Tiger Truck Stop’s animal dynasty comes to an end

July 16, 2020

Wendy Parker

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A younger Michael Sandlin with a pair of tiger cubs, courtesy TigerTruckStop.com.
A younger Michael Sandlin with a pair of tiger cubs, courtesy TigerTruckStop.com.

 

Let’s face it, Michael Sandlin’s love for a tiger cub made Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, La., famous. Sandlin’s Tony the Tiger was a personality long before any of us ever wondered if Carole Baskin killed her husband, or knew anything about Tiger King.

For years Sandlin fought off lawsuits from animal rights activists while Tony gained more and more fame. The highway tiger became part of truck stop lore and the accompanying Tiger Restaurant became a destination for weary drivers looking for a dang fine Louisiana-style meal.

Sadly, in 2017, Tony passed from the mortal coil into interstate history, leaving animal rights activists with nothing to do in Grosse Tete, and a hole in Michael’s heart.

So he bought a camel.

Meet Caspar

Described as a “gentle giant,” Caspar is a dromedary (one-humped) male camel who was fully intact in the breeding sense when he began his tenure at Tiger Truck Stop.

The animal rights folks again had something to do in Grosse Tete, the kids could look at an exotic animal that didn’t spray them (which Tony had a habit of doing), and Sandlin had another animal to draw free and abundant advertising to his truck stop.

Everything was great until someone bit Caspar on the, ahem, well, you know, dangly bits. (Reference “fully intact in the breeding sense” above.)

That’s right. I said someone, not something.

Last September Caspar was assaulted in his no-no squares by a woman on which he sat upon because she was screaming at him after she and her husband climbed under the barbed wire fence of his enclosure to rescue their deaf dog they did not have on a leash and were letting roam around a truck stop freely, because that’s smart.

Iberville Parish Deputy Louis Hamilton Jr. had the unfortunate job of reading this quote from the incident report to an interviewer from The Advocate: “The woman said, ‘I bit his balls to get him off of me. I bit his testicles to get him off of me.’” I would imagine it was not something he ever dreamed he’d ever be investigating, much less talking about to the media.

But it happened. And suddenly, Caspar the Camel had worldwide fame as probably the only dromedary ever to need antibiotics because it was bitten on the balls by a human being upon which it sat.

You can’t buy advertising like that. It doesn’t exist.

Once again, Sandlin’s weird little truck stop zoo was hot and in the spotlight.

Which is probably why Michael Sandlin decided it was time to sell it and retire. During the decades of animal fights he was accused of a lot of things, but never of being a poor showman who wouldn’t use free advertising to pad his pocket.

(And as a side note from someone who has actually been to the truck stop many times, I can tell you that Sandlin truly did appear to care about the animals, and the staff was very protective of them. Whether or not that constitutes a full life for an exotic animal is certainly debatable, but that’s not what the story is about. Also note that I reference animal activists tongue-in-cheek here, but please don’t come after me with gluten-free vegan hay forks, thankyouverymuch.)

New owners of the Tiger Truck Stop

New owners Johnny and Dana Ewing, along with their business partner, James Jarreau, bought the truck stop in June. An immediate decision to end the animal displays saw Caspar shipped off to a zoo in Alexandria and all display areas dismantled.

James Jarreau told local news station WBRZ 2, “No tiger cage. I don’t know anything about the animals. I got three kids of my own so I got enough animals at home. I don’t need any more animals.”

The restaurant remains intact and continues to serve hot food. The new owners plan to tear down the original building and build a new Tiger Truck Stop – minus the real tiger and once-bitten camel cojones, but with added parking where the cages once rested.

Another truck stop legend in the books, y’all. Let’s hope they don’t change the boudin.

Bonus

Here is a Facebook post with a “Stop for gas and a bite” billboard promoting the Tiger Truck stop after the camel-biting incident, courtesy Robin Silva.

Wendy Parker

Wendy Parker has covered the trucking industry since 2012 after she says she “lost my mind and decided to climb inside my husband’s big truck to travel with him as an over-the road, long-haul trucker.” Her unique writing style that ranges from biting satire to investigative journalism coupled with her unbridled passion for fighting round out a wildly talented stable of writers.