Sunday, July 08, 2007

Ark. man injured by declawed cougar kept as pet

ARMANDO RIOS
Bulletin Staff Writer

A cougar kept as a pet injured the owner Friday morning, shortly before Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge personnel were to pick up the male cat and a female from an area south of Yellville.

Brent Marshall was taken to Baxter Regional Medical Center, where he was treated and released. He was cleaning out the pens of the declawed cats, Marion County Sheriff Carl McBee said.

"Marshall stated ... the male cat knocked him to the ground and began biting him on the back of the neck, head and leg," McBee said. "His wife, Anna, ran into the pen and pushed her fingernails in the cat's neck and made him retreat to the back of the pen. At this time she pulled her husband out of the pen and closed the door and then called 911."

The Marshalls had to give up the cougars because the sheriff in the county they were moving to would not give them permission to bring the big cats along, said Scott Smith, vice president of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

A law was passed by the Arkansas legislature two years ago requiring the sheriff's approval before an exotic animal owner can move the animal into that county.

Tanya Smith, president of the refuge, and her husband, Scott, arrived in Marion County shortly after 8 a.m. Friday to pick up the cougars.

The male, Wishbone, and female, Sasha, are both about 5 1/2 years old, Scott Smith said.

That scenario has become more common over the last 25 years, Scott added.

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, near Eureka Springs, was started in 1992, Tanya Smith said. The Smiths have been to 17 states picking up big cats that need a home.

This year, the refuge has rescued six big cats within the state and one black bear from Hollister, Mo., Tanya said.

In addition to rescuing the two cougars Friday, the Smiths were in Yellville for an educational program. They brought an African serval with them to show to the 45 children and adults who arrived at the Marion County Library. The children and adults watched a short video explaining what Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is before going outside to visit the African serval and two cougars, which were still tranquilized.

"It is very dangerous for people to have these animals for pets," Tanya Smith said.

"We are here at the Marion County Library today to educate people on what a big responsibility it is for any animal — but a big cat is really a big responsibility — not only could they possibly get themselves hurt, but they could also get their neighbor or a relative hurt by allowing them to go into the cages. It is not a good idea at all for anybody to get these types of animals for a pet."

With the two cougars, the refuge now will house 114 rescued big cats, she said. The refuge is also home to a monkey, six black bears, birds and deer.

The refuge has rescued mountain lions near Mountain Home and Ash Flat, and 11 big cats in Boone County, she said.

The nonprofit refuge is open to the public every day except Christmas.

"We think it is real important that people actually get to see what goes on at the refuge," Tanya Smith said. "We feed all the animals at 5 p.m."

The refuge also has hourly tours so people can see the animals in their habitat.

"Right now, we feed about 1,000 pounds of raw meat a day, so it is a big undertaking whenever you deal with this situation," Tanya Smith said.

The children craned their necks to see the animals and peppered the Smiths with questions.

One of the cougars woke up briefly and lifted its head to see what was going on, causing the children to get excited. The cat then put his head back down and went back to sleep.

Scott said they brought the African serval, Bowden, to show the children that even though it is a smaller animal, it is still a big and wild cat.

For more information about the refuge, you can visit its Web site: www.tigers.tc

armandor@baxterbulletin.com

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