Lost Creek Tiger Kills Teenager
On August 18, 2005 a 17 year old girl, posing for yearbook photos with a tiger was mauled to death.
Pound for pound, tigers are 12 times stronger than a man. A leash is not an effective way to restrain a tiger.
Real sanctuaries do not allow contact between dangerous animals
and the public.
You can stop this madness by speaking out for better laws HERE.
At right, Lost Creek's owner Doug Billingsley, walks tiger on leash.
Udall couple mourns loss of grandchild mauled by a tiger
By DAKOTAH M. DAVIS
Special to the Traveler
An attack by a tiger that left their 17-year-old granddaughter dead has a Udall couple intent on developing tougher state and local regulations for exotic animals.
"I hope this startles enough people, our legislators, to pass laws so that these type of animals can be restrained and confined," said Udall's former mayor, Bill Hilderbrand.
The Hilderbrands stopped in Winfield early Friday to speak with a Courier reporter. Later they were heading to Topeka to be with family.
The body of their granddaughter, Haley Hilderbrand, was taken to Topeka for an autopsy shortly after her death Thursday morning at the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary in Mound Valley . Haley lived in Altamont with her parents, Randy and Laura Hilderbrand.
The grandparents said the bright high schooler, who loved cats, was posing for a senior picture with a seven-year-old Siberian Tiger while its handler used a chain to restrain it. At 110 pounds, Haley didn't stand a chance against the 300-pound unpredictable beast, said her grandfather.
"She was a little scared of the tiger," according to Bill, who explained that the two had startled each other as the girl bent down for something. "It lunged and jerked the handler, and it got her by the back of the neck."
Haley's neck was broken, said Bill. A report from the Labette County Sheriff's Department indicates emergency medical teams tried to revive Haley but were unsuccessful. Haley had been "severely bitten," according to the report, and was pronounced dead at the scene by the deputy coroner.
The tiger was put down by sheriff's officers and the tiger's handler, the report said. Its body was taken to Kansas State University for a necropsy.
Hilderbrand's wife, Mary, is currently on the Udall City Council. Over the summer, the board has been reviewing its exotic animal regulations. At least one man in the Udall area is known to have exotic animals. Mary said she didn't know of any problems caused by the animals, which are caged, but the council has been considering stricter rules in case others follow suit.
After her granddaughter's death, Mary feels even more resolved that the public needs to be protected from the tigers, bears and wolves that some people keep as pets. The pair believes all dangerous exotics should be caged and not allowed to roam among people, even if they are on leashes.
"Now (the need for regulations) strikes even more close to home," said Mary. "We don't want anyone to lose anyone. We don't want people to feel what we''re having to."
Mary said state regulations on exotic animals are "awfully lax" and should be strengthened as well.
The Hilderbrands said posing with exotic animals is something that many teenagers have started doing as a way to create novelty senior photos. Bill said he hoped others would now have "second thoughts" before doing the same.
The couple and their family is "still stunned" by Haley's tragic death. Friday they were remembering her pretty smile and how she loved to run.
"All my grandchildren are beautiful and intelligent, but she really was," said Mary.
Doug Billingsly and his family opened the 80-acre sanctuary in 1994, a story by the Associated Press said. According to the sanctuary's Web site, the sanctuary has lions, leopards, bears, white tigers and even a liger, a rare cross between a lion and a tiger.
The Web site also says the sanctuary has an affiliated Animal Entertainment Productions, which trains animals for stage performances, movies, television shows and magic shows.
Those connected to the event have said this was the first instance of a tiger attack on a human at the sanctuary.
"This animal has been around people across the country, and there\'s never been a problem," Sheriff William Blundell said in a telephone interview with the AP.
At the moment, Cowley County does not have any laws that regulate the handling and keeping of exotic animals.
In 2003, Burden became a potential site for an exotic animal farm when Florida residents Vernon Roberts and his then fiancee, Sheree Dobbins, purchased 30 acres of land and planned to set up house with a menagerie including tigers, cougars, a lion, a bear, various reptiles, two baboons, parrots, a coyote and three wolves. The couple's plans caused a great deal of concern among Burden residents, as the property sits just one mile south of the small town.
A Burden source said Friday he believed Roberts is in the process of moving the animals to the property. When he first purchased the land, Roberts said Cowley County was attractive because it had no zoning regulations.
