Archive for Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Tiger escape sparks questions over animal permits

May 9, 2001

Jefferson County officials are considering whether to file charges in connection with a Siberian tiger that escaped from a wildlife sanctuary.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Lt. Robert Poppa shot and killed the tiger on April 29, about three hours after it escaped from Gatekeepers Wildlife Sanctuary just east of Oskaloosa. The 600-pound female had been brought to the sanctuary by John and Vicki Arnold, 30798 164th Terrace, Leavenworth.

"They did have a permit with them," Poppa said Tuesday.

But he said it's illegal to bring exotic animals into Jefferson County, Poppa said. The animals at the sanctuary were grandfathered in last year when county officials adopted the law prohibiting new animals, Poppa said.

However, Barbara Stephens, who owns the sanctuary, said she believes a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit that she has exempts her from the county's law.

She said she wasn't at the sanctuary compound when the tiger escaped.

"I was trying to do them (the Arnolds) a favor, but instead the favor backfired," Stephens said. "It backfired big-time."

John Arnold said Tuesday that he had taken Natasha, the tiger, to the sanctuary to breed with one of Stephens' male tigers. He also said his landlord had concerns about liability.

Stephens said she was issued a citation for housing more cats than her county permit allows.

"It's a big, long headache," she said. "There's a possibility I could be fined or spend time in jail."

The sanctuary houses 19 exotic cats, and 10 of those have been brought to the sanctuary since the county passed its law, she said.

"There's a possibility I would have to get rid of the animals who weren't grandfathered through," she said.

John Arnold said he would prefer that the entire matter be dropped because he's concerned laws covering exotic animals could be adopted in Leavenworth County.

"You've got to understand there are dumb people in the world who are going to take it and run with it," he said. "People just don't understand exotic animals."

He said his animals often times are bothered by people, even though he clearly has "no trespassing" signs posted on his property.

"It's the people who are the problem, not the cats," he said.

He said he doesn't fault the sheriff's department for shooting the tiger.

"It was a bad situation," he said. "The cat didn't have to die, but she did. I don't blame anybody for it. If anybody's to blame, it's me for not letting her calm down. It's as much my fault as anybody's for not bringing her back home."

Natasha became agitated when she saw other animals at the sanctuary, particularly a 900-pound Siberian tiger, Poppa said.

"When the cat saw the other cat, it pretty much just freaked out because all animals are territorial," Poppa said.

Natasha cleared an eight-foot fence. An area veterinarian was called about 1 p.m. to tranquilize the animal, which he was able to do about two hours later. But it had little effect, Poppa said.

"When we got there, the cat was walking toward us and then it went down in a crouched position," he said.

Poppa shot it was a 12-gauge, 50-caliber slug.

"It jumped in the air six feet or so, and then went into brush," he said.

It took two more shots to kill the animal, Poppa said.

"My concern is the length of time this cat was running loose before we were contacted," he said. "I felt the public safety was in jeopardy. If it would have come back west, it would have been in town in a matter of minutes."

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