Thursday, February 01, 2001

1991-2001 Big Cat Attacks

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 USA TODAY
September 22, 1995
Lions on the loose shot dead

By: Tom Curley; Carol J. Castaneda

A police posse aided by a helicopter with a heat-sensing device tracked and killed 15 pet tigers and lions Thursday after they bolted from an animal "shantytown" in southeastern Idaho.

The cats, some weighing up to 500 pounds, escaped Wednesday from a private compound near the tiny tourist town of Lava Hot Springs.

The escape prompted many of the town's 420 residents to remain indoors, and the elementary school was closed for fear children would be attacked while waiting at bus stops. Beyond the town's borders, the incident raised doubt about the wisdom of allowing private ownership of wild animals with little or no government oversight.

The cats that escaped were "the size of Shetland ponies with big teeth," said Harry Morse of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Lava Hot Springs resident Katherine Howell, 58, took no chances when she went to work Thursday morning.

"I've got a gun in my purse," said Howell, who works at the hot water springs, which draw about 250,000 tourists a year.

More than 50 sheriff's deputies, SWAT team members and sharpshooters tracked the adult cats with the help of the helicopter. One lion, surprising a game officer, took a springing leap before being shot dead.

Morse said the cats were killed because the deputies didn't have tranquilizer guns. "They feel terrible about having to kill the animals."

The only injuries reported were to the animals' owners, Robert Fieber and Dotti Martin, who were mauled as the cats escaped. They were taken to the Pocatello Regional Medical Center, treated for injuries and released.

The couple, who were unavailable for comment, had as many as 50 African lions, tigers and cross-bred cats in a smelly, rundown compound on the outskirts of Lava Hot Springs. They also raise wolf hybrids.

The compound, known as Ligertown Game Farm Inc., has long been a local eyesore, said resident Paul Miller. "It's just about as bad as any shantytown you've seen on television in South Africa," said Miller.

Local officials said Fieber has a history of run-ins with game officials in Oregon and Idaho over his exotic pets. Police said the couple could face charges over the escape, but wouldn't elaborate.

The animals were being held in a multi-cage compound, enclosed by corrugated aluminum and fencing that ranged from 6 to 10 feet tall. The cats apparently escaped by jumping on a pen and leaping over a fence.

Even before the escape the compound had come to the attention of officials at the U.S. Humane Society.

Richard Farinato, director of captive wildlife protection for the society, said there may be hundreds of backyard zoos across the country, some open to the public. The compound run by Fieber and Martin was not.

"They're all wild animals no matter how you treat them," said Farinato.

Most of the wildlife compounds, if regulated, come under the jurisdiction of county or municipal law. "There are no federal laws that prohibit the keeping of wildlife unless they are endangered species. These were not," Farinato said.

The Plain Dealer
May 30, 1995 Tuesday, FINAL / ALL


An 11-month-old tiger named Duke led police and zoo officials on a four-hour hunt through woods after he escaped from an overturned trailer.

Duke made his dash after a vehicle carrying six lions and tigers overturned Sunday morning alongside Interstate 96, witnesses said. Novi is about 23 miles northwest of Detroit. The big cats were being transported in a trailer hitched to a van belonging to Curious Critters, said state police Sgt. John Moore. The organization rescues wild animals from people who keep them domestically.

The animals were rounded up immediately, except for Duke. Duke, who had been declawed, was described as "very docile."

A Detroit Zoo official shot Duke with a tranquilizer gun before he was loaded into a truck.

The Dayton Daily News
February 4, 1994 FRIDAY,


BY: Janette Rodrigues, DAYTON DAILY NEWS

Remember Shere Khan, the traveling tiger that got loose last summer?

Well, he was at it again.

The Bengal-Siberian tiger mix created a stir at a Dayton garage Thursday after he was spooked by a nearby fire. The cat jumped through the broken window of the trailer where he was being kept temporarily and went for a short walk down a country road.

Last summer, a Dayton police officer sweet-talked Shere Khan into the back seat of his cruiser after the cat escaped from a horse trailer.

Shere Khan's owner, Rickey Dukes, said he was taking the tiger from Cincinnati to his Xenia farm when the bus he was driving experienced transmission trouble.

He stopped at Waker Hauling, 2710 Vance Road, when fire broke out in a garage at 5:49 p.m. A worker moved the cat from the bus to the trailer to get it away from the fire. The tiger then broke out of the trailer.

Dayton firefighters arrived, keeping one eye on the fire and the other on the cat.

"We didn't know about the tiger when we got here," fire Capt. Larry Plyman said. He told firefighters to stay close to their trucks.

Dukes said the now-550 pound feline traveled about 100 yards down the road before being caught.