In October 2003, Las Vegas magician and tiger enthusiast Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy was attacked by a seven-year-old white tiger, according to a news Web site. The tiger bit Horn on the neck and dragged him behind a stage as a live audience watched.
The AP contributed to this report.
Tiger mauling prompts crusade
Owners of the exotic could face more rules
By BENITA Y. WILLIAMS
The Kansas City Star"We're not trying to put zoos out of business. We just don't want average Joe owning them (exotic animals).We want strict regulations. We don't feel our local and state people even knew what was going on."
Mike Good, victim's stepfather
Haley Hilderbrand's stepfather says her family had no idea the Kansas girl planned to take her senior picture with a Siberian tiger at the local animal sanctuary.
But had they known, they might not have recognized the peril.
"Our community was unaware of the danger," said the stepfather, Mike Good. "We got accustomed to seeing these pictures with tigers on display."
Haley's photo session ended in tragedy last August, when the tiger suddenly turned on the 17-year-old girl from Altamont , Kan. , killing her instantly.
Now Good is among those pushing for stricter exotic animal regulations, which are to be discussed next month by the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission.
"We're not trying to put zoos out of business," Good said. "We just don't want average Joe owning them (exotic animals). We want strict regulations. We don't feel our local and state people even knew what was going on."
Some exotic animal enthusiasts are troubled by the proposal.
"A lack of regulation has led to some bad ownership and abuse, but what bothers me is that the response is to take away all of their (exotic animal owners') rights, the good people and the bad," said Lynn Culver, a director the Feline Conservation Federation.
No criminal charges have been filed in connection with Haley's death Aug. 18 at Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary and Entertainment Productions in Mound Valley , Kan. Sanctuary owners have denied wrongdoing in their handling of animals.
Haley was a friend of the owners' family and had been to the facility earlier to visit the baby tigers. She was killed posing with Shakka, a 7-year-old Siberian tiger.
Labette County officials called the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission to investigate Haley's death, but the agency was powerless to act because Kansas has no laws regulating the ownership of exotic cats like tigers and lions.
Haley's relatives, and others, want to change that. They are urging stringent state guidelines for those animals. The new rules would apply to lions, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs and leopards, as well as to large native animals currently regulated by the state, including bears, wolves and mountain lions.
Among the proposed requirements:
¦ Owners of exotic animals would ha ve to get annual state permits. To qualify, they first would have to obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture exhibitors' license and undergo annual federal inspections. They also would have to report the number of animals owned, tag the animals and have a plan and the equipment to catch an escaped animal.
¦ Exotic animals could not be kept as pets.
¦ Direct public contact with the animals would be prohibited.
¦ The state could kill an escaped animal that poses a public danger or an animal that the agency de clares feral, or wild, after being at large three days.
Permit fees as high as $500 and mandatory liability insurance of $250,000 also have been discussed. Accredited zoos would be exempt.
Kansas wildlife law enforcement director Kevin Jones said his department had been reviewing the state's regulations for more than a year, but Haley's death stepped up those talks.
"I think it brought to the forefront . that there really are issues with the ownership and possession of these animals," Jones said. "Some didn't realize people could possess them (in Kansas )."
Missouri law requires all dangerous animals, including tigers, to be registered with local law enforcement, but there are no other state criteria for owning exotic cats, said a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.
Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of Conservation sets rules for owning native animals like bears, mountain lions and wolves and prohibits public contact with those animals.
In both states, some local jurisdictions have stricter laws.
Opponents of the Kansas proposals say the rules would unfairly punish responsible owners, whom they say play an important role in preserving many endangered species. They are especially troubled by insurance requirements, and they predict a ban on exotic pets would drive owners "underground," threatening public safety and the animals' welfare.
"If you try to prevent people from pursuing their passion, they will find a way," said Harold Epperson, secretary and treasurer of the Feline Conservation Federation.
Instead, his group prefers to stress education and proper animal housing. They also oppose blanket bans on public contact, arguing that federal rules allow contact with baby exotic animals and some adult animals if a "readily identifiable and knowledgeable employee" is present.
In the episode that killed Haley, authorities said that Lost Creek co-owner Doug Billingsly was holding Shakka by a restraint when the animal attacked. Billingsly's sister, Krista Moreno, has said her brother never let go of the restraint and placed himself between the tiger and Haley.
Eventually the animal had to be shot and killed. A subsequent examination revealed nothing abnormal in the animal, according to Labette County Sheriff William Blundell.
