Day after devastating wildlife refuge fire, support comes for animals

Day after devastating wildlife refuge fire, support comes for animals
Tim Stark (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Tim Stark (Source: WAVE 3 News)

CHARLESTOWN, IN (WAVE) - Fire destroyed a barn at a local wildlife refuge killing 41 animals.  One day after the fire the owner of Wildlife in Need said the loss is really sinking in. 

Tim Stark said the only positive in his loss came in the form of support to his animals. Wednesday, the man who's been in the news for being at odds with PETA and the USDA was only concerned about one thing, his surviving animals.

Stark said of what was lost in Tuesday's barn fire, "The entire building and everything in it."

A day after the horrifying fire that killed 41 animals, Stark surveyed the damage.

"I've been up trying to think about it all night, trying to figure out how to operate," he said.

That's because the barn that Stark estimated as a $250,000 loss not only housed the reptiles and exotic birds that were killed - some worth $5,000 to $8,000 each - Stark also lost all his tools, feed for his tigers and other animals not affected by the fire and the walk-in freezers where he stores all those supplies. Support for Stark and his animals continued to build. A woman pulled up with a backseat full of frozen chicken while we were there. 

Stark was back to business but said he is still numb to what happened.

"I lost 41 friends yesterday, some of them I had for years," he said, "When I walked in there this morning (Wednesday) you see cages and the  animals gone and that's when it hits. Do I like talking about it? No. I got a damn job to do and I've got other animals relying on me so I have to walk away and still go out there and function." 

Stark said he also lost some $30,000 in building materials he had purchased to rebuild some animal cages to federal specifications.  That's big because Stark continues to be in a controversial battle with the USDA.  The agency has filed a motion to pull his license. That came after a USDA inspection and after PETA recently accused Stark of abusing his tigers during a show. Stark has denied those allegations and said he can only hope the USDA treats this fire as a terrible accident and not react to allegations PETA makes. 

"It's not like we wanted a fire," he said, "it's not like we started a fire and it's not like this is what we wanted."

The USDA said they are aware of the fire but acknowledged, "no regulated animals were harmed during the tragic accident."

The USDA said reptiles and birds are not regulated by the Animal Welfare Act.  PETA said of the statement, "The USDA hasn't done enough." 

PETA Deputy Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet said although she believes more could be done she did say, "The USDA is doing its job investigating a facility that has a long history of abusing and neglecting animals."

Peet added, "We are thrilled that the USDA has filed a motion to get Stark's license revoked."

"I will survive," Stark said. "Nothing has been too much for me to handle so I will handle it all. Nobody or nothing will ever shut me down."

Stark said he can't thank supporters enough for their help. He does ask that anyone who wants to donate, do so with money or gift cards to places like Home Depot or Lowes just so they can get what they really need.         

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