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How the Big Cat Public Safety Act affects a Melrose animal facility

Carl Bovard kneels next to a pair of Florida panthers in their cage. (Derrah Getter/WUFT News)
Carl Bovard kneels next to a pair of Florida panthers in their cage. (Derrah Getter/WUFT News)

Carl Bovard, owner of Single Vision, calls his establishment an animal sanctuary. Others regard it as a roadside zoo.

Located in Melrose, Florida, at the end of a long dirt road, the 10-acre facility is home to about 50 exotic species.

Controversy arose after several pictures and videos of visitors coming in close contact with lion cubs and baby bears surfaced online.

“Unfortunately, there are hundreds of roadside zoos just like this all over the USA with these sort of want to be Tiger Kings,” Willow Hecht said, a PETA captive wildlife specialist.

He disagrees with people like those in the Netflix documentary series, Bovard said.

“A few people in this business ruined it for everyone,” he said.

Andre Bell with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said inspectors can’t elaborate past what is already written in their reports. Bovard’s facility faced at least 42 incidents dating back to 2014, according to USDA inspection reports. Some of these penalties include a tiger with a vitamin A deficiency that was being fed a non-USDA approved diet, a panther enclosure that had been clawed by the cats, which created splinters and a raised nail head, and visitors being allowed to have direct contact with a full-grown bobcat.

“These penalties are reserved for the worst animal welfare offenders in the country,” Hecht said.

David Perle, PETA media divisions manager, said the animal advocacy organization filed its most recent complaint to the USDA against Single Vision last month.

After President Joe Biden signed the Big Cat Public Safety Act into law in December 2022, Bovard said it threw a “big wrench” in his plan to help keep endangered species from going extinct.

“Advocates and I guess all the morons that passed this law will just say that we don’t need private ownership to keep the species alive,” he said.

The act prohibits public contact with big cats older than 12 weeks, but Bovard said he believes captivity and human interaction with these animals are what keeps them alive.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Lt. John Conlin said his organization’s restrictions don’t target captive wildlife handling quite like the Big Cat Public Safety Act does.

“Our regulations deal with people trying to take them from the wild, you know you’re not supposed to do that,” Conlin said.

Bovard said he acquired all of his animals from other private owners, and zoos affiliated with the American Zoological Association won’t work with private owners.

“Here’s the big problem: AZA zoos have 10% of our big cats in the United States and private owners just like myself have the other 90%,” Bovard said.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act has pushed Bovard to begin breeding his big cats for the first time in 18 years.

“He seems to think he’s above the law and the animals pay the price for his neglect,” Hecht said.

Melody Aranda, 23, and her mom, Jocelyn Hunter, of Melrose visited Single Vision for the first time last week. They had something different to say.

“I think anyone who just sees a cage with animals in it think it’s a negative thing but he definitely does a good job,” Aranda said.

Derrah is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.