Doug Billingsly and his father, Keith Billingsly, have owned Lost Creek more than 10 years. They held federal exhibitor's permits.
Neither the owners nor their attorney could be reached for comment in recent days.
Sheriff Blundell said the local investigation is inactive. "It's been reviewed by the county attorney, and at this point it didn't warrant criminal charges," Blundell said.
But last month the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed a petition alleging several "willful" violations against Lost Creek and its owners, including not having a proper policy for public contact with animals.
"Specifically, the respondent's standard procedure was to allow the public including teenagers to have direct contact and pose for photographs, with adult tigers based on respondent Doug Billingsly's claimed ability to determine 'what kind of mood the animals were in.' ," inspectors said in their petition.
The petition also alleges that the owners failed to obtain a required agriculture license for their business. Other alleged violations include handling the tiger in a way that led to its death; not allowing federal access to the property three times in 2004 and once in January, and failing to properly house some animals, including bears, tigers and a black leopard.
Department spokesman Jim Rogers said each violation carries potential fines of up to $2,750, multiplied by the number of animals involved and the number of days in violation. The petition is awaiting an administrative hearing.
The Billingslys, in a written answer to the petition, denied any wrongdoing. They said that their licenses were in order, that Shakka was handled safely and that alleged deficiencies in animal housing either didn't exist or were repaired.
They denied keeping inspectors away, saying the officials arrived unannounced, although Lost Creek does not keep set hours.
They also denied violating public contact rules during Haley's photo session.
"The young lady involved with the pictures was not allowed to touch the cat during the photo shoot . The public has never been allowed to touch the cats for safety reasons."
¦ The Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission will discuss stricter controls on exotic animals when it meets at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at Cabela's, 10300 Cabel a
To reach Benita Y. Williams, call (816) 234-7714 or send e-mail to email@example.com
The death of a teen mauled by a tiger, makes it clear: Even when exotic animals seem placid, there is .
Always a danger
By BENITA Y. WILLIAMS and BRAD COOPER
The Kansas City Star
It is common for high school seniors around Altamont, Kan., to arrange their own unique, but tasteful, photos for the yearbook.
Some go to wheat fields. Others pose by streams. Haley Hilderbrand wanted to take hers with a Siberian tiger.
But at the photo session Thursday, Hilderbrand was killed when the animal she was posing with turned and attacked her. She was 17.
Because of the risk, some tiger handlers say Hilderbrand's request was one they never would have granted.
"There's not enough money in the world that would get me to do something like that," said William Pottorff, founder and director of the 11-acre Cedar Cove Feline Conservatory near Louisburg, Kan.
"I've had people call me and offer $800, $1,000 to let them bring their wife out or something and take a picture standing next to one of my tigers. I said, 'Absolutely not.' "
Hilderbrand was mauled to death shortly after 10 a.m. at the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary and Animal Entertainment Productions, which has been owned by Doug Billingsly and his family for more than 10 years.
Billingsly could not be reached for comment Friday, but his sister Krista Moreno said he was distraught.
"He's dying inside," Moreno said. "He wanted it to be him (instead of Hilderbrand). He would have done anything to stop this. . His heart and soul goes out to that family. . It was a freak accident."
The attack occurred as Hilderbrand posed with the 7-year-old tiger, which was being restrained by Billingsly. Hilderbrand, severely bitten, died at the scene.
Moreno said her brother never let go of the restraint during the attack and put himself between the animal and Hilderbrand, whom she described a close family friend.
"He tried desperately for it (the tiger) to turn to him," she said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which licenses facilities such as Lost Creek, opened an investigation into the attack, said agency spokesman Jim Rogers. He said an investigation could take between a couple of weeks and a couple of years, depending on the circumstances.
Rogers said the agency had not investigated Lost Creek before.
The Humane Society of the United States weighed in, calling the mauling "a terrible tragedy."
"No responsible animal handler should put dangerous animals and people together," Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society's president, said in a statement.
A similar view was echoed by the founder and director of the Keenesburg Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center in Keenesburg, Colo., near Denver. At Keenesburg, visitors must stand on a platform 35 feet above ground to view the tigers, bears, wolves and other exotic animals below.
The nonprofit organization maintains a 140-acre preserve with about 25 volunteers, but only founder and director Pat Craig comes in direct contact with the animals.
