The Houston Chronicle
July 27, 2002, Saturday 3 STAR EDITION
A TASTE FOR THE EXOTIC;
Climate, plentiful land make state a hotbed for rare, dangerous pets
BY: RACHEL GRAVES
John Stromsky spends his days feeding and cleaning up after seven tigers, two mountain lions and a black panther. Between the 10 of them, the animals eat 70 pounds a day of "salvage meat" - free leftovers that meat companies give Stromsky by the truckload.
"It's not a glamorous job. You figure seven pounds of meat a day. What does that equate to in leftovers?" Stromsky said, in a delicate reference to his cleanup chores. Stromsky's animals include the Bengal tiger he took in after it tore the arm off a 4-year-old boy in Channelview two years ago. He also cares for other animals whose owners could no longer keep them.
The cats live in an elaborate set of cages behind Stromsky's home in northeast Harris County. The cages are the best-tended part of his property, which is overrun with cars needing repairs and house cats that boldly swipe food from the tigers' cages.
Stromsky does not recommend keeping exotic pets, nor does the only other exotic cat owner in Harris County who would consent to an interview. Animal experts are vehemently opposed to the practice.
Although no one knows how many exotic animals are held in captivity, officials estimate there are 5,000 tigers held in the United States, 2,000 of which are in Texas. By comparison, there are about 3,500 tigers in the wild worldwide. Texas is a hotbed for exotic pets, experts say, because of its warm climate, plentiful land and Wild West mentality.
Authorities find out about dangerous pets when neighbors complain, the animals escape or when someone is injured.
It is legal to sell exotic animals, and breeders are not required to keep records of the sales. Although there are no federal laws regarding exotic pets, the Humane Society of the United States is urging Congress to pass a law banning interstate shipments of lions, tigers and bears for the pet trade.
Dangerous exotic animals are banned in Houston but are allowed in Harris County with a permit. Only four people in the county have or are seeking such permits, and four others have been forced to give up their dangerous pets after the county started regulating them in 2000.
Based on incidents in the past several years and the number of local breeders, authorities are sure there are many more of the animals in the Houston area.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found a starving 1-year-old lion in a horse trailer in northeast Harris County last week and seized it. Earlier this year, an 8-year-old girl peeked through a fence in a Houston neighborhood and saw a 500-pound Bengal tiger roaming next door. A black panther believed to be an escaped pet jumped into a back yard in Richmond last year and killed a pet schnauzer, and a 3-year-old boy was killed by his father's tiger in Lexington last year.
In five years with the Houston SPCA, chief cruelty investigator Jim Boller said he has taken in 59 exotic cats, a half dozen primates, countless wolves and wolf hybrids and three brown bears that a family of illegal immigrants smuggled from Russia to use in their circus act.
"(The people) were deported. We kept the bears," Boller said. The bears now live in a wildlife sanctuary in San Antonio.
Those who keep exotic animals are generally a taciturn bunch, reluctant to talk about the animals because of trouble with neighbors and the authorities.
Boller describes them as cutting across socioeconomic, age and gender lines but sharing a common characteristic of inflated egos.
"It's the same type of people who want the bigger, badder, nastier dog," he said. "(They think) if a Rottweiler will guard my house well, a tiger would be 10 times better."
Richard Farinato, the director of captive wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States, said Texans started breeding such exotic "hoof stock" as zebras, giraffes and antelopes in the 1950s, then moved on to dangerous cats and other exotic animals.
He attributed Texans' passion for the animals partly to a "Wild West mentality . . . They want something macho. They want something novel. They want something that will scare people, get attention."
Farinato said those who get into trouble with their exotic pets tend to be "the kinds of folks who live in a trailer or a double-wide with a cat in the back."
Big cats and poisonous snakes also are sometimes used to guard drugs.
Lion and tiger owner Suzette Stidom of Harris County said many who want to buy exotic cats cannot afford to feed them. She spends $ 12 a day on chicken parts for her two animals.
"They eat before I eat," she said. "You don't want a couple hungry cats in the back yard."
Stidom said she first got a lion 15 years ago, when she was "a kid" impressed by the novelty. She now owns a female lion and a male tiger that she keeps caged together in her back yard.
