Editorial: Reflection on a California tiger’s tale

Plea deal ends the saga of ‘Tuffy’

January 11, 2007

A bizarre saga that began in February 2005 with wildlife trackers hot on the trail of an escaped Siberian tiger roaming Moorpark, ended Monday with a plea agreement by the tiger’s owners in a Los Angeles courtroom.

Gert “Abby” Hedengran and Roena “Emma” Hedengran pleaded guilty in federal court to numerous charges relating to the escape of the tiger named “Tuffy.” The exotic cat was eventually tracked and fatally shot.

The charges stem from misleading statements the couple made to wildlife officials who were attempting to find and capture the tiger. Gert Hedengran faces up to 14 months in prison. Roena Hedengran’s deal calls for four months of home detention, three years of probation and a $2,000 fine.

It was a story that transfixed Ventura County residents. For nearly three weeks, trackers — on foot, by air and all-terrain vehicles — tried to capture the big cat as it wandered between Camarillo and Simi Valley, leaving huge paw prints.

The 350-pound tiger was finally spotted near a Moorpark city park and Highway 23, where wildlife officials, who were face to face with the big cat, opted to kill it because they didn’t want to take the risk that the tiger would bolt onto a highway or into nearby populated areas.

This decision to kill, rather than sedate and capture, the large male tiger drew howls of protest from residents, who e-mailed and called wildlife officials venting their anger.

At the time, a state Department of Fish and Game spokesman said the community response was one of the largest public reaction ever aimed at the agency.

Still others — carrying candles and stuffed toy tigers with the strains of the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” filling the air — held a vigil in that same city park to mourn the loss of the tiger and again to decry those who killed the animal.

As The Star said at the time, all this anger, for the most part, was misdirected. The real villains behind the death of the tiger were its owners, not wildlife officials. The Hedengrans were the ones responsible for the tiger’s escape by placing it in a less-than secure enclosure and for withholding information that could have saved the animal.

But in the end, the public outrage did bring about a positive outcome. It moved Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, R-Moorpark, to sit down with those involved in hunting down the tiger to review the handling of the incident and to establish guidelines for the safe capture of wild animals, including outlining when lethal force should be used.

This meeting led to the passage of legislation that strengthened state regulations governing not only the ownership of exotic animals in California, but also clarified policies for capturing escaped exotic animals.

So, as the real culprits in this saga, the Hedengrans, await justice at an April 9 sentencing, residents can take solace knowing that as a result of Tuffy’s death, exotic animals in California are now all better-protected, and so, too, is the animal-loving public.

http://www.venturacountystar.com/vcs/opinion/article/ 0,1375,VCS_125_5270885,00.html

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