NEW ORLEANS (AP) — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed six complaints against a Hammond turtle and alligator farm.
One claims the family is abusing a 6-year-old boy by teaching him to handle alligators at Harvey Kliebert Turtle and Alligator Farm and Tours.
According to news reports, photographs, and video footage, the boy’s parents let him “‘wrangle’ dangerous alligators and crocodiles, placing him at risk of virulent infection and serious injury from bites, scratches, head butts, and thrashing,” according to that complaint.
Every generation at the farm began learning the work as children, said Melody Kliebert, who married into the family and is not the boy’s mother.
“It’s been in the family for seven decades now. The whole Kliebert family has been through this,” she said Tuesday. She compared learning to safely handle alligators to learning to ride a bicycle. “If he’s not controlling the bike, he’ll be hurt.”
Children handle either tiny baby alligators or animals with their mouths taped shut, Kliebert said.
“Baby alligators are born with teeth but it’s a stickerbush kind of thing,” she said.
Kliebert said that with the alligator season just beginning, owners would be setting lines in the swamp Wednesday and probably would be unavailable for comment.
The child abuse allegation was sent to the Tangipahoa Parish district attorney and the state child welfare office in the parish.
The Department of Children and Family Services cannot comment, spokeswoman Lindsey deBlieux said. State law specifically bars the department from releasing the identity of anyone who files a child abuse complaint, she said.
District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said the complaint will be forwarded to appropriate agencies for investigation.
Other complaints were sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Tangipahoa Parish Animal Control.
They claim the business mistreats animals, endangers employees and has an endangered Siamese crocodile in an inadequate pen.
Complaints to Wildlife and Fisheries and USDA claim that a large animal was “tormented” by being used as a photographic prop, with people encouraged to get onto its back and jerk its taped snout up so that it pointed skyward.
“We take all complaints seriously and look into the allegations that are made to determine whether there are any Animal Welfare Act noncompliances,” said Lindsay Cole, spokeswoman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
The complaint to OSHA alleges that the business apparently is violating numerous OSHA rulings by requiring employees to handle the animals directly rather than using holding areas or “shifting cages” to feed them, clean cages or move them. The agency has repeatedly ruled against requiring workers to manage apex predators without barriers between them and the animals, according to the complaint.