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For Immediate Release: 08/05/08

Missouri tiger maulings illustrate need for legislation banning dangerous wild animals in private hands

Springfield, MO — Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute (Born Free USA), a national animal advocacy organization, is calling on the Missouri legislature to ban the keeping of inherently dangerous wild animals as “pets” after two separate incidents in as many days involving tigers. In the first, a tiger escaped his enclosure and mauled a volunteer at Wesa-A-Geh-Ya, a roadside zoo in Warrenton that has previously been under investigation for improper care of animals and public safety concerns. And, on Monday, a 16-year-old employee at Predator World in Branson, which has also been under investigation by authorities, was attacked by three tigers.

“The Large Carnivore Act has been pending in the Missouri legislature for years — if legislators had acted on it earlier, these tragic incidents may never have occurred,” said Nicole G. Paquette, Esq., Senior Vice President of Born Free USA. “These wild animals do not belong in our homes, neighborhoods, or inappropriate roadside zoos. How many more tragedies have to occur before action is taken to put an end to the private ownership of exotic animals in Missouri?”

Missouri is one of only nine states that have no laws regulating the private possession of dangerous wild animals including bears, big cats, primates and wolves. In July, a woman was attacked and bitten by a “pet” monkey in Columbia, MO, and yet another similar incident occurred in October 2007.

At Wesa-A-Geh-Ya the tiger reportedly jumped an 8-foot fence and attacked a volunteer, who was airlifted to the hospital with injuries so severe his leg had to be amputated. The tiger, named “Tony,” was shot to death. Staff members of Wesa-A-Geh-Ya then reportedly tried to cover up the incident by claiming the volunteer had been attacked by a dog. At Predator World, the young man was apparently mauled by three tigers after entering their cage to take photographs of the animals for spectators. The young man was also airlifted to the hospital and is in critical condition with puncture wounds to the neck.

The Wesa-A-Geh-Ya facility and its owner, Ken Smith, have previously been under investigation for improper keeping of animals housed at the facility. It lost its USDA license and is not an accredited sanctuary. Predator World, which recently changed its name to “Interactive Zoo & Aquarium” has also been under fire from authorities and activists for a number of incidents over the years, including the February 2007 escape of two wolves; one of which was shot, the other which is still on the loose in the neighborhood.

“The owners of these animals are playing Russian roulette with people’s lives,” adds Paquette. “For the safety of people and animals in Missouri, the legislature must act to prohibit inherently dangerous wild animals from being kept in private hands.”

Born Free USA works to end animal cruelty and exploitation through legislation, litigation and public education. Born Free USA is a nationally recognized leader on exotic animal legislation and a sponsor of the federal Captive Primate Safety Act. More information can be found at www.bornfreeusa.org.

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Contact:
Zibby Wilder, Born Free USA, 916.267.7266

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