Big cat trainer in Hillsborough County sues USDA over license
TAMPA - A big cat trainer from Hillsborough County has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, saying the agency is preventing him from getting jobs. Lancelot Kollman, 44, says the USDA has ignored requests to renew his exhibitor’s license, which would allow him to train and show 16 tigers for a traveling circus, according to the lawsuit. Kollman’s attorney said the USDA has put up administrative roadblocks that leave his client “stuck in limbo.” “One way or another, you have to give this guy a chance to do his life’s work,” said Tampa lawyer William J. Cook.Kollman’s issues with the USDA go back to 2009, when his exhibitor’s license was revoked. The trainer was accused of “failing to provide adequate care for two juvenile lions” that later died, according to an order signed by an administrative law judge. The USDA wrote Kollman a letter asking him to address the allegations, but the trainer responded by requesting a hearing, Cook said. Because Kollman didn’t answer the USDA’s questions about the lions, his license was revoked, Cook said. Kollman, who still didn’t have a license, was hired last year by the Hawthorn Corp. to train tigers for a circus, the lawsuit said. An unlicensed trainer working for a company that has a valid license is common in the circus industry, Cook said. “For one year he did this, and it worked out without a problem,” Cook said. Kollman’s clash with the USDA was renewed this year when a different traveling circus wanted to hire Hawthorn Corp. and Kollman to train a tiger act. The company, Soul Circus, used an “overabundance of caution” when they contacted the USDA after it learned Kollman wasn’t licensed, Cook said. Kollman filed the lawsuit in hopes a court will rule that he can work for a licensed company although his own license has been revoked, Cook said. Kollman’s suit also alleges USDA officials were vague and unresponsive to his requests to try to get his license reinstated. USDA spokesman David Sachs declined to comment on the suit. Chester Gipson, deputy administrator for animal care for the USDA, said in a letter to Soul Circus that “any licensee who employs Mr. Kollman … risks being subject to an administrative action to terminate” his or her license. “The exhibitor’s license previously held by Mr. Kollman was revoked in 2009 by order of the Secretary of Agriculture, and the order of revocation is final,” Gipson wrote in the Jan. 29 letter. Cook said the USDA simply believes the accusations of the lions’ abuse is true and isn’t being fair to Kollman, who had transferred ownership of the lions to another man and the animals died under that person’s care. “If we ever have our day in court, we can prove that Mr. Kollman did not harm them,” Cook said.