair directors met this week and discussed a letter from a representative of the Humane Society of the United States that urged the board to establish such a policy.

At the Tuesday meeting, directors referred the issue to the board’s executive committee, Cathy Cunningham, a fair director and board secretary, said Wednesday.

“We just need to make sure that whatever we put in place is not going to come back and harm us,” Cunningham said. “We’re going to check into other fairs ... and see what they may have” for policies, she said.

The fair board, she said, does not want to end up with a policy that could end up negatively affecting exhibitors, including 4-H participants.

"What's a wild animal?" she noted, saying that one year the fairgrounds hosted an agricultural exhibit — separate from the fair — that included a cross between a zebra and a donkey, she said.

4-H members sometimes show their turtles, or exotic pets such as sugar gliders, which are small marsupials native to Australia, New Guinea and certain Indonesian islands.

There are plans to bring a tiger show to the fair next year, she said

Corey Roscoe, with the humane society, sent the letter this month after obtaining copies of a federal inspection report showing that the tiger show operators had been cited during the fair for violations of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act.

Cunningham said Wednesday that they only learned of the inspection through the humane society's letter. She said the inspector — with the U.S. Agricultural Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service — did not stop by the fair board's office, on the fairgrounds, the day of the inspection.

The inspector could not be reached for comment, and a spokesman for the USDA said late Wednesday he would have to look into the matter before commenting.

The inspection report, dated July 25, the fair's second day, raised safety concerns surrounding feeding of the tigers during the show and the show ring used to contain the tigers during performances. The inspector also expressed concern about the tigers’ welfare.

The inspector wrote the public could come into “contact with an adult tiger should the public reach over the barrier fence or get pulled by the tiger should the animal grab the [feeding] pole.’’

Of the show ring, the inspector said the ring “is structurally inadequate to contain the tigers or acts as a sufficient barrier between the animal and the public,” and that a tiger on a 5-foot pedestal “could potentially climb or jump out of the enclosure.

The tigers' housing did not allow the animals to “perform their normal postural adjustments,” the inspector wrote in the "routine inspection" report.

The operators of the tiger show were cited two summers ago for similar violations at the Warren County Fair, according to Roscoe, the Ohio senior state director for the humane society.

A public Facebook post by an area woman in July included a picture at the fairgrounds, and said the tigers “were kept in these small cages for HOURS before the ‘show.’ ’’

A video with the post garnered more than 50,000 views by the end of the fair's second day. It showed a man using a stick to prod one of the tigers into what appeared to be cage area in which the tigers performed.

Judit Nerger of Florida, who owns the tiger show with her husband, Juergen, of Florida, defended the show in July. She told the Beacon Journal that the cages — 8 feet wide by 8 feet long — meet federal regulations. She said the stick is used to get the tigers up, and does not hurt them.

Roscoe, with the humane society, told the fair board in a Wednesday email that it could "very easily ensure that 4-H and other agricultural programs will not be affected by simply listing the species to be included in the policy." She provided examples, including elephants, bears, primates and big cats. Roscoe, in an interview, noted that at least two Ohio cities — Delaware and Cincinnati — have banned exotic animals from circus acts.

 

Reach Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.