The two animals are affectionate with each other, and Stidom said they might mate, creating a "liger." Such crossbreeding is common enough that "liger" has become an accepted term, Farinato said.
"These folks are out there doing all kinds of strange things because, God bless America, it's a free country," said Farinato, who opposes keeping dangerous exotic animals as pets.
Although Boller accuses Stidom of selling exotic cats from her S&S Exotic Animals pet store, Stidom says she doesn't do so because most people cannot care for the animals.
"They end up in the wrong hands nine times out of 10," Stidom said. "You buy this little-bitty cat you think is cute. The thing grows up. Five hundred pounds later . . . "
Instead, Stidom says she sells smaller animals such as monkeys, birds and sugar gliders, a tiny Australian marsupial.
Stromsky and Stidom keep their animals in cages, but Stromsky raised a mountain lion in his house with his three children, and Stidom kept her first lion in the living room while it was growing up.
Both pet and play with their animals.
"I can get in there and play with them, do whatever I want with them," Stidom said. "They're just big babies."
Stromsky even puts his hands in the mouth of Lory, the mountain lion he raised in his house. He said he has helped her give birth twice, putting his hands inside her to manipulate the babies.
"Ain't no veterinarian going to do that," he said.
Animal experts say those who believe they can turn several hundred pounds of wild animal into a docile pet are kidding themselves.
"Those are people with a death wish," Farinato said. "There is no way that that animal is safe."
Akron Beacon Journal
July 24, 2002 Wednesday
Weapons allowed for checks on farm;
Lions, tigers are there; officials inspect conditions
BY: Phil Trexler Beacon Journal staff writer
County officials won the right to bear arms during future inspections of a Copley Township exotic animal farm Tuesday.
The order came despite objections from the animal farm's owner that the measure is unnecessary.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove also gave tentative approval to a waste management plan devised by the owner of the L & L Exotic Farm, who is accused of allowing his 60 lions, tigers and other animals to live in unclean conditions. The plan, however, was met with some skepticism by health officials who worry that owner Lorenza Pearson's idea to better maintain his farm may not work.
Cosgrove set a hearing Aug. 26 to update the waste plan.
In the meantime, Cosgrove's order allows health officials and Copley zoning inspectors to visit Pearson's farm unannounced anytime between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
And over the objections of Pearson's attorney, William Whitaker, an armed Copley police officer will be permitted to accompany inspectors to provide protection against possible attacks by the dozens of lions, tigers, alligators and bears housed at the farm.
Cosgrove delayed a decision on whether to order rabies vaccinations for Pearson's large felines. Whitaker argued that veterinarians have found the inoculations are useless on larger cats.
Anita Davis, an assistant Summit County prosecutor, and health official Bob Hasenyager told Cosgrove that zoos in Akron and Cleveland routinely inoculate their large cats.
The health department has cited the farm as a public health nuisance. In addition, the U.S Department of Agriculture filed 47 charges concerning unclean and unsafe living conditions for the farm's dozens of animals.
Pearson has denied allegations of animal mistreatment.
After the hearing, Hasenyager said a visit to the farm on Monday showed that the cages appeared to be better maintained.
But he expressed some concerns with the waste removal plan.
"I'm pleased with some of the progress," he said. "But there's still no way to collect the liquid waste."
Solid waste removal is occurring six days a week at the exotic pet farm, and Pearson is in the process of constructing a drainage system to carry liquid waste to a holding tank or septic system.
Hasenyager said he is concerned that the design in cages and a butcher shed, used to slaughter animals that are fed to the larger pets, do not include proper grades that would allow liquids to flow into the drainage system.
Pearson, 54, started the exotic animal farm on rural Columbus Avenue 23 years ago. In 1983, Pearson's 2-year-old son was mauled to death by a Bengal tiger. Five years ago, Pearson's 2-year-old grandson was mauled by another animal.
Pearson declined to comment after the hearing.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org Akron Beacon Journal
June 26, 2002 Wednesday 4X EDITION
Copley animal refuge targeted; Health Department, USDA cite conditions
BY: Carol Biliczky Beacon Journal staff writer
A keeper of exotic animals faces a sea of local and federal complaints on the care and keeping of his lions, tigers and bears.