"It went to the car, which he knows, and laid down," said Dukes, who said he led the tiger to a van.
Orlando Sentinel Tribune
October 12, 1992 Monday, 3 STAR

A runaway pet Bengal tiger eluded search parties Saturday despite a few sightings and the help of a National Guard helicopter. The 300-pound cat was raised by humans and has been declawed. Authorities doubted it would threaten people, but a woman said her dog was left bloody after tangling with it. Authorities have cautioned parents to keep a close watch on children playing outdoors until the cat is captured. The tiger escaped Thursday from a cage in nearby Grants Pass.

UK Newsquest Regional Press - This is Wiltshire
March 25, 2002
Is a panther on the prowl? .

BY: Wantage staff reporter

A TRAIL of mauled animals has led to more claims about a ferocious mystery creature roaming near Swindon.

In February, Minety farmer Peter Scott reported that a large animal had killed and maimed his sheep, leaving five of them dead.

In the latest incident a Baydon farmer left a dead pig in his farmyard overnight, to find it had been stripped to the bone the next morning.

He told police the attack had all the hallmarks of a big cat attack.

Since 1991 more than 40 sightings of what people have described as a large black cat have been made in villages around North Wiltshire, including Crudwell, Oaksey, Charlton, Lea, Little Somerford, Brinkworth and Dauntsey.

Another sighting in Long Charlton, by a mother and daughter in November 1996, also backs up theory.

They said they were driving along and saw a huge black cat in the road, so they stopped. It was the biggest cat they had ever seen.

Terry Hooper runs the Bristol based Exotic Animals Register, which logs these sightings. He said: "They are almost definitely big cats such as panthers and lynxes.

"The police have been taking the reports of these animals very seriously, and have logged at least 30 sightings.

"We know panthers have been in the Wiltshire area as we have done DNA tests on their hair and droppings which confirm this.

"We have had recent reports of baby lynxes in the Pewsey area.

"Until 1976 there was no legislation to regulate the keeping of large animals, so after this people who kept private zoos and menageries just let them go.

"Recent sightings of these animals are probably sixth or seventh generation."

Terry, who has been logging big cat sightings since 1975, believes they present no risk to human life.

"If someone confronts one they should simply walk slowly backwards, but the animal will probably run off anyway. You should not panic and run away screaming, as this is what their prey would do and they would be bound to attack."

An RSPCA spokesman said: "We have known of cat owners who bought pumas and leopards as kittens and have underestimated their size and appetite when they are fully grown.

"When they realise they cannot look after them they have simply taken them to a forest and let them go. The animals are natural predators and have attacked sheep, cows and foxes in order to survive."

Former Malmesbury WPC Liz Ashworth said: "I went up to a case involving a still born calf, which was dragged yards across a field and eaten. The vet called the police as he couldn't think of any animal that could do that, not even a pack of foxes."

Anyone who sees a big mystery cat should call Terry Hooper on 0117 902 4807 or the Advertiser newsdesk on Swindon 528144.

The Sunday Herald
January 20, 2002

'Whatever it was I don't know. But this was no pussycat'; They were once dismissed as myth, the products of vivid imaginations. Now, with the latest mauling of a woman, there are fears that a growing number of big cats are roaming wild in Scotland

BY: By Alan Crawford Highland Correspondent

It was black as pitch by the time Doris Moore finished attending to her horses. A bitter cold had descended on the Aberdeenshire countryside and she was treading carefully over the 20 yards of ice from the steading to her car when she felt a tugging at the bottom of her trousers.

"I just heard this 'whoosh' and something got hold of the straps around my ski -pants and ripped them. It jumped on me just as I opened the car door and plunged its teeth into my leg. Oh my God, the pain was excruciating. I was hitting it with my keys, I just had to get it off," she recalled last week, still visibly shaken by the experience.

Emotional scars are not the only reminder she has of the incident - an angry bruise and three distinct puncture marks - each some 10cm apart - on her upper thigh are a more tangible legacy of her encounter with the mystery animal lurking in the dark. "Whatever it was, I don't know," she added, as she fidgeted nervously in the front room of her cottage. "But this was no pussycat." In those few brief seconds of last Friday night Moore, of Craigieford, near Insch, became the latest convert, albeit an unwilling one, to the cult of the big cat.

Reports abound over the last 10 years or so of at least one big cat stalking rural Aberdeenshire. Descriptions of its appearance tally - black and sleek, the size of a labrador but leaner and definitely cat-like, with long whiskers and a longer tail.

So prevalent are reports of sightings and of slaughtered sheep, that in the mid -1990s it was even given a name, the Beast of Bennachie, after the distinctive hill that dominates the part of Donside in which the cat is invariably spotted.

What differentiates Moore's experience from other reports is that she was attacked, giving her the dubious accolade of witnessing first-hand the only such incident in Scotland.

The attack has prompted the SNP MSP for north-east Scotland, Richard Lochhead, to request an investigation into the growing phenomenon of big cats be ordered by rural development minister Ross Finnie.