"Anytime you let the public near a wild animal, it's a recipe for disaster," Craig said. "For any trainer to think he is physically strong enough to restrain a tiger is ludicrous."
The Siberian tiger that mauled Hilderbrand is an extraordinarily powerful animal, built to hunt large animals with its large paws and long claws. It can weigh as much as 800 pounds. Fewer than 400 are living in the wild, mostly in the forests of southeastern Siberia and northern China.
Agriculture Department regulations generally require facilities to maintain sufficient distance or barriers between exotic animals and the public. But Rogers of the USDA said the law permits contact as long as a "readily identifiable and knowledgeable employee" is present.
"When you want to go up and pet an exotic cat and get your picture taken, you can do it," Rogers said, "but you have to meet certain conditions."
Pottorff said tigers can be shy and somewhat apprehensive of strangers. As they grow older, they tend to become more territorial and more protective of their space, he said.
"You just can't let somebody totally new walk up to one like that. It makes them very uneasy," Pottorff said. "I'm surprised the cat didn't take the handler out at the same time. It's the handler that pays the ultimate price in general. It's just the cat's way of saying they don't like the situation."
The first day of school at Labette County High School in Altamont was a sad one.
"It's been a pretty somber mood today," said Chris Kastler, assistant superintendent for the Altamont school district. "I've been to the home. The family is in so much pain and grief."
On Friday, crisis counselors were available to console students at the school, where Hilderbrand had earned letters in track. She ran long distance and had begun practicing with this year's team on Monday. Hilderbrand was on the yearbook staff. She was a member of the Church of the Nazarene in Parsons.
"Haley was a good student," Kastler said. "Bubbly, a pretty little blonde slender girl with a big smile."
Meanwhile on Friday, Hilderbrand's parents planned their daughter's funeral.
"She was a lovely, lovely girl and everybody loved her," said Mike Good, Hilderbrand's stepfather.
Kastler said that in the past, other high school seniors had also taken pictures with tigers at Lost Creek.
"It's become more and more popular," he said. "It's seen as sort of the cool thing to do. I don't think we will have it anymore."
However, Kastler said, the photo sessions are arranged by the families, not the school.
"We'll discourage it," he said. "That's about all we can do."
¦ Keepers of exotic animals say the photo session with a tiger should never have been allowed.
¦ Federal law permits contact with the animals as long as a "readily identifiable and know-ledgeable employee" is present.
¦ Services for Haley Hilderbrand will be at 4 p.m. Monday at Parsons (Kan.) M unicipal Auditorium .
¦ Memorials are suggested to a scholarship at Labette County High School or the Nazarene Youth Ministry or Westside Christian Church in Parsons. All can be sent to Forbes-Hoffman Funeral Home, 405 Main St., Parsons, Kan. 67357. For more information visit www.forbeshoffman.com .
USDA probes tiger attack
Family spokeswoman retells account of girl'sdeadly photo shoot By Ron Knox
and John Hacker
Globe Staff Writers 8/20/05
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched a formal investigation into possible wrongdoing after a tiger killed a girl Thursday at a Kansas animal sanctuary.
The investigation, launched just hours after the incident occurred, will examine whether Doug Billingsly, the director of the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary, providedadequate protection during a photo shoot where a tiger killed 17-year-old Haley Hilderbrand.
"It's the fastest I've ever seen an investigation open,"said JimRogers, spokesmanfor the department.
Depending on the investigation's findings, Billingsly and the sanctuary could face steep fines, loss of their exotic animal exhibition license and possible criminal-law action, Rogers said.
Billingsly and his family said the investigation is not unexpected, and that they are not concerned by what the department's investigative unit might find.
"We've been open for 10 years," said Krista Moreno, Billingsly's sister. "There has never been a single incident like this before."
Moreno, along with her husband, Bobby, and several other of Billingsly's family members are listed as the sanctuary's officers and board of directors, documents show.
In past investigations of this nature, Rogers said, the department examined two issues: whether there were "significant barriers" between the tiger and any person in the area, and whether there was a knowledgeable expert with the tiger and another person.
When asked about the conditions at the scene, Moreno said the tiger was often held with "a thick chain, or a big strap" to keep it away from humans. Moreno said that during the incident, Billingsly was constantly with the tiger. Billingsly had also displayed the animal during conservation presentations at local schools and events.
Debbie Fouts, a neighbor and friend of the Billingslys, said Moreno described to her what happened so she could act as a family spokeswoman and speak with the media.
