Saturday, January 01, 2000

2000 Big Cat Attacks

The Associated Press State & Local Wire
November 4, 2000, Saturday, BC cycle
Pillager man's neighbors aren't big fans of his pet tiger, bear

By JODIE TWEED, The Brainerd Daily Dispatch

It's a quiet Pillager neighborhood where several residents say they no longer go for walks because they're afraid of a neighbor's pets. Some parents don't allow their children to walk to the school bus stop anymore, either. But Rick Seidel says there's no reason for his neighbors to fear his unusual critters.

"For a man-eater, she's my baby," said Seidel, as he proudly petted his 275-pound Siberian tiger named Sheqkita, who shares a large outdoor cage with Pooh, a full-grown cinnamon bear, a relative of the black bear. "They're like a brother and a sister to each other." Seidel bought the tiger and bear five years ago from a licensed game farm in Racine, Wis. The tiger originally came from the Kansas City Zoo, he said. They were born two days apart and Seidel has raised them together ever since they were cubs. He is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to own the tiger and bear and also has a separate license by the Department of Natural Resources for the bear.

But Seidel's neighbors don't care what kind of licenses he has to legally own the exotic animals. They're worried that the animals will get out of their outdoor enclosure, which includes electric fencing. The bear got out this summer, they said, and ended up on another neighbor's deck, scrounging through the garbage.

"A lot of people are scared about it but there's nobody to call," said Alice Mullenix, the only neighbor who was willing to have her name published in The Brainerd Daily Dispatch. "What's going to happen is that someone's going to get mauled and then people are going to do something."

There are 39 children living within less than a mile of Seidel's home, said one neighbor, who won't let her children walk to the school bus stop anymore because of the tiger and bear.

Mullenix, who has four children, said her 16-year-old daughter with Down syndrome would probably go straight up to the animals and try to pet them without any fear. She's worried that her children could get hurt.

Another neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said Seidel's bear and tiger don't bother him. He enjoys watching them. He said the bear paid him a visit when he was building his house, an incident that scared his wife. She no longer goes for walks in the neighborhood.

Other neighbors said they have called the Cass County Sheriff's Department, Heartland Animal Rescue Team in Brainerd, the Minnesota Zoo and the DNR about the bear and tiger. But since Seidel isn't breaking any laws and the animals appear to be well fed, there was nothing they could do.

Donna Wambeke, president of HART, said they are aware of Seidel's tiger and bear and were called to his home on an animal complaint unrelated to the tiger and bear.

"He's not doing anything illegal, but I know the neighbors are angry," Wambeke said. "I believe that tiger could get out of that pen if it wanted to. The bear has been out. There's nothing I can do to get that bear and tiger out of there. They don't belong in Pillager."

Seidel said someone called PETA, a national animal rights organization, about him. They told him he was violating federal regulations for housing the tiger and bear together, but when he checked with the USDA he learned that he wasn't.

Seidel said many people drive up to his home to take a look at Pooh and Sheqkita, a popular Pillager pastime he would like to discourage. He said he understands why his neighbors would be apprehensive about living close to his bear and tiger. However, if they saw him interact with his pets then they would see there is little to fear, he said.

In the wild, the tiger would kill the bear, but Seidel said his two animals share a close bond. When he has taken the large cat out of the cage and leashed him to a telephone pole on his property to get some exercise, the bear bellows for the tiger when she's not within sight.

After five years of living next door to the tiger and bear, Seidel's neighbors will be happy to know he is moving, along with his animals, to a home he recently bought near Clitherall, where he owns a bar.

He plans to move the animals soon to their new home, which has a cement floor and a den for the bear. He won't say where he's moving to because he's tired of people complaining to authorities about his pets. However, he said his new neighbors know about Pooh and Sheqkita.

"There are people who think that it's the greatest thing but then there are some who think it's the worst thing," Seidel said of his owning exotic animals.

Chicago Sun-Times
August 17, 2000
The g-r-r-r-r-r-eatest threat to mankind
Neil Steinberg

The problem with these political conventions is they don't address the real problems facing Americans today.

Tiger attacks, for example.

While politicians talk, the risk of tiger attack is on the rise, based on my unscientific reading of the news wires, and nobody is doing anything about it.

