Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wildlife keeper loses his job for letting girl pose with tiger in cage

Wildlife keeper loses his job for letting girl pose with tiger in 

Last Updated: 2:51am GMT 28/02/2008

By Tom Peterkin

A WILDLIFE keeper has lost his job at an animal sanctuary for 
allowing children to pose for pictures stroking a tiger inside its 

The action was taken against Norman Elder, 44, after pictures of a 
young girl petting the 15-year-old Sumatran tiger called Sonya 
appeared on the social networking website Bebo.

His website, Wildlife Northern Ireland, had carried a picture showing 
a young girl bending down and scratching the head of the tiger as Mr 
Elder looked on. By yesterday the image had been removed.

Mr Elder had been running the Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre 
on behalf of the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to 
Animals for two years. He also took care of wolves, snakes, lizards 
and dangerous dogs at the centre.

But he was removed from the facility in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, this 
week after the charity called in police.

Stephen Philpott, of the USPCA, said he was shocked by pictures of 
visitors inside the tiger enclosure and said he had no option but to 
act after it was brought to his attention.

Mr Philpott said: "The premises in question are under the charge of 
the USPCA and we feel that people were exposed to an unacceptable 
level of risk because of what happened.

"We decided that we could not let it go on any longer which is why we 
took the action that we did to regain control of the site." Last 
night Mr Elder - who is licensed to keep dangerous wild animals - 
insisted he had done nothing wrong in letting people be photographed 
with Sonya.

He said: "There is no law against it and at the time I thought that 
the tiger was behaving well enough for someone to go into the 
enclosure with her.

"A tiger is a dangerous animal and there are safety issues involved 
which is why I don't let everyone go in. I don't accept that I have 
done anything wrong.

"Because she was bred in captivity she is not aggressive and the only 
danger is if she decides to play because she's so strong.

"She is unusually docile and doesn't get stressed from being in a 
cage or having contact with humans. She does take to certain people."

Mr Elder has been looking after Sonya - who he considers to be a pet -
for two years. She was among a number of wild cats rescued by the 
USPCA from a house in Omagh. Her enclosure is the former elephant 
compound of an old safari park.

Later, the USPCA unearthed the bodies of four headless lions on the 
sanctuary site. The elderly lions were put down in April because no 
home could be found for them following the closure of the safari park 
a few years ago.

"Apparently lions' heads fetch big money from taxidermists. They are 
also used in some traditional African medicines," said a USPCA 
spokesman. "You have to ask if these animals were disposed of 

For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

Sign our petition to protect tigers from being farmed here:

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