"My own children had their pictures taken with a different tiger a few years ago," Fouts said as she showed one photo with her two daughters sitting next to a tiger and another with her son standing next to a tiger on a separate occasion. "This is such a tragic accident. This tiger has been trained to be around people and has performed around people all its life. It was a freak accident that we all wish hadn't happened."
Fouts gave the following account of what happened:
Doug Billingsly was holding a chain hooked to the tiger's collar and Hilderbrand was straddling the tiger near the end of the photo shoot when the tiger licked her foot, startling the girl.
Hilderbrand jumped and yanked her foot away and either squealed or screamed, startling the tiger which stood up and knocked Hilderbrand to the ground. The tiger then turned and hit Hilderbrand's head with its paw, possibly breaking her neck.
Fouts said a relative of the girl obtained a gun from the Billingsly home, and shot and killed the tiger.
Fouts said the family told her on Friday that Doug Billingsly is being sedated and keeps repeating the wish that "he could have died in place of Hilderbrand."
"Doug pulled so hard on the chain to try to keep the tiger away from the girl that he ripped the skin on his hands," Fouts said. "I feel such sorrow for this child and her family, and for Doug as well. I know he's hurting, and he's hurting because of all the pain this family is going through. He's hurting because he can wake up and he knows this girl cannot."
Moreno said many of the exotic cats at the sanctuary came from Africa. Department of the Interior documents show Billingsly applied for a permit to import and export tigers in October of 1998, although the sanctuary had been open for four years at that time.
The permit's details were not available Friday afternoon.
The sanctuary was first incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in 1999 under the name Keith Billingsly, who is also listed as the company's secretary, according to incorporation documents.
Keith Billingsly is Doug Billingsly's father.
The Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Department issues both captive-bred and endangered species permits; both would have been required for the tiger. Billingsly paid the department $100 for every animal that required both permits, in addition to a one-time $200 processing fee.
The permits require animals have the proper care and transportation in-transit, information about the animal's origins and assurances from officials in other countries that the animal was not captured illegally, said Pat Fisher, a director with the department.
Both the Fish and Wildlife Department and the USDA regulate how the animal is displayed for exhibitions. Many circus animals require the same permits, Fisher said.
Displaying the animals wasn't the sole purpose of the sanctuary, Moreno said. Billingsly wanted to provide a safe haven for the animals, many of which had been abandoned or otherwise neglected in their home countries.
Moreno said she wasn't sure about the future of the sanctuary, but said the sheriff's department, parks and recreations officers and the game warden all told Billingsly to take a few weeks off from the animals since the girl's death.
"She was a family friend. He tried to put himself between her and the tiger," Moreno said. "Right now, he wishes it were him."
Tiger Kills Kansas Teen Posing for Photo
Thursday August 18, 2005 11:46 PM
MOUND VALLEY , Kan. (AP) - A Siberian tiger attacked and killed a teenage girl who was posing for photos at a family-run animal sanctuary Thursday in southeast Kansas , authorities said.
The Labette County Sheriff's office identified the victim as Haley R. Hilderbrand, 17, of Altamont . A statement from the office said Hilderbrand was at the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary posing for photos with the 7-year-old tiger, which was being restrained by its handler, when the animal turned and attacked her.
Officers and handlers killed the animal. Emergency personnel were not able to revive Hilderbrand.
Doug Billingsly and his family opened the 80-acre sanctuary in 1994. According to the sanctuary's Web site, its animals include lions, leopards, tigers and bears. The site says the sanctuary has an affiliated Animal Entertainment Productions, which trains animals for stage performances, movies, television shows and magic shows.
Billingsly didn't immediately return a phone call for comment.
On the Net:
Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary: http://www.animalentertainment.net
Tiger kills Kansas teen
Mauled while posing for pic
By CORKY SIEMASZKO
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
A Kansas teenager who was posing for her senior year photo with a Siberian tiger at an animal sanctuary was killed when the big cat suddenly clamped its jaws on her, police said yesterday.
Haley Hilderbrand was unable to escape once the 7-year-old animal pounced on her Thursday.
"The handler pulled it off of her," said Sheriff William Blundell of Labette County, Kan. "The tiger was later killed."
The 17-year-old from Altamont, Kan., was rushed to a nearby hospital and died of her wounds.