Just this week, the latest mauling took place in Boise, Idaho. A woman was attending a fund-raiser at the Boise Zoo (it calls itself "Zoo Boise," but that doesn't mean we have to). The unfortunate lady at the annual "Feast for the Beast" (I wonder what the fundamentalists make of that) found herself in a hallway outside the tiger building, the door of which, in a curious lapse, was left unlatched. She got off pretty light, considering. At least she had her arms and legs when the tiger was done, which is not always the case with tigers. The most damage seems to have been inflicted not by the animal, but by a local police officer, who showed up on the scene and managed to shoot the woman in the thigh, breaking the bone. (Geez, what are the odds that being mauled by a tiger isn't the worst thing to happen to you in one day?)

You might be so cavalier as to find this funny, forgetting that there is a real woman resting uncomfortably at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.

I wouldn't dream of laughing at such a thing, not publicly, anyway. Rather, I am offering it as a cautionary tale. Since tiger attacks are, if not rising, then not nearly as infrequent as they should be, I have studied the alarming number of incidents over the last few years and come up with this list of commonsense tips to help you avoid tiger-induced injury. Think it couldn't happen to you? So did these people.

Tip No. 1: Children and tigers don't mix.

A surprising number of parents in this country permit their children to get in very close proximity to a tiger.

Lorin Casey Villafana, 10, was actually in the cage last year with her stepfather's pet tigers in Texas when one of them turned and killed her.

Last March, a 4-year-old Texas boy, Jayton Tildwell, wandered away from a family reunion unnoticed, back to where the tiger pen was. He had his right arm bitten off at the elbow.

In 1996, a 7-year-old girl visiting a television station was mauled by a tiger about to appear on a television program with her father, the education director of the Cincinnati Zoo.

Tip No. 2: Cameras don't make you immune.

Jannell Waldo, 45, of San Jose, was clawed by a tiger in 1998 after falling while having her picture taken next to Juma, a 340-pound tiger, at Marine World in San Jose.

Rather than scare people off, the attack prompted a surge of interest in Marine World's exotic animal photo sessions, though the theme park decided to exclude tigers, no doubt to people's disappointment.

Tip No. 3: Don't stick your arm in the cage:

In May, a volunteer at the Prairie Wind Wild Animal Refuge in Colorado was asked if the tigers there were friendly.

To demonstrate, she reached into the cage of Boris, a full-grown Siberian tiger, and petted him. Boris reacted by chewing the woman's arm off.

Tip No. 4: Be particularly careful if the tiger already has killed somebody.

In November 1998, Doris Guay, a Florida tiger trainer, was leading Jupiter, a 400-pound white Bengal she had raised from a cub, when the animal turned on her and killed her with a single bite to the neck.

A month previous, the same cat had killed its trainer, Charles Lizza, also with a bite to the neck. At the time Guay insisted Jupiter was not vicious.

The tiger issue will not go away. I invited both the Brookfield and the Lincoln Park zoos to address tiger safety, and both refused. This timidity will not help anyone. Be careful around tigers.

LOAD-DATE: August 17, 2000

The Plain Dealer
May 21, 2000 Sunday


On Dec. 9, 1983, Lorenza Pearson's pet tiger stalked and killed his 2-year-old son.

More than 16 years later, Pearson was charging $1 a person to step into a canvas tent outside the Mount Hope Auction to view his menagerie of caged lions, tigers and a single, aging badger. Pearson, 52, of Copley Township, said the 1983 tragedy was a nightmarish instant that almost stopped a lifelong dream.

"I couldn't do anything for months. I loved my son," he said. "I was going to get rid of all of the animals after my son died."

The counsel of an old farmer changed his mind.

"An old Amish fella told me that a lot of farmers have lost kids to accidents or lost a limb in machinery," he said. "But he said, You don't give up on your dream, Lorenza. And your dream is to have these animals.'"

Pearson had five lions, two bears and a wolf when the tiger, Solomon, mauled his son. The 16-month-old, 250-pound Bengal tiger had been a family pet for about a year.

"I turned my back to get some food and he leapt up and out of the room," he said. "He ran past me ... went down the hall and into another room and just leapt toward my son. He went right around his head."

Twice Pearson pried the big cat off his son's head: "I reached down his throat to get him off," he said, showing scars on his hands and forearms.

A neighbor drove Pearson and his son to Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron. The boy, Jason Studebaker, died later that afternoon.

Pearson was later indicted on charges of child endangering and involuntary manslaughter. But a Summit County judge later dismissed the charge because there was no local law forbidding keeping wild animals.

Summit County eventually passed legislation barring residents from keeping wild and exotic animals in their homes.

