Monday, January 01, 2001

2001 Big Cat Attacks

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
December 20, 2001 Thursday

Owning wild animals usually a bad idea

By Bert Smith

Texas recently joined most other states in banning certain wild animals such as lions, tigers and bears as pets.

The legislature acted after three incidents in 1999 in which people were severely mauled by big cats, and a pet tiger killed a 10-year-old girl in San Antonio. Several cities, such as Dallas and Arlington, already prohibited certain wild animals as pets, but the new state law gives those local ordinances more teeth. More counties in Texas are now expected to pass their own laws prohibiting wild animals as pets. Here in Jefferson Parish, the law regulating wild and exotic animals as pets has been on the books for years. It defines a wild animal as any species that is wild by nature and incapable of being completely domesticated. An exotic animal is one that is not indigenous to southeast Louisiana.

The law exists to protect the animals. Caging a wild animal, especially in a backyard pen, is an act of cruelty. The law also protects people from being mauled or killed by wild animals, as in the recent cases in Texas, and it protects neighbors from the nuisance of living near a wild animal enclosure.

The law in Jefferson Parish divides wild and exotic animals into three groups. In the first group are animals that are not allowed under any circumstances. They include chimpanzees, gorillas, baboons, leopards, tigers, lions, bears, anacondas, all poisonous snakes, and many other kinds of wild and exotic animals. Also strictly prohibited are wolf/dog hybrids. They, too, have been responsible for a number of maulings and deaths of people, usually children.

In the next group are animals that are prohibited unless a prospective owner is granted and pays for a special permit from the parish. Because the law considers these animals a "real or potential threat to human safety," a permit can be extremely difficult to obtain. This group includes monkeys, wolves, wild cats, alligators, coyotes, ostriches and many other animals.

For all animals not in the first two categories, an owner must obtain a no-cost permit from the parish animal shelter. There are some animals exempt from the permit requirements altogether, including gerbils, ferrets, pet mice and pet birds, such as cockatiels, parrots, finches and canaries.

There are also federal and state laws that prohibit or regulate the ownership of wild animals, and owning an endangered animal is against the law, period. For the good of the animals and for the good of the community, it is best to let wild animals stay wild and free.

The Sun
October 13, 2001


A THREE-year-old boy was killed when his grandad's pet tiger ran wild. Matthew Scott was posing for a photo with the 18-stone cat on the porch when it clamped its jaws round his foot and dragged him off.

The animal raced towards its cage, flailing Matthew's head against a gate and tree as it ran.

Grandad Kerry Quinney finally beat the cat into freeing Matthew as horrified mum Charlotte watched. He was airlifted to hospital in nearby Austin, Texas, but died of his head injuries.

He is the third Texan child in two years to be mauled by a pet tiger.

Quinney has two other tigers - but all his permits for keeping wild animals have expired.

The Plain Dealer
March 28, 2001 Wednesday

When it's best to leave an animal in the wild


Baby animals may be cute and cuddly, but exotic and wild species don't make good pets. And confinement is usually not in the best interest of the animal.

In 1983, a 250-pound, 16-month-old pet tiger chased a 2-year-old boy through the family's home and fatally mauled him. The boy's father was indicted by a grand jury but later cleared of wrongdoing because, at that time, no law prohibited keeping exotic animals in that county. The tiger, Solomon, which had been raised as a pet since it was 3 months old, was destroyed.

That boy was Jason Studebaker. His father is Lorenza Pearson of Copley Township, the man from whom Jim Burnette of Olmsted Township acquired another tiger, this one named Tigger.

Tigger mauled and nearly killed a volunteer worker on Burnette's farm last week. Now the 3-year-old tiger will spend his days at a big-cat refuge in Indiana.

In Ohio, a person is not required to have a permit to keep exotic animals unless they are to be on public display or used in a breeding program.

A state law does require a permit for keeping native wild animals, such as black bears, raccoons, skunks and opossums. But no law in Ohio specifies cage size or strength, other requirements for the animals' maintenance, recommended vet care or nutritional needs.

In Burnette's case, Tigger's care was monitored - by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Burnette is considered an exhibitor of animals under the Animal Welfare Act. He also has a black bear, which requires a permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

But spokesmen for the zoo and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources agree that laws concerning the care of wild and exotic animals need to be strengthened.

"Wild animals don't make good pets, whether indigenous or not," said James Petrasek, a legal spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. "When the animals reach sexual maturity, they may be difficult to handle. Most people don't realize how strong they are."

And they are expensive to feed. A male tiger weighing 500 pounds will eat 10 or more pounds of meat a day. The animals also need space to run and exercise.