Blundell said no charges have been filed against Doug Billingsly, owner of the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary in Mound Valley, Kan. "We're still trying to figure out what caused the tiger to attack," he said.
On Monday, all 1,000 residents of Hilderbrand's hometown are expected to attend her funeral at a municipal auditorium in nearby Parsons, Kan.
"It's a terrible tragedy," Altamont Mayor Herb Bath said. "Everybody is friends and family here whether they're related or not."
For years, Labette County High School seniors have gone to the 80-acre animal preserve to pose for pictures with the tigers. Hilderbrand was carrying on the tradition when she was attacked.
Bath said Billingsly also keeps lions and bears on his property. "He's trained the animals, used them on Hollywood movie sets," he said.
Hilderbrand's classmates and teachers were in shock yesterday.
"She was really bubbly," senior Karla Trotnic told The Joplin Globe newspaper. "She always had a smile on her face. She was really outgoing."
A crisis center was set up in the guidance counselor's office for when students return to school on Monday. On the walls were photos of other seniors posing with Billingsly's tigers.
Originally published on August 20, 2005
The HSUS Urges State, Federal Action Following Kansas Tiger Mauling
WASHINGTON - The Humane Society of the United States today expressed profound sadness following the death of 17-year-old Haley Hilderbrand, who was killed by a tiger at a U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed wildlife facility in Kansas yesterday.
"This is a horrible tragedy that should not have happened and The Humane Society of the United States expresses our condolences to Ms. Hilderbrand's family and friends," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. "No responsible animal handler should put dangerous animals and people together. We urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state officials to investigate and take appropriate action to ensure that this does not happen again to another child."
The Siberian tiger who killed Hilderbrand was housed at the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary Foundation and Animal Entertainment Productions located outside Mound Valley, Kan. According to the group's web site, they house 23 tigers, leopards, lions and bears. The sanctuary's entertainment division trains wild animals for stage performances, movie, television, print and magic shows, the web site indicates. Pacelle said that USDA needs to strictly enforce its own 2004 policy that expressly forbids the public from interacting directly with big cats.
"People are naturally fascinated by these wild and dangerous creatures, but that doesn't mean they should have direct access to these powerful and unpredictable animals," said Pacelle. "A spate of recent attacks demonstrates that these animals pose a threat to public safety and should only be handled by highly trained professionals in controlled environments at accredited zoos."
Congress unanimously passed the Captive Wildlife Safety Act in December 2003. The law prohibits interstate shipments of dangerous large cats for the pet trade. Nearly two years after President Bush signed the bill into law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still has not implemented regulations to enforce the law. Pacelle said that enforcement of this existing law combined with strong state laws prohibiting private ownership of dangerous animals can help to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Pacelle also points out that while this facility was licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, residents of Kansas are allowed to keep exotic big cats as pets. Two dozen states have strict rules and prohibitions on keeping dangerous wild animals as pets. Many of these restrictions have been enacted in recent years in response to an increase in the number of people seriously injured and killed by these animals.
"If people are not safe from tigers in licensed facilities with trained handlers, they're certainly not safe when their neighbor might have a big cat in their home, backyard, or basement," said Pacelle.
The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization representing more than 9 million members and constituents. The non-profit organization is a mainstream voice for animals, with active programs in companion animals and equine protection, disaster preparedness and response, wildlife and habitat protection, animals in research and farm animal welfare. The HSUS protects all animals through education, investigation, litigation, legislation, advocacy, and field work. The group is based in Washington and has numerous field representatives across the country. On the web at www.hsus.org .
Tiger owner sought bigger venues for animals
Sanctuary remains closed in wake of investigation into fatal incident
Globe Staff Writer
When Doug Billingsly and his father, Keith, first opened the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary in 1994, the sanctuary was supposed to be exactly that - a small home for wild and domestic animals that had nowhere else to go.
Billingsly was familiar with other, similar sanctuaries, places that served as a model for his conservationist programs. And when speaking about conservation, often at schools and town events, he would talk about the responsibilities of taking care of fur-bearing and feathered friends.
Now the sheer scope of that responsibility is being weighed by federal investigators as they continue to gather and examine evidence after a tiger killed 17-year-old Haley Hilderbrand, an Altamont, Kan. , girl, at Billingsly's sanctuary more than two weeks ago.