Pearson said he no longer has animals in the house, but now has 44 big cats, 14 bears and a few badgers on display at his L&L Exotic Animal Farm near Akron.

Copyright 2000 Little Rock Newspapers, Inc.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

April 20, 2000, Thursday

Arm healing, 4-year-old boy mauled by tiger back home; family buried in bills

Jayton Tidwell, the 4-year-old Jacksonville boy who lost his right arm to a 400-pound tiger that his uncle was keeping as a pet, resolved one question about the March 15 attack himself.

Surgeons who reattached the arm had speculated that the Bengal tiger, named Cheyenne, might have severed the boy's arm with a swipe of a paw, but Jayton clearly recalls the traumatic event as a bite, according to his mother, Jennifer Howell.

"Just out of the blue, he asked, 'Mom, why did that tiger bite my arm off?' " Howell said this week after the family returned to Arkansas from Texas, where the attack occurred.
Back home the family is recovering from the ordeal and lending Jayton's name to a national campaign to tighten the regulation of tigers kept as pets.

Jayton was on a trip to see his father in Houston when the boy wandered away from supervision and went alone to the cage where his uncle keeps the pet tiger. The animal severed Jayton's arm between the shoulder and elbow.

Surgeons at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston managed to reattach the arm, and Jayton was released from the hospital March 31.

But getting him back home to Arkansas has been difficult, said Howell, who traveled to Houston with her husband, Kevin Lee Howell, as soon as they were told of the attack.
The Howells first stayed at the hospital with Jayton, then moved into a Houston apartment after he was released. But the family could not return with Jayton to Arkansas until the surgeon who reattached the boy's arm cleared the move, the Howells said.

Uncertain how long they could afford to stay away from their jobs and their newly bought house in Jacksonville, the Howells said Dr. Mark Henry's reluctance to allow the transfer frustrated them. But Henry recently signed the release, and the Howells said Jayton is now under the care of Little Rock surgeon Andrew Markiewitz.

"He's been doing 100 percent better now that he's home," said Kevin Howell.
Jayton was in a trauma intensive-care unit for the first six days after the attack, kept on life support and immobilized to help the reattached arm begin to heal.

"Now we can't slow him down," Howell said as his stepson played nearby. While Jayton will never have full use of his right arm, reattached with nerves and veins taken from his legs, he is working with therapists to try to build mobility in his elbow and wrist, Jennifer Howell said.

Right-handed, Jayton had just learned to write his name when the attack occurred. Now Jayton is beginning to learn to sign his name with his left hand.

Jayton has no health insurance, and family is uncertain how to cover the estimated $ 500,000 in medical bills; already, the Howells said, the tab has hit about $ 200,000.
John Carlton, who works with Kevin Lee Howell in the commissary at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, has established an account at Firstar Bank to help with medical costs.

"It was a very selfless act, and we are very grateful for it," Kevin Howell said. He added that thus far the fund has raised less than $ 5,000.

A tiger conservation group called Tiger Missing Link Foundation plans to establish a fund to provide relief to tiger-attack victims like Jayton.
Brian Werner, executive director of the foundation, based in Tyler, Texas, said the group is pushing for a federal law that would require private owners of tigers and other large, exotic cats to get permits.

The federal Department of Agriculture already requires permits for roadside zoos and attractions that draw visitors. Werner said the department should also oversee private owners who keep big cats as pets. The permits would require perimeter fencing that would keep a child from reaching in, Werner said.

The Howells have lent Jayton's name to the cause, which the tiger foundation plans to promote as the Jayton Tidwell Wild Animal Protection Act. The family agreed, Jennifer Howell said, "because I wouldn't want anyone else to go through what I have been through."

Jayton, whose injuries may keep him from starting kindergarten this fall, is receiving counseling. He faces more surgeries under the care of Markiewitz, who could not be reached for comment.

As for the attack, "He remembers everything clearly," Jennifer Howell said of Jayton, saying he is now terrified of big cats.

In Houston, when Jayton wanted to go to the zoo, Kevin Howell said, the boy became hysterically afraid at the sight of the lion pen. But he has a pet house cat at home and was eager to see its new kittens, his mother said. "He's only afraid of big cats," she said.
The Battalion via U-Wire
University Wire
March 28, 2000
Keeping exotic animals as pets is a dangerous practice
By Melissa Bedsole, The Battalion

Jayton and Cheyenne are both delightful 4-year-olds with two arms and two legs (sort of). But that is about where their similarities end. Cheyenne weighs nearly 400 pounds and walks on both her arms and legs -- which is normal for a Bengal tiger. Jayton Tidwell weighs less than 50 pounds and, for a few hours, recently was missing one of those arms. Jayton's right limb was missing after he was mauled by Cheyenne.