Lorenza Pearson's L&L Exotic Animal Farm has been cited as a public health nuisance by the Summit County Health Department.
And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed 47 charges about unclean, unsafe quarters for the animals.
Pearson, 54, refers all questions to attorney William Whitaker, who disputed all the charges. Whitaker said the animals are well cared for and his client is trying to make improvements.
"He's saved most of these animals from being put to death, from circuses, from people who had them and decided they didn't want them," Whitaker said.
The allegations about unsafe, dirty conditions are "simply not true" he said.
But Health Department spokesman Bob Hasenyager said the concerns are real -- that the animals could spread disease or escape and harm nearby residents.
"I believe he thinks he's doing a good thing for the animals. But he's in over his head," Hasenyager said.
According to Pearson's Web site, he started the exotic animal farm on rural Columbus Avenue 23 years ago.
Now, officials say, the site is home to 60 lions, tigers, leopards, black bears and other animals that live in cages behind Pearson's home or in some cases have lived in his home.
Over the years, the refuge has been in the news -- in 1983, when Pearson's 2-year-old son was mauled to death by a Bengal tiger that lived in the Pearson home; and five years ago, when Pearson's 2-year-old grandson was mauled by another animal.
When Township Police Chief Michael Mier organized a community meeting last year, he found that Pearson's neighbors had been complaining among themselves for years about the odors, noises and the occasional wild animal that would wander off -- one neighbor found Pearson's alligator in his back yard, for instance.
None had filed police reports in recent years, Mier said. Still Mier organized an inspection by township, county and federal officials last fall. He said they were appalled by what they found -- animal skeletons strewn about the property and a pool of blood in the shed that Pearson used to butcher horses and cows for his menagerie -- an operation that Whitaker, Pearson's attorney, said his client since has stopped.
Hasenyager said the animal waste dumped in trash receptacles wasn't cleared often enough, there was no good way to clear urine from the cages and Pearson has provided no evidence that the animals have been vaccinated.
This spring, the county Health Department also learned that three children -- ages 4 months, 11 and 13 -- lived in the Pearson home, a small frame building with a boarded-up window and roof that appears to be falling down.
The Summit County Children Services Board took the children from the home and placed them with a relative, CSB spokeswoman Louise Miller said.
Whitaker, Pearson's attorney, said the Health Department is using the children as a club to force Pearson to comply with its orders. He said his client is anxious to get his children back.
But matters have only gotten worse for Pearson since the children were removed.
On June 13, the health board declared Pearson's property a public health nuisance and gave him 10 days to clean it up or face court action. Pearson since has filed an appeal and a hearing is pending.
On June 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed 47 administrative charges against Pearson for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
The USDA had a litany of complaints -- that some cages weren't big enough for the animal to move around, were dirty, weren't structurally sound and that animals weren't provided with wholesome and uncontaminated food and water, among others.
The USDA oversees Pearson's farm because he uses the animals for exhibition purposes and takes them to schools, clubs and the like, USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said.
In the last three years, USDA inspectors have come to the Copley Township farm 15 times -- seven times in 2001 alone, an unusually high number of visits, given that the agency works on a merit basis, Rogers said.
He said USDA inspectors visit problem properties more often than compliant ones to ensure that concerns get fixed.
If the USDA finds Pearson guilty, it could fine him $2,750 per count per animal per day and revoke his license for exotic animals. If the Health Department finds him guilty, he also may have to get rid of them.
None of the animals could be reintroduced into the wild because they couldn't fend for themselves, Hasenyager said.
Pearson seems to acknowledge some of the problems in his Web site.
It says that the farm is not open to the public "because we are doing all we can just to keep up with the incoming (flow of animals) and have not had the opportunity to perfect the grounds for easy accessibility and visual pleasant appearances."
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or email@example.com
The Times (London)
March 6, 2002, Wednesday
Berlin: Children saw a 21-year-old female keeper mauled to death by three South American jaguars in a cage at Schonbrunn Palace Zoo, in Vienna. Kelmut Pechlaner, director of the 250-year-old zoo, was badly mauled on the arm when he tried to save her.
