CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (WDRB) -- Hyenas have jaws strong enough to break bone, and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said one recently attacked a worker at a southern Indiana roadside zoo.
PETA made details of the reported attack public Friday. The incident happened at Wildlife In Need, a hands-on zoo that's attracted plenty of criticism from animal rights advocates like PETA.
Hyenas are native to Africa, look similar to dogs and, as PETA's Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet said, they're predators.
"They have very sharp teeth, and as we have apparently seen in this incident, they're extremely dangerous," Peet said.
A video posted on Wildlife In Need's Facebook page in January 2018 shows owner Tim Stark handling a hyena at the zoo.
"If you're a hater, and you don't agree with somebody having an animal for any reason, go to Hell and stay out of my life, alright," Stark said in the video. "This little baby girl flat-out loves her daddy, you know, as you can see."
PETA, however, is worried about the hyenas at Wildlife In Need.
"PETA is aware of one hyena who is held in a virtually barren enclosure at Wildlife In Need and who has been documented displaying frantic stereotypic behavior indicative of extreme psychological distress," the group wrote in an online statement.
Peet added she's "extremely concerned" about the hyena's well-being.
Stark confirmed Saturday a worker was bitten a few weeks ago, is still going through surgeries and might even need a skin graft after what he called a "play bite." Stark said an employee was in the cage when a pet Great Dane approached and spooked the hyena.
Stark, who said he's currently out of the state, couldn't do an interview Saturday or allow WDRB News to see the hyena enclosure. In a 30-minute phone call, however, he dismissed PETA's claims and said the group is unfairly out to get him. In fact, Stark says PETA's persistent criticism and oversight caused him to have a heart attack in the past.
"They are walking human flesh devils," he said of the group in an interview from October 2018.
PETA and Stark have been at war for years over allegations of animal cruelty and after PETA sued Stark for violating the Endangered Species Act by declawing big cats like tigers in an attempt to use them as entertainment objects. That legal battle is still ongoing.
"As part of the lawsuit and the discovery in that lawsuit, we conducted a site inspection of the big cats on property at Wildlife In Need," Peet said.
It was during a recent inspection that Peet and others observed the hyena, she said.
PETA is urging local, state and federal officials to shut down Wildlife In Need, confiscate the animals and place them in what the group called more "reputable facilities."
Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.