FL:Tiger bites man said to be drunk (Josip Marcan’s tiger)
Article published Mar 20, 2006
Tiger bites man said to be drunk
The trucker who pulled a caged tiger to the Putnam County Fair left in a helicopter with a bitten arm early Sunday morning.
Jason Wayne Hardin, 25, of Westville, was attacked after he stuck his arm into the sleeping tiger’s cage about 2:25 a.m., said Major Keith Riddick of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
Riddick said Hardin’s sister, Heather Bass, alerted a deputy working at the fair that she needed help transporting her injured brother, who she said was very drunk.
Hardin was taken to the Putnam County Hospital and then flown to Shands at the University of Florida, where he was treated and released for severed tendons in his forearm, said Kat Kelley, a public information officer for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
She said a deputy spotted Hardin stumbling down a flight of stairs earlier that night and told him to go sleep it off. On his way to his trailer, Hardin either brushed the cage or put his hand in the cage, and Kelley said she suspects the tiger was frightened by him. She said the animal has no record of problems at public events.
"This was strictly human error and poor judgment," she said. "These are wild animals, and no matter how tame they are, they’re still animals."
Kelley said Hardin was visibly traumatized and had several punctures in his arm. When she talked to him at the hospital Sunday afternoon, he told her he remembered brushing against the cage, but he thought the tiger pulled his arm in with its claw before biting him. But a witness told her otherwise.
"We may never know whether he put his arm in or whether it was pulled in," she said.
The tiger could be seen playing with other tigers on display at the fair Sunday after Florida Wildlife Lt. Rick Brown inspected the exhibit and ruled it safe. The fair officially opens to visitors today.
Under state safety requirements, there must be a certain distance between the animals’ cages and a perimeter fence around them, and it was set up correctly, Kelley said.
She said Hardin’s trailer was inside the perimeter fence, which is why he was able to access the tiger. The tiger’s owner, Josip Marcan of Adriatic Animal Attractions, recently hired Hardin to transport the animal and put up the fencing, but he was directed not to bother the tiger, Kelley said.
Hardin’s wounds aren’t life threatening but a 15-year tiger stuntman who has nursed several tiger bites of his own said there’s a high risk of infection when a tiger punctures someone’s skin.
If the tiger recently ate and had food particles in its mouth, the risk runs even higher, Randy Miller said.
He should know. Miller owns several tigers, and he’s president of the stunt company Predators in Action, which has reenacted tiger, lion and bear attacks for countless television networks.
A tiger similarly punctured Miller’s forearm while he staged a stunt for the movie, "The Gladiator." He said doctors typically prescribe heavy antibiotics for such wounds, and often stitches are required.
The stuntman hears of at least one serious tiger biting incident each year. He said he thinks the tiger attack on Roy Horn of famed entertainers Siegfried and Roy – which he has reenacted several times – made tiger attacks seem more common than they are.
"There’s tens of thousands of tigers in captivity. For the amount of exposure there is in zoos, parks, the film industry and private owners, I think that’s a pretty low (injury) ratio from an animal that’s potentially deadly," he said.
Miller said professional handlers can work with animals that know them, but strangers shouldn’t tamper even with the tamest of tigers.
"Some people misread the animals and think they appear to be affectionate and friendly, and then they stick their arm in and get bit. It’s hard to say why the cat bit the guy, but it’s just bad practice to try to play with the tiger," he said.
Tiffany Pakkala can be reached at 338-3111 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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