St. Petersburg Times
August 21, 2001, Tuesday
Exotic animal ranch cited for two cages
BY: SAUNDRA AMRHEIN
The owner of an exotic animal ranch where a Hernando County man was mauled to death by a tiger last month has been cited by the state for the condition of two cages that were either too small or held weak wiring.
However, the violations found at Savage Kingdom in Sumter County were unrelated to the July death of Vince Lowe, killed when a Siberian tiger crashed through a hole in the fence between his cage and the adjacent one being repaired by Lowe. The tiger attacked Lowe's neck and killed him as the longtime cat lover and park volunteer raced to cover the hole. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials inspected the park on Aug. 1, the day after Lowe's death. Though they did not find any violations related to Lowe's case, the visit resulted in two citations Friday related to problems found with another tiger cage and a cougar cage out of about 20 cages checked.
The tiger cage was determined to be too small for the animal, while wiring on the roof of a cougar cage was deemed too thin and weak.
"The wire could definitely be construed as a safety issue," said Lt. Rick Brown, wildlife inspector for the commission. The inspection also revealed rotting timbers and rusting wire.
The citations, issued Friday against owner Robert Baudy, 77, amount to second-degree misdemeanors, each punishable by up to a $ 500 fine and 60 days in jail, Brown said. A court date in Sumter County Court has not been set for the park, which houses tigers, cougars, leopards and bobcats.
Baudy could not be reached for comment Monday.
Brown said his agency did not cite Baudy in Lowe's death, concluding that the accident was due to "keeper error," because Lowe could have placed the tiger into a safer cage while he repaired the others.
"In that particular incident, there were four lockdown (cages)," he said. "Number four was in better condition and could have more properly contained that tiger. But for whatever reason, Mr. Lowe elected to use lockdown number three."
Lowe and his assistant were working in neighboring cage number two.
But Lowe's assistant, Lesa Lucas, who worked with Lowe that day and witnessed his death, said Monday that there were good reasons not to put the tiger in the fourth, most remote cage. She said Baudy told her and Lowe that the fourth cage was shut down because there were too many repairs to be made.
The two were replacing doors used by tigers to pass from their cages to an exercise area.
Those doors were nailed shut in the fourth cage. But the state says the door between cages three and four worked. But Lucas said she and Lowe were following Baudy's orders.
"We were to leave four shut down," she said. "That means you don't want a cat in there. You don't shut down your best cage."
Far from being in better condition than the third cage, the fourth one had wooden planks sticking out of the floor, she said.
"I don't give a damn if they shut (Baudy) down or not," she said. But she quickly added, "I don't want them to shut him down, but I want the truth told and I want Robert to bring those cages up to (code)."
Copyright 2001 Times Publishing Company
St. Petersburg Times
August 07, 2001, Tuesday, 0 South Pinellas Edition
Deadly attack haunts tiger owner
Robert Baudy, owner of the Savage Kingdom exotic animal ranch, ran to the tiger pen after hearing an assistant scream. Shotgun in hand, he didn't think twice about using it.
"It was my duty," said Baudy, who has worked with dangerous felines for decades. "The animal was in a fury. Its eyes were pure gold and the hair on his neck was standing straight up. That's a sign that a cat is out to kill." Baudy says he will be haunted the rest of his life by the image of his dying friend, Vince Lowe, who was mauled to death last week at the Sumter County ranch.
If only, Baudy told the Times Monday, Lowe had listened to his advice while fixing the cage that held the 500-pound Siberian tiger, Tie.
"I felt terrible. I lost two friends that day: Vince and the tiger," said Baudy, 77. "But he did not follow my instructions. I said to isolate the cat, and move it to the end cage. They did not do that."
Instead, Lowe and his assistant moved the tiger to a middle cage, one of at least four inside the wooden tiger pen they were repairing. The tiger saw a hole in the cage just as Lowe, 49, rushed to cover it. The beast tore his way out of the cage and grabbed Lowe by the neck.
The assistant who witnessed the attack, Lesa Lucas of Ridge Manor, says the pair had tried to move Tie to the end cage but the cage doors were nailed closed.