"Big cats are being sighted on a regular basis within a particular geographical area," he said. "Surely some resources have to be dedicated to find out what is actually out there, not only to put the public's mind at ease but to further our knowledge of Scotland's wildlife."

Moore would like nothing more than to be put at ease. She says she has been widely ridiculed for her account, even though it has been backed up by her elderly neighbour, Wilfred Simpson, who was with her that night.

He described "a sleek, black beastie" that disappeared around the corner of the stables. "She has been quite badly affected by the attack. I think she's scared to go out on her own," he said.

Moore is not alone in her belief that she witnessed a big cat. Across the UK, people have reported sightings of animals variously labelled as puma, leopard, panther or lynx.

Last May a big cat was spotted prowling on open land near Torphins in Aberdeenshire, followed by sightings the same week on the outskirts of Aberdeen. The following month, an Inverness engineer working in woods near Huntly spotted a large, puma-like animal with a long tail that curled at the tip.

The issue was even raised in the House of Commons in 1997, when Alex Salmond informed the then Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth, of big cat attacks on farm animals in his Buchan constituency. Phil Gallie has written to justice minister Jim Wallace on behalf a constituent concerned about big cat sightings in Ayrshire.

Elsewhere, mountain rescue teams have reported seeing large cat tracks in the snow, while gamekeepers have taken pot shots at big cats. A puma was even captured at Cannich near Inverness in 1980.

Tame and refusing to eat anything other than cat food, the puma, later named Felicity, lived out her days at a wildlife park. She can now be seen stuffed in Inverness museum.

The case of Felicity points to one explanation for the rise of sightings of cat -like beasts. Spokeswoman the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) Doreen Graham traces the phenomenon back to legislation introduced in the 1970s.

"Up until 1976 you could have kept a puma or a lion, but then the government introduced the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, which stated that you had to meet certain requirements on cages and so on. A lot of owners decided that was going to be expensive and turfed their pets out.

"If we have big cats - and I believe we do - then you are looking at the second generation, and I believe they're breeding," she warned.

Interbreeding is the genesis of one possible candidate for the "beast", the Kellas cat, named after the Morayshire village where it was first sighted, and also known as the cait sith or fairy cat.

Jet black and growing to the size of a labrador, the Kellas is the result of hybridisation between native wildcats and feral cats. Elgin museum has a fine example, stuffed.

Moore, who has seen Kellas cats, insists that it was not one of their number that attacked her. However, Allan Paul, who looks after four wildcats at his home in Morayshire, says it is very possible that larger beasts released into the wild may be interbreeding with wildcats, Kellas or even feral cats, producing some form of unidentified hybrid.

Experts meanwhile point out that big cats usually patrol territory of some 50 to 70 square miles, which suggests that the "absolutely pure black, sleek" cat seen by artist Karen Emslie in 1995, less than 10 miles from Insch, may just be the same beast that attacked Moore.

"It was dark but I saw it straight away as I drove round the corner. I got a really clear view of it," said Emslie, who now lives in Shetland. "It was long rather than tall, it was the size of a Labrador but definitely longer and cat -shaped. It had a cat head with whiskers. There was no mistaking it for anything else."

Emslie's experience is typical. Alone and without a camera to hand, it is impossible for her to verify her story. Scepticism abounds, yet even the police agree there's something out there.

Grampian Police have had 22 reported sightings of large cats since May 2000, although they reckon just 20% of sightings are reported. "The fact we're getting a number of sightings would suggest there is something, and we wouldn't be the only force that's getting this information," said wildlife liaison officer with Grampian, Dave Mackinnon.

One such witness is Philip Crosby, an internal auditor with Shell in Aberdeen. Crosby is a member of an organisation established last summer called Scottish Big Cats, which is attempting to approach the mystery on a scientific basis, cataloguing incidents and rigorously combing the scant details for conclusive proof.

With two sightings near his Aber-deenshire home already under his belt, Crosby and the Big Cat team maintain large cats, in particular lynx, puma and possibly leopard, could easily live in the remote glens and forests of Aberdeenshire without being seen more often, living off rabbits and smaller deer.

Geese might also prove tasty, accor-ding to Dr Ranald Munro, head of pathology for the Veterinary Laboratory Agency, based in Edinburgh. He has studied numerous carcasses of animals supposedly killed by big cats. All bar one have turned out to be victims of foxes or dogs.

The exception was a goose from a smallholding in Essex, which he examined in 1998. He found the injury to the chest to be "absolutely like a large cat, with claw marks deep into the muscle of the chest". He measured the marks against specimens in the National Museum of Scotland.

"I have to say it was a surprise to me. Usually it's foxes, but in this case the evidence very strongly indicated it was a European lynx, or something very like it." In this light, he said, the Insch incident was decidedly "interesting".