Bill Beagle, another spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, recalled a black bear that was kept in an abandoned car. Petrasek, who cited instances in which wild animals are being adequately maintained, knew of a black bear that was chained to a corncrib. Joel Porath, assistant wildlife supervisor for the department, remembered a case last year in which a bear was chained to a tree. It escaped three times in one year.

Some exotic animals are exploited in public exhibitions. They wrestle with humans or pose for pictures with people.

And a lot of wild and exotic animals have been shuffled from person to person because they have become problems, said Alan Sironen, curator of mammals at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

"Animals are intelligent," he said. "They need animals of their kind and attention. Most people just want one, and that is a psychological problem for the animal."

Beagle said his office sometimes gets calls about piranhas in the Cuyahoga River. Apparently they were bought as pets, then dumped when the owners tired of them, he said. The piranha is a tropical species that cannot survive Ohio winters outdoors.

Steve Taylor, director of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, estimated that about 1,000 "big cats" live in Ohio, and only 20 are in the five accredited zoos in the state.

The District 3 office of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which covers Cleveland and Akron, issues 1,500 to 1,800 permits for native wildlife annually. The permits are for bears and bobcats, as well as for raccoons and anything else that is native to the state. The animals may not be taken from the wild but may be purchased from commercial breeders.

Often people think when an exotic animal outgrows its home, the zoo will take it. This is not true, Sironen said.

"We don't have the space, and we don't know the breeding and genetics behind such animals," he said. "Sometimes pets don't adjust well to zoos.

"Owning animals is work, whether it's a cat, dog or something else."

Marty Rosen of the Northern Ohio Society of Herpetologists said too often people buy iguanas, snakes and other reptiles without having a clue as to their nutritional and habitat needs. The reptile can end up suffering.

And an adult reptile such as an iguana can cause harm. Slapping its tail, a 5-foot to 6-foot adult can break a finger.

"There is so much wildlife in Ohio," Petrasek said. "If they go out and take their binoculars, they can see wild animals all the time. They don't have to keep them in cages."

E-mail: Phone: 216-999-4554

Copyright 2001 The News and Observer
The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)

January 26, 2001 Friday, FINAL EDITION

Owners' search for exotic cat continues

Where in the world is Nina, Joe and Donna Adrignola's serval cat?

The exotic African feline, missing from the family's Youngsville residence since Aug. 14, was last seen alive Jan. 9, near U.S. 1 and N.C. 96 in Youngsville.

This week, the Adrignolas received a call about an unusual carcass seen Saturday along MC Wilder Road between U.S. 401 and N.C. 39 in Bunn. But they found no carcass when they combed the area.

The couple doesn't know where Nina is or whether she's dead or alive. "It's been kind of frustrating, because we're always a day behind from when she is sighted," Joe said.

Five people have reported seeing Nina prowling around southern Franklin County since August.

The animal has been mistaken for a bobcat, though a serval actually resembles a small cheetah. Nina weighs about 20 pounds, is long and lanky, and has large ears - a standout in an area mostly populated with dogs, deer, domestic cats and cows.

"She's like the Bigfoot of Franklin County," Joe said, "because people have these sightings of something that they didn't know what it was they saw."

Joe Adrignola, 48, a self-employed construction laser repairman, purchased Nina as a 6-month-old cub in September 1999 from a woman at the Carolina Reptile & Exotic Animal Show at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.

With two sons in college and a daughter only a few years from graduating high school, Joe said he knew spending $ 1,800 on the exotic pet was somewhat frivolous. But even his wife could see that it was no use denying him.

"He fell in love with her right away," said Donna, 46.

Nina wasn't an impulse buy, though. Joe had researched serval cats prior to finding her and believed that hers was a species with which he, his family, their four domestic cats and two pugs could live.

"I was always interested in having a larger feline, but not something that I would have to worry about devouring me or anyone else," he explained.

Now Nina is gone, and the Adrignolas don't know if they will ever see their exotic pet again. And even if they do, they shouldn't expect the same animal that left them, said Lorraine Smith, curator of mammals at the N.C. Zoological Park in

Though servals like Nina have been captive-bred in the United States for about two decades, "20 years is not sufficient to domesticate a breed or species," Smith said. "It is something that happens over hundreds of generations."

'You can't train that':

Nina would still follow her natural instincts when she reached maturity at about 18 months old, Smith explained.

"We tell people all of the time that you cannot hand rear or make a pet out of a wild cat species and expect that cat not to react instinctively," Smith said. "She was still going to mature into a wild animal. You can't train that or take that away."

Smith noted an example of this at the zoo: a pair of cougars that came into the facility as pet rescues. They were hand-raised by zoo employees, who fed them, played with them and bonded with them like their natural parents would.

But the mature cougars now prey on birds and animals that get inside their habitat. And like most big cats, they quite obviously stalk small children through their glass enclosure.

