Dead woman’s tigers to be taken to Wildcat Sanctuary
Controversial nonprofit recently relocated to site near home of victim
BY MEGGEN LINDSAY
Pine County authorities will seize two Bengal tigers left at a former animal breeding business where a third tiger mauled and killed its owner this past week, the sheriff said Saturday.
The decision to take the big cats was made after Cynthia Lee Gamble was killed Thursday by one of her tigers after a cage was apparently left open. The animals will live — at least temporarily — at the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn., which relocated within five miles of Gamble’s rural Duxbury property a few weeks ago.
The tigers will be removed from Gamble’s land in the next few days, Sheriff Mark Mansavage said.
"In the meantime, they are being cared for by someone with experience," he said. "We’re not just walking away from this."
The nonprofit Wildcat Sanctuary, a 40-acre expanse that houses some 20 abandoned captive wildcats, is accustomed to finding refuge for tigers.
Executive director Tammy Quist said her organization has removed 33 tigers from Minnesota homes and back yards in the past year. She also fields an average of 30 calls every month from big-cat owners seeking to get rid of their "pets," she said.
The sanctuary typically does not keep tigers and works to permanently place them in other accredited facilities across the United States.
Bengal tigers, native to India and other areas of southern Asia, are a critically endangered species, according to the World Wildlife Fund. India is home to most of the world’s tigers, with fewer than 5,000.
"People from all over the state unfortunately keep these animals. We’ve taken calls from Minnetonka, Burnsville and Edina," she said. "People take cute and cuddly cubs and don’t think down the road of what the animals will be like when they grow up."
A man who worked on the property found Gamble, 52, dead Thursday in an area connected by a small open gate to a 500-pound tiger’s cage.
The Ramsey County medical examiner’s office is expected to release autopsy results Monday, but Mansavage said there was little doubt the tiger killed her. Authorities euthanized the big cat and sent its body to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Hospital to be examined.
Gamble was not a private tiger owner in the typical sense, Quist said, pointing out that Gamble had an animal exhibitor’s license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Gamble was widely known for showing her animals at civic events and schools, and had appeared on NBC’s "Today" show. She raised, trained and filmed exotic animals and wrote a children’s book on leopards.
"She definitely had a different philosophy than our organization does about these animals," said Quist, whom authorities called to the scene to tranquilize the tiger. Her nonprofit does not show or breed its animals, but instead serves as a haven for abused or unwanted big cats.
"It appears that this was a tragic accident. A protocol was missed somewhere, but we just don’t know more than that," she said. "We do know that this animal didn’t pose a public danger. It was not off exhibit."
Despite Gamble’s federal license, she failed to register her animals with the county as required under a 2005 state law. Because of that, Mansavage said, the county is posting notice of the seizure in case there is another owner.
"We don’t expect anyone to come forward, however, and are lucky the sanctuary is so close," the sheriff said.
Sanctuary workers hope others in Pine County share that sentiment. Quist is braced for local resistance to her organization, the only accredited big-cat sanctuary in the Upper Midwest.
The sanctuary moved from Athens Township in Isanti County after a protracted battle with officials there over a tiger Quist cared for that recently died of cancer. The sanctuary’s permit in that county did not allow lions or tigers to be housed.
"This incident illustrates why there’s a need for sanctuaries like ours," she said. "Local authorities are not equipped to handle something like this."
Meggen Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com or 651-228-5260.
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
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