Fad of taking photos with tiger cubs brings danger later
By KEVIN GILES
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
April 23, 2006
- Those cute tiger cubs that pose with smiling children for photos at shopping malls and county fairs across the country are all the rage, but the cubs lose their value when they grow big enough to hurt somebody.
Then they become discards, sometimes sold for as little as $200 at garage sales and truck stops to make room for new cubs that bring $25 a pop in front of the camera.
"You have this continuing influx of tigers that have no place to go," said Tom Solin, a private investigator of wildcat injuries and deaths, who thinks the popular and lucrative photo fad explains the source of so many tigers.
No one seems to know for sure how many tigers, lions and other big cats live in Minnesota, but the danger is evident. The recent fatal mauling of a Pine County woman, who worked extensively with tigers, raises new concerns about the effectiveness of a 16-month-old state law that was intended to regulate the ownership of tigers, lions and other exotic cats. Neither that law nor a patchwork of municipal ordinances makes clear how many people own dangerous animals.
The most recent victim, Cynthia Gamble, held an exhibitor's license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) but didn't register her three tigers as the state law required.
"A lot of people in Minnesota ask, 'Why do these people have to have these exotic animals anyway?' " said Lakeville Police Chief Steve Strachan.
He sponsored the 2004 state law when he was a member of the Minnesota House. "We've got a couple of instances where they've killed and crippled people right here in our state."
As attacks continue, cities and counties react with ordinances that in most cases ban wildcats altogether. Woodbury last week joined at least 78 other Minnesota cities forbidding such animals unless traveling with circuses. Days after Gamble's death, Sherburne County voted for a permanent ban. Goodhue County banned wildcats in recent months after a court battle with an exotic animal owner.
There's no such ordinance in the works in Pine County. Gamble was a business owner and "unfortunately there have been people hurt in their line of work," said Board Chairman Greg Bennett.
Gamble's USDA license permitted her to show animals in public places. Her cousin, Kendra Lojio, said she watched Gamble at renaissance festivals in Georgia, where Gamble "captivated the audiences, stressing how important it was to preserve their animals and appreciate their role in the wild."
However, the mother of a girl injured five years ago in a tiger attack at Bearcat Hollow in Racine, Minn., said that such appearances fool people.
"There is no legitimate market for these animals," said Mary Hartman of Rochester, who hired Solin to investigate her daughter's case, "so they take them to the mall to create the illusion that you're getting a piece of the wild."
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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