Horrible? Absolutely. But the real shocker is how this awful fate befell poor Jayton. He was not strolling through the jungle, nor did he cross over the iron bar barriers at the zoo. Jayton was simply spending the day at his uncle, Larry Tidwell's house, where the tiger was kept as a pet. And when little Jayton reached in the cage to touch this "pet," the tiger ripped off his arm just above the elbow. Thankfully, Jayton Tidwell is recovering in good condition after undergoing hours of surgery to reattach his arm. But this is a lesson that no child (or adult, for that matter) should ever have to learn in such a way. This is not the first time an exotic pet has endangered the life of a human, and this needs to be stopped.

The idea that these animals are suitable pets may seem ludicrous, but there are many people fighting for the right to house them. The National Alternative Pet Association (NAPA) actively works toward its mission to "promote responsible private and commercial ownership of exotic animals of all species." This is a fine idea, but no matter how responsible Larry may have been, his tiger still attacked Jayton.

The problems with this particular situation are endless. The little boy should have never been left alone in the vicinity of the tiger. Jayton is 4-years-old -- he should not be left alone with much of anything, and to leave him anywhere near a 400-pound tiger shows complete negligence and irresponsibility on the part of the uncle. Second, the tiger should have had a better cage.

Many people support the ridiculous idea that these "pets" are just as acceptable as any other, as long as they are in a cage. Well, someone needs to get to work making better cages than the chain link fence that separated Jayton and Cheyenne, because obviously it did not separate them enough. Every aspect of the situation is ridiculous, but above all that tiger should not have been there in the first place. Zoos were created to display animals that are not meant to be pets, so they can be safely observed. Why aren't dogs and cats and small goldfish at the zoo? Because they are the animals meant to be in homes.

There are probably tons of people out there today with exotic pets roaming around their houses and yards who have never had any problems. And Cheyenne was described as "a really nice and passive animal" by one of Larry's neighbors. But Cheyenne mauled this little boy and endangered his life. NAPA claims that people against their beloved pets "often blow isolated incidents out of proportion or treat those with exotic pets like criminals."

One freak accident is quite enough but according to Robert E. Armstrong, a former chief of a health department's animal control bureau, these "isolated incidents" are not rare. In an article in the Houston Chronicle, Armstrong recounted a tale where a little girl received a large head wound after being attacked by a lion at a flea market. Armstong further described how a young boy was attacked a few years ago by a lion. These "accidents" should not be blamed on the inexperience of these innocent children, either. There was an animal handler killed by a tiger he was working with at the Houston Zoo. This man had tiger experience -- he still died.

Viewing recent events as "unavoidable accidents" is simply an act of denial that will only succeed in allowing such a tragic incident to occur again in the future. There need to be ramifications for the confused citizens who somehow believe that these pets are not dangerous to the people around them. Little boy's arms are not meant to be pulled off and put back on. Tigers are not meant to be kept in small confined cages. Cheyenne and Jayton were both put in a very unfair situation, and neither one of them should have been expected to act any differently.

Every owner who keeps one of these exotic pets is at fault for the injustice in these recent events, and they are exactly the ones pointing the finger at every other aspect of the situation. That is just fine for now. They can point the finger at whomever they want, at least until their perfect pet bites it off!

The Houston Chronicle

March 17, 2000, Friday 3 STAR EDITION

Tiger quarantined; Exotic animals' owners fall under certain rules

Any resident of unincorporated Harris County may keep an exotic animal as a pet by meeting certain requirements and obtaining a health department permit for its facility.

"You can have a rhinoceros in your back yard if you want to," said Animal Control spokeswoman Colleen Hodges.

"You just have to keep him in the kind of cage we require."

Although rules for breeders and animal exhibitors are different, other county residents must follow a simple procedure. Once the animal is 12 weeks old, a facility permit must be obtained from Animal Control, a division of the county Health Department.

The application for the permit, which is free, must include names, addresses and phone numbers of the owner, custodian and emergency contact.

A photograph must be submitted that clearly shows the animal's face, including eyes, nose, ears and neck. A written description must detail the animal's species, age, sex, size, color and distinguishing markings.

Animal Control officials must be allowed to inspect the animal's enclosure and can require certain specifications, depending on the animal's species and size.