Although Billingsly did not return several phone calls to comment for this story, Billingsly's family members have said that the sanctuary will remain closed as they try to recover from the incident.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which inspects and licenses exotic animal compounds, has been gathering evidence to see if Billinglsy used the required restraints during a photo shoot where Hilderbrand was allegedly straddling the tiger.
Billingsly, according to a spokeswoman for the family, was holding a chain hooked to the tiger's collar and Hilderbrand was straddling the tiger near the end of the photo shoot when the tiger licked her foot, startling the girl.
Hilderbrand jumped and yanked her foot away and either squealed or screamed, startling the tiger which stood up and knocked Hilderbrand to the ground. The tiger then turned and hit Hilderbrand's head with its paw, possibly breaking her neck.
A relative of the girl obtained a gun from the Billingsly home, and shot and killed the tiger.
The department requires animal handlers to place "significant barriers" between animals and humans, said Jim Rogers, spokesman for the department.
Rogers said he didn't know when the investigation might conclude. Because the investigation was continuing, no more information was available, Rogers said.
But, by using public documents along with interviews from several of Billingsly's former associates, the Globe was able to provide a glimpse of Billingsly - a conservationist interested in both preserving his big cats and becoming a player in the exotic-animal market.
Seeking broader audience
After some experience with big animals - he kept bears at the sanctuary - Billingsly received his first big cat at the sanctuary around October, 1994, records show.
But as time passed, Billingsly apparently realized that the world of entertainment reached a wider audience - an audience that needed to see the cats to understand the importance of conservation.
"It is quite obvious that something beyond education is required," Billingsly wrote to the Department of the Interior in 1999.
In the late 1990s, Billingsly traveled with a Vegas-style show called Randy Miller's Predators in Action, where cats performed in magic shows. The show traveled to Malaysia , Singapore and Thailand , with Billingsly assisting another handler while Miller stayed in Los Angeles .
During those tours, Billingsly helped lead four of Miller's big cats through the show.
Miller, in a phone interview, said his primary handler always took the necessary precautions with the animals, and showed Billinglsy how to do the same.
"He was taught to have the proper equipment - pepper spray, a cane," Miller said. "If one of the animals gets out of control, it's not a fair fight."
After Miller and Billingsly parted ways, Billinglsy made his way to Las Vegas , where big cats are as much a part of the shows as showgirls and slot machines.
For a time, Billingsly bounced from job to job, said Keith Evans, owner of Lion Photo Studios, where guests can get their pictures taken with big cats.
Evans said Billingsly worked for him for three months in 1999 between other jobs around Vegas. He worked in the lions' habitat at the studio, caring for the cats.
Evans said Billingsly never worked with the animals during the photo sessions.
Back home, records show the sanctuary incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation, with Billinglsy as the director and his father Keith as the secretary, signing all of the checks and money orders Billingsly needed for his federal permits. Records show the shelter held three African lions and six tigers ready to be bred.
In the fall of 2002, Art Frewin, a magic and theater promoter, got a call from a friend in Las Vegas .
An old friend told him about a kid who was out there working with big cats. He needed some work, she said, and he seemed like he knew what he was doing.
"It was a mutual friend of ours," said Jerry Frewin, Art's wife. "He said he needed money for this project. He seemed like a nice enough kid."
Jerry Frewin said Billingsly wanted a place where he could find a steady audience for tigers on tour. The couple, who live in Ontario , thought Canada might work.
By 2002, Billingsly's Mound Valley collection of cats and other animals had grown exponentially. He had 14 tigers, five lions, 10 bears, a liger (offspring of a male lion and a female tiger) and two other cats at the sanctuary.
Billingsly had also began to trade big cats in large quantity. During the year he planned his tour of Canada , he traded seven tigers to a place in Mathis , Texas , called Wayne 's World Safari. That same year, Billingsly also sent three tigers back to Vegas, to a magician and showman named Rick Thomas.
Billingsly gave Art Frewin the power of attorney in August of 2002, with Sharon Billinglsy serving as notary, so that Frewin could help set up the Canada trip and negotiate in the often complex world of importing and exporting exotic animals.
Two weeks later, Frewin sent a letter and an informational packet to the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service explaining the Canadian tiger tour.
"Our intent is to try to determine if there is enough support to establish a Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary Foundation in Canada ," Frewin wrote.
The applications Frewin sent included a younger tiger and an older tiger to accommodate different-sized events around the country.
But the department never got the chance to approve the tour. By the end of 2002, Frewin said her husband had dissolved their relationship for business reasons.