Smith said she has seen an increasing number of counties outlaw wild animals, something she thinks needs to be regulated at the state level. That would prevent people from simply
relocating exotic pets that are illegal in one county to an adjoining county where they are allowed.

Wake County implemented laws forbidding "inherently dangerous mammals" - described as bears, wolves or wolf hybrids, and undomesticated cats weighing more than 15 pounds - after a pet tiger mauled a 3-year-old boy in 1995 in Apex.

Currently, Franklin County does not outlaw any type of exotic animals, nor does it require owners of such animals to hold permits. County ordinances state that exotic animals must be in humane, approved enclosures unless they are being transported to
a veterinarian to be sold or to be destroyed. The animals also must be muzzled and leashed when outside of their enclosures.

Though smaller municipalities are able to enact their own animal control laws, Youngsville Police Chief Larry Pritchett said his town has no special laws or license requirements.

"There may need to be," he said. "It may be something we need to look at."

If Nina is still alive, she isn't considered a danger to the public, said Delton Nelms, a Franklin County animal control officer.

Anyone who sees Nina should not try to capture her, though, Joe said. If cornered, she could become defensive.

Nelms suggested that anyone who spots the feline call his office at 496-3032.

A wary beginning:

Donna admitted that she was scared when her husband first brought the feline home.
"I was afraid she would hurt our kids or our animals," she said. "But I think she feared us more."

They were pleased to see Nina bond with Sammy, a domestic cat one month younger than her and three times smaller. The two would ambush and chase each other around the house, playing like ordinary kittens.

"We always joked that Sammy was her favorite toy," Joe said. In fact, Nina had lots of toys, and she particularly enjoyed playing fetch.

Once every day, Nina would erupt in a furry flurry and race around the house, launching herself off furniture only to land gracefully a dozen feet away. Any visitors who were present for these displays were awestruck, Joe said. "[Nina] is kind of like a domestic cat with the game turned up."

She also had a penchant for chewing up styrofoam and liked to swim in the pond on the couple's five-acre lot.

Joe would spend hours outside with her haltered at the end of a leash. Sometimes she would chase butterflies; other times she would just lie in the grass and take in the scenery.

The Adrignolas said that although they have received a lot of support from the community about finding Nina, they have also met with people who do not agree with their choice to keep such an animal confined in a residential setting.

During a visit to a pet store, accompanied by Nina, Donna overheard a girl comment that she didn't think the cat should be paraded around and that having wild animals as pets is wrong.
"I said, 'Honey, that's not so. The cat has it better than any of us could have it,' " Donna said.

Hearing 'call of the wild': Nina had the run of the house, and the couple felt they
accommodated her as much as possible. They took her on beach trips with them and their dogs in the family travel trailer, and they even shared their bed with the serval.

"I'll never forget one night, ... she was leaning with her head under my neck purring," Joe recalled. "I said to my wife, 'And this is a wild animal?' I was just amazed by her, her
personality. She seemed very content with us."

Still, he could tell that Nina was becoming more interested in the outdoors and was getting what he referred to as "the call of the wild."

About a week after she escaped out a sliding door, Joe followed a lead from someone who had seen her.

He found Nina in a field of tall grass. She was playing cat and mouse, he said, retreating a few yards and looking back to see if he was following.

"I saw her turn and look at me and stop, as if she were making a decision," Joe said, "and she turned and went away I said to my son, 'She doesn't want to come home. She doesn't want to be with us. She wants to be out here.'

"I know I want her home, but does she want to be home?," he continued. "Then I say to myself, 'Who is the more intellectual species here?' She can't be outside."

Though Nina's canine teeth measure a formidable 1 inches each, she was declawed before the Adrignolas got her, seriously compromising her self-survival abilities.

When nobody reported seeing her between the months of October and December, the Adrignolas were beginning to think they might never see her again.

If the most recent sighting of the carcass was, in fact, Nina, and a passerby took the body, the Adrignolas would at least like to know so they can have some closure on the issue. They would prefer to give her a proper burial.

Joe's greatest wish, of course, is for a safe return. And if Nina does come home, he will do his best to make her happy.

"I would be willing to invest in a nice, big enclosure for her if that is what would make her most comfortable," he said. "At this point, I would do anything."

Smith, the curator, said her first recommendation if the family and cat are reunited would be for them to donate her to a sanctuary, where she could live out the rest of her days with other servals under professional supervision.

Wild animals are unpredictable, Smith said. They have a lot of impulses that can't be obliterated by human involvement, regardless of good intentions.

"I understand that [the Adrignolas] really wanted to rescue this serval. They tried to do the right thing," Smith said. "[But] we really need to regulate exotic pets in North Carolina. What if it had been a tiger? People would be much more frightened
and at greater risk.

"I try to remind people we euthanize several million dogs and cats every year. If you really want to rescue an animal, that's a great way to go."