Once the requirements are satisfied, the owner will be issued a registration number and tag, which must be attached to the cage or pen at all times.

The department has these restrictions: the animal may not be kept within 1,000 feet of a school; the number of young born to a registered animal must be reported in writing within 30 days; the enclosures must meet standards for size and strength of the animal; and the entrances to the site must have posted warning signs to inform emergency medical personnel.

Currently, there are eight permitted facilities in the county, with animals ranging from tigers to wolf hybrids to monkeys. Some have several of the same kind of pets or more than one species, but most contain only one exotic animal.

A search of Chronicle files for more than a decade turned up only one local death of a person attacked by a wild animal. Ironically, it occurred in an expertly managed environment: the Houston Zoo in Hermann Park.

On May 12, 1988, a 450-pound male Siberian tiger named Miguel broke a glass window in the then-new cat habitat, grabbed zoo employee Ricardo Tovar, 59, and pulled him through the 2 1/2-foot-square opening.

Tovar was dead when his body was retrieved.

A lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount after Tovar's survivors argued that the window was dangerously large and should have been covered with unbreakable material.

Other area incidents involving captive wild animals:

On Nov. 8, 1998, a male and female Siberian tiger weighing 700 and 500 pounds, respectively, escaped from a compound near Cut and Shoot in the piney woods of Montgomery County when the caretaker entered to feed them.

After mauling a 200-pound hog and turning up in a resident's back yard, the tigers were shot to death at separate locations by a search party.

On March 31, 1998, 4-day-old Cameron Campbell of Pasadena was bitten by a relative's pet raccoon on the hands, face and feet and underwent extensive plastic surgery.

In 1988 near Alvin, an 800-pound Siberian tiger named Tony escaped and killed a chicken. After complaints by neighbors and Brazoria County officials, its owner destroyed the tiger.

In July 1988, a state district judge ordered a Sugar Land man, Gerald Yoakum, to move two baboons, Jason and Joshua, from his home.

The animals did not escape or harm anyone, but First Colony subdivision neighbors objected to their presence.

In May 1988, a male binturong, a catlike animal from Southeast Asia, escaped from the Houston Zoo, alarming opera patrons at nearby Miller Outdoor Theater and construction workers at the Texas Medical Center.

Zookeepers took a cage to the sixth floor of Ben Taub Hospital, then under construction. The animal obediently strolled inside and was returned to his mate.

On Oct. 10, 1987, Samson, a chained lion on display at a north Houston flea market, attacked Roxanne Hernandez, 8, who required surgery for cuts to the chest, face and neck. The lion, which had mauled two toddlers previously, was put to death.

On Oct. 5, 1986, Karen Smith, 20, of Magnolia was bitten on the head by a 550-pound male lion at the home of A.H. Parks. Her gash required 12 stitches.

On Nov. 30, 1985, animal trainer Bradley J. Werth, 26, suffered multiple cuts and puncture wounds from a lion but escaped from its cage and had plastic surgery.

On Oct. 16, 1984, 9-month-old Nancie Havard suffered scratches and bites on her face, arm and back when an overly playful lion cub leaped from a parked car at a Baytown shopping center.

In October 1982, a 150-pound lioness in Pasadena bit its owner, Connie Shans, 31, on the legs.

Elsewhere in Texas:

In Yorktown, near Cuero, 10-year-old Lorin Casey Villafana died June 6, 1999, after being mauled by one of two pet tigers her stepfather had bought as cubs and raised, police said.

A 13-year-old boy was attacked March 12, 1997, by a tiger and lion kept in a cage built onto the side of his grandfather's home near Caldwell. "My son was not mauled," said Jodie Grubbs Jr. "He was being eaten alive." The boy spent a week in the hospital.

James Ramos Austin, 2, was attacked April 3, 1997, by a male bobcat that officers said was being kept in violation of a cityordinance in the north Dallas home of his mother's boyfriend. He was bitten on the cheek, finger and heel.
Birmingham Evening Mail
January 24, 2000, Monday

A MAN who kept wild animals at his home has been found dead in the cage of his pet lion. Police said that lawyer Sergio Montella, who lived near the city of Lecce in southern Italy, kept a lion, tigers and a panther in the basement of his house, along with many dogs and cats.

Neighbours, who had not seen him for a week called police, who found the remains of the man, mauled and with his clothes torn, in the lion's cage.

Authorities said that they were investigating whether Montella, aged 50, was alive when attacked by the lion or if he had died naturally while in the cage.