Billingsly quickly turned to other projects. He had made appearances on television and his cats had found their way into movies and shows around the country.
Then, that same year, Billingsly began lending animals to Gianni Mattiolo, a fairly well-known animal exhibitionist who tours cats around Europe and Asia .
Mattiolo took one tiger from Billingsly in 2002, complete with all of the appropriate Department of the Interior permits.
In November that year, Billingsly applied to send two more cats to Italy with Mattiolo. But when the department received the application, some parts were missing, including the application money, the department said.
Trade lawyers representing Billingsly at the time corresponded back and forth with the department, and finally Billingsly and Mattiolo had to re-apply for the permits in January 2003.
By November 2003, Mattiolo had the cats. But the department apparently never had the permits.
"We have no record of a permit being issued that would authorize the transport of these specimens to Italy ," Tim Van Norman, the department's permit chief, said in an April 2004 letter to Billingsly.
Billingsly's lawyer at the time said he didn't remember how the issue was resolved, but a search of the federal registry shows only the application, not the permit.
"It certainly doesn't appear by the public record that there was ever a resolution to this issue," John Kalitka, Billingsly's former attorney, said in a phone interview.
Kalitka now works in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The department took no formal action against Billingsly.
After that, Billingsly's rotating stock of big cats slowed down. In 2004, he loaned out four cats, while he oversaw the birth of three others, records show. He stopped breeding lions and all but two bears, and his tiger breeding leveled off.
During 2004, Billingsly remained in contact with Mattiolo, scheduling another transfer of cats to Italy - a tiger and two leopards - for this summer.
But at the sanctuary in quiet Mound Valley , two days before the tigers were supposed to leave, a startled cat reached out and killed Haley Hilderbrand.
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Family, friends of tiger victim plead for animal restrictions
By Chris Green
Harris News Service
TOPEKA - Relatives and friends of a Labette County teenager killed by a tiger
last year urged legislators Tuesday to enact tight restrictions on private
owners of dangerous exotic animals.
A bill before the Senate Ways and Means Committee would force owners of large,
wild cats and bears to maintain a license from the federal agriculture department.
The animals would be barred from contact with the public.
In emotional testimony, Haley Hilderbrand's mother and stepfather told the
committee that changes in the bill would help prevent future attacks.
"I hope that no one ever again has to inform his or her family of a death
or injury caused by a dangerous exotic animal," parent Mike Good said.
Hilderbrand, 17, was mauled while posing for a senior portrait with a Siberian
tiger at the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary in Mound Valley.
Her parents, Mike and Ronda Good, said she probably was unaware that there
was any danger from the tiger, which was being restrained by a handler.
Hilderbrand's grandfather, sisters, church pastor and high school friends
also testified in support of the legislation during the nearly two-hour hearing.
The bill before the committee would place restrictions on the ownership of
lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, mountain lions and bears, along
with hybrid-breeds of those animals.
Animal owners would be forced to meet federal caging and care guidelines.
They'd also be required to notify the public and local officials about their
animals; carry liability insurance worth at least $250,000; and have a written
recovery plan for potential escapes.
Accredited zoos and registered wildlife sanctuaries would not be impacted.
However, some animal-owner advocates asked lawmakers to make the regulations
too onerous or ban exotic cats outright.
Matt Baker, an Atchison exotic cat breeder, said Hilderbrand's death was unfortunate
but said he considered it to be the result of improper handling.
"There is no need to punish those who follow the law because this one person
did not," Baker said.
County and state officials said state laws were inadequate to deal with a
growing problem because they didn't restrict ownership of large cats.
Exhibitors of big cats do have some federal government oversight and some
local governments have enacted their own restrictions.
"Our present laws leave the door open for other accidents to happen and the
safety of the public to be in jeopardy," Sen. Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield, said.
Wildlife and Parks Secretary Mike Hayden said tougher laws would keep the
state from becoming a haven for exotic animal owners fleeing other states'
Senate budget Chairman Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, said he expects the bill
to come up for discussion again sometime next week.
"I'm hoping that at the end of this season, we will win this game," said Umbarger,
who introduced the legislation to the committee.
3/31/06 As a result, Kansas recently passed a bill in the House and Senate
to ban contact with dangerous animals.
Help Big Cat Rescue end the practices that result in the abandonment and abuse of big cats by sending an email to your lawmaker through CatLaws.com