Animal rights group PETA on Monday criticized CBL & Associates Properties Inc. for allowing the sale of sugar gliders in its shopping centers, saying it remains the only major mall operator to do so nationally.
But CBL's chief executive said its officials are willing to discuss PETA's concerns relating to the small, tree-dwelling marsupial.
"We hope to meet for discussions in another forum," said company CEO Stephen Lebovitz at CBL's annual meeting, noting that it opposes and doesn't tolerate cruel treatment of animals at its properties.
Kristin Simon of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said PETA's complaints have been ignored in the past.
"Since 2010, various PETA departments have called and emailed numerous CBL executives regarding the many complaints we have received, only the be ignored," Simon said. She said PETA then asked its members and supporters to contact CBL, but the company has refused to act.
Simon cited the company Pocket Pets, which sets up temporary kiosks at CBL malls to sell sugar gliders, including in Chattanooga in the past.
The animals are sold as "cheap trinkets to people who purchase them on a whim," she said. Few buyers have the knowledge required to meet the special needs of the animals, who suffer from small cages, are overly or roughly handled, fed improper diets and forgotten, Simon said.
She said she is encouraged by CBL's willingness to meet.
Lebovitz said CBL doesn't sell the animals, and that Pocket Pets is an appropriately licensed company. He also suggested Simon meet with Pocket Pets to seek a solution.
Adam Wayne, Pocket Pets regional director, said its company was founded on the idea to make sure gliders are sold ethically and responsibly. Wayne said PETA does "very little to investigate. They've never contacted us directly."
Wayne said the company discourages impulse buyers, asking them to first do their due diligence on the animals. He said Pocket Pets supports buyers after the sale with emails and a customer service team.
Wayne said that gliders can live 10 to 15 years, and the company makes much of its money off of the ongoing purchase of food, vitamins and toys.
Simon said, however, that gliders are raised in "hellish mills" and she has seen a number of cases in which they can be obtained from shelters.
She also complained about CBL allowing circuses to perform on its properties, specifically citing Cole Bros.
CBL said it doesn't permit circuses with wild animals on its properties.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.
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