"I think there are sufficient reports that people should have a question mark as to whether these animals are around. There's no particular reason why they shouldn't be but it would be nice to have some concrete evidence such as a dead or decomposing body. They can't just have disappeared into the ether."

Crosby concedes that "until we have absolute proof it will always be down to interpretation". Whatever is out there, Crosby is investing his bonus sightings from last year with trigger cameras and night-vision glasses, all the better to find it.

"I believe somebody's going to get it," he said. "It might not be me, but I don't care. I just want to establish what's out there and get it protected."

Moore too wants it caught, but not harmed. "There are children around here," she said. "I'm just desperate for something to be done about this."


The clues: Sheer volume of sightings and paw prints; introduction of Wild Animals Act 1976, after which it is known that some owners released big cats previously kept as pets.

Additional factors: Existence of Kellas cat, "menacing" black hybrid of wildcat and feral cat which can grow to the size of a labrador; both Kellas and wildcats are extremely elusive animals - so why not a big cat?

Inconsistencies: Farmers and walkers hear howls of big cats when they are on heat, but surely a big cat carcass would have turned up by now; many suspicious sheep killings turn out to have been the work of dogs or foxes.

Bristol Evening Post
April 16, 2001
Did you let your panther loose?

AN APPEAL is being launched to find out precisely how many big cats there are roaming our countryside.

Operation Big Cat, run by Mr Bob Engledow and his wife Lyn, is trying to contact people who owned big cats as pets in the Seventies, when it was still legal. Legislation brought in in 1976 banned the keeping of the animals as pets without a special, expensive licence. It also gave the local authorities the power to "destroy or otherwise dispose" of unlicensed animals.

Mr Engledow is convinced that rather than destroy their pets, many owners would just have released them into the wild - which was perfectly legal at the time.

Vets and other experts have confirmed scores of domestic cattle deaths as being the result of big cat attacks.

Anyone who let their pet jaguar, lynx, panther or any other similar animal into the wild in the 1970s should get in contact with Operation Big Cat, either at operationbigcat@supanet. com or by telephoning (01603) 406 866.

All information will be treated in the strictest confidence.

The Mirror

January 29, 2001, Monday


BY: Mike Lewis

ARMED bounty hunters are prowling the countryside looking to kill the big cats preying on Welsh livestock, it was claimed last night.

And an expert warned they were "playing with fire" by trying to bag the predators. University professor Alayne Perrott said: "The last thing we want is a wounded puma on the loose. It could turn on an adult or child. Pumas are generally harmless to man, but an animal which has been hunted and shot is a different proposition.

"It's time the government realised big cats are living - and probably breeding - in the British countryside.

"I know bounties for dead cats have been offered and hunters are active in west Wales."

Mother-of-one Alayne, 50, who teaches geography at Swansea University, became interested in big cats after husband Alan spotted one near their farm at Nantgaredig, near Carmarthen, four years ago.

But curiosity turned to horror when their horse was attacked and its foal killed.

"The mare had a huge bite on her neck," said Alayne.

"Our vet was aghast and after studying photos, zookeepers said the wound was caused by a big cat attack."

Alayne is going to Idaho in the United States to learn how to track and collar mountain lions

"I'm doing this for my own reassurance," she said.

"It won't be long before we start seeing these types of animals all over Britain.

"The Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 saw a lot of pet pumas turned loose into the wild and now they are breeding."

Last August, an 11-year-old boy cheated death after being mauled by a wild panther in Trellech, south Wales.

Joshua Hopkins was attacked yards from his home. He was clawed in the face and bitten on the head by the 5ft-long beast.

Associated Press
March 22, 1992, Sunday, AM cycle
11-Year-Old Girl Attacked by Lion-Tiger Hybrid

A lion-tiger hybrid mauled an 11-year-old girl who put her hand inside the 400-pound cat's cage on Sunday, stubbornly locking its jaws on her arm until its owner shot it dead.

Katie Leamy of Corbett underwent surgery to repair extensive muscle damage and was expected to regain full use of her arm and hand. She tried to pet the cat during a morning visit with her parents, Pat and Becky, to family friend Ed Winebarger, who kept the hybrid known as a liger in a large cage.

"Katie reached in to pet the cat and the cat grabbed her arm just like a small dog grabs a rope," Mrs. Leamy said. "It was pulling and she was pulling and screaming."

The girl's father reached in but was unable to free her, so Winebarger shot the cat once in the head, killing it instantly.

Leamy said he wasn't worried when his daughter put her hand in the cage because Winebarger also was petting the cat, which had appeared docile in the past.

The liger was described as mostly light brown, with tigerlike stripes on its back and down its legs.

Doug Carpenter, a Multnomah County animal control officer, said Winebarger lacks a permit to hold exotic animals.

Corbett is about 20 miles east of Portland.