Lucas has said that was just one of several things wrong with Savage Kingdom, which she calls unsafe.
Just before the attack, she says federal inspectors found 17 things wrong with the 40-acre property. In fact, she says that is why she and Lowe were there that day: to fix the problems before the U.S. Department of Agriculture returned.
But Baudy and USDA documents don't support Lucas' account.
Baudy acknowledges that his compound is aging, but he says the doors to the furthest cage were never nailed down.
"If they couldn't open it, then how did the (inspectors) open it right up?" he asked. "I've about 20 inspectors out here. It was like the Spanish Inquisition."
State inspectors said they found no violations at Savage Kingdom that contributed to the mauling. But state regulations do not address internal cages. Federal officials are still conducting an inquiry and have not released their findings.
A federal inspection report from six days before the attack, however, shows only minor problems were found at the breeding facility. They included cobwebs and feces in the cages and the lack of a property pest control plan.
This is the same report Lucas said contained a litany of violations. When asked about the discrepancy between her version of the report and the one released to the St. Petersburg Times, Lucas stuck by her story but declined further comment on the advice of her attorney.
Baudy says he is saddened by Lowe's death, but not necessarily surprised. He said that although Lowe was a good man and a hard worker, he could be cocky when dealing with large felines.
At the time of the attack, Lowe had been working at Savage Kingdom to earn a certification that would allow him to handle the most dangerous of animals, such as tigers, gorillas and elephants.
He was already licensed to own smaller cats, and he often mentioned how he wrestled with them and allowed his favorite Florida cougar, Fubar, to nap with him on his couch. Scuffles with Fubar over the years had broken his nose, torn his lip and nearly forced the amputation of his arm.
"He used to brag about the scars he had from his own cats. He told me, "You have sissies working around here. You need a real man,' " Baudy recalled. "I said, "They may be sissies, but they have all their fingers.' "
After a pause, Baudy continued:
"The worst kind of help are people who think they know something just because they have a few cats of their own. It's better to have people who don't know anything . . . other than fear."
August 2, 2001; Thursday
Volunteer Praised in Tiger Incident
A volunteer at an exotic animal park pushed a co-worker to safety before he was mauled to death by a tiger.
Vincent Lowe, 49, and Lisa Lucas were repairing a cage next to a 550-pound mixed-breed Siberian tiger, named ''Ti,'' when it broke through a section of weakened fence at Savage Kingdom. ''The cat just pushed through the chain and grabbed Vince's neck and threw him,'' Lucus said.
An autopsy found Lowe suffered a broken neck with severe gash wounds and broken ribs.
Robert Baudy, owner of the animal park, shot the tiger after the attack.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture had ordered the doors be replaced on five holding pens, and the tiger became restless as Lowe and Lucas made the repairs.
Lowe rapped the cage with a crowbar to settle the tiger, allowing a few boards to fall away and open a hole, Lucas said.
The Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 25, 2002, Thursday, BC cycle
Lexington County neighbors worry about lions
Several people in Lexington County are calling for a law against exotic animals after two lions got out of their pens.
No one was hurt when the lions escaped a few weeks ago, but neighbors like Spencer Saylor say they will protect themselves the next time. "I would defend myself with a shotgun," he said.
The owner of the lions, Abbie and Charles Cochran, pleaded no contest Thursday to animal control violations and were fined about $465. They also agreed to find the cats a new home.
The couple admitted they left the lions' pen unlocked and the cats were able to escape.
Neither Lexington County nor the state has ordinances regarding exotic animals. County Animal Services Director Joe Mergo is researching exotic animal laws elsewhere and will present County Council with his findings in the next few weeks.
A bill banning exotic animals failed to make it out of the Legislature this year. Rep. J. Adam Taylor, R-Laurens, said he will modify his proposal to require owners of the animals to get permits.
Copyright 2002 The State
All Rights Reserved
The State (Columbia, SC)
July 26, 2002 Friday FINAL EDITION
Woman fined for letting lions loose; Couple say they plan to relocate lions away from worried neighbors
APRIL SIMUN Staff Writer
A Lexington County woman was fined $465 in court Thursday for allowing her two lions to get loose from their pen in the Sandy Run community.
Abbie Cochran and her husband, Charles Cochran, said that because they've gotten so much attention, they're seeking to find a new home for the lions within about a month.
They didn't say where that new home would be. And they didn't mention the two cougars, two bobcats and African wildcat called a serval that county authorities also found at their home. Neither the county nor the state has laws that prohibit residents from keeping lions or other exotic pets. But there are rules requiring pets to be restrained.
County animal services director Joe Mergo told Judge W.G. Shockley that the 11/2-year-old female lions were loose for about 45 minutes the morning of June 30. The Cochrans pled "no contest," a plea that's treated as a guilty plea but with which defendants don't admit guilt.
Shockley said he'd set a fine of $232.50 for each lion instead of the maximum $1,062 and 30 days in jail for each lion because he wanted the balance to go toward securing the lions' pen.
"If those animals get out again, I'm going to get real excited, if you follow what I mean," he said.
Many of the Cochrans' neighbors already are excited.
Bobby Lucas, who owns land nearby, said he drove up one day and saw the lions free.
"I thought it was two big dogs," he said. "But it turned out to be two lions."
Lucas said he worries for the safety of his two great-grandchildren.
"It's too late when they've done killed a child," he said.
Charles Cochran told the judge that the lions escaped to land owned by neighbor Betty Jean Hill. Hill wasn't allowed to speak in court but said afterward that she doesn't mind the lions.
"I have no problems with them on my property," she said. "The cats have not harmed anybody. This thing just got blown out of proportion."
Mergo said lions must be restrained, even if other landowners permit the lions on their property.
The fine is in line with penalties for loose dogs and other pets, he said. Mergo plans to present County Council in September with options for regulating exotic pets in the county.
The Cochrans declined to comment outside of court.
Reach Simun at (803) 771-8435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2002 Nationwide News Pty Limited
The Gold Coast Bulletin
March 7, 2002, Thursday
BIG CAT HORROR; Jaguars kill young zookeeper
A 21-year-old zookeeper was killed by three jaguars at Vienna's Schoenbrunn Zoo yesterday as horrified visitors looked on helplessly. The young woman was preparing the animals' feed when they attacked. During that time, the jaguars are normally locked away from the keepers.
Deputy zoo director Gerhard Kasbauer said it was not clear how they entered their main compound.
The dead zookeeper was experienced with dangerous animals. She had worked at Schoenbrunn for six years and for three years with the big cats.
Copyright 2002 Financial Times Information
All rights reserved
Global News Wire
Copyright 2002 New Zealand Press Association
New Zealand Press Association
March 7, 2002
ZOOKEEPER KILLED BY JAGUARS
Vienna, March 6 DPA - A mistake by a 21-year-old woman zookeeper cost her life in an attack by three jaguars, investigators said today.
The young woman preparing food for the animals at Vienna's Schoenbrunn Zoo yesterday apparently did not notice that a trapdoor had been left open. Zoologist Harald Schwammer said at a news conference that for unknown reasons she entered the cage for a second time.
The three jaguars came through the trapdoor from another compound, attacked and killed her instantly, said Schwammer.
Zoo director Helmut Pechlaner and his assistant Peter Linkhart rushed in a courageous attempt to save her, but were too late.
Pechlaner was injured in his rescue attempt when one of the big cats struck out, hitting his left hand.
Surgeons at Vienna General Hospital operated on the mauled hand for more than three hours.
A medical bulletin today said his condition was good under the circumstances, but he had suffered serious injuries to nerves and blood vessels. There was still danger of infection.
Yesterday afternoon, the jaguars killed the young woman as horrified zoo visitors looked on helplessly, separated by a glass panel just a few metres away.
Many fled in terror that the animals were going to escape altogether. Rescue officials called psychologists to the scene to treat several witnesses for severe shock.
Despite her youth, the dead zookeeper had been experienced with dangerous animals.
She had worked at Schoenbrunn for six years. For the past three she had been responsible for all the big cats, and had looked after lions, cheetahs and tigers as well as the three jaguars.
Zoo officials said the jaguars would be kept on despite the fatal attack.