Update: Mountain lion leaves Glocester home for Fla.
6:33 PM Thu, Jan 07, 2010 | Permalink
Photo courtesy of Marilyn Loppi
Narla the mountain lion, looking out from her kennel in Glocester, was moved Thursday and is headed to a wildlife sanctuary in Florida. Video: Coaxing Narla on moving day
GLOCESTER, R.I. — Marilyn Loppi never intended to own a mountain lion.
But she ended up with one when she began dating — and later married — a man who also never intended to own the big cat the couple called Narla.
After Robert J. Loppi’s death from leukemia last May, Marilyn Loppi decided it was time for the 90-pound mountain lion to live a different kind of life where she’ll be able to roam more than her Glocester cage ever allowed, and where the aging cat won’t have to deal with harsh New England winters.
And so, the mountain lion that lived under the radar since 2000 on a small stretch of rural Whipple Road in the northern part of Glocester — and in Johnston before that — slipped away Thursday morning as quietly as she had resided there.
A pride of reporters with still and video cameras and a Glocester animal control officer hoped for a glimpse of the animal as it was taken away. But none saw Narla go.
Marilyn Loppi answered her door around 9 a.m. and said the animal had left before 8. Then she declined to say more, and did not answer as other reporters continued to knock.
In an interview hours later, she said she had worked with a man from an animal sanctuary in Tampa, Fla., to avoid the media crush. Scott Lope, director of operations at Big Cat Rescue,had sent Marilyn a crate for Narla ahead of time, and Marilyn tempted her with shrimp — which the cat had never eaten before, but turned out to love — to test the crate over the last week.
Then Marilyn got Narla into the cage, called Lope and two others with him who were waiting down the road. With Narla next to her in the crate, she waited until he got there a couple of minutes later.
“And they picked the crate up, put it in the vehicle, and I said goodbye,” Marilyn said. “And off they went.”
A call to Lope’s cell phone was not returned.
Lope has just been named Hero of the Year by the cable TV channel Animal Planet, which Marilyn said wanted to film at the house because it’s giving him the award Jan. 18. But over the years, Marilyn said, her husband had shied away from many media requests about Narla.
“She’s never been, you know, a focus of attention,” Marilyn said. “When Rob got her, there was no big news story, and I remember when the news would call and they would ask if they could do a story on her, and he would say no.
“And so I wanted to respect that — that it was never done, so why should it be done now?”
Before she met Robert, he lived in Johnston on a small farm where he had horses, cows and pigs, Marilyn says. The the place became a kind of refuge where folks would drop off animals they didn’t want anymore.
Narla was one of those. Robert took her in for a friend when she was a five-month-old cub.
That friend, whom Marilyn said Thursday she doesn’t even know, bought Narla from an exotic animal place in Virginia, but turned to Robert for help when the other man’s girlfriend said he was crazy to try to keep such an animal.
Robert even drove Narla back down to Virginia, Marilyn said, intending to give her back, but the man his friend had bought her from showed Robert how to care for Narla, how to bottle-feed her. He even declawed her then, Marilyn believes.
And for reasons unknown to Marilyn, Robert drove back up to Johnston with the animal he would later drive places as she sat in the front passenger seat next to him.
Everyone in Glocester knew the animal lived at 47 Whipple Rd., folks said Thursday. Marilyn says people would knock on the door and ask to see the mountain lion, and she and Robert would let them, while the cat remained in her.
Two houses down, Tony Giorgianni said that Narla was a quiet neighbor.
He and his wife, Lisa, bought their home five years ago, when they had just the first of their three children, he said. And the real estate agent who sold them the house said they needed to know what lived down the street.
But Giorgianni said he only heard her roar once.
“I have never seen the lion,” he said. “I’ve tried to see the lion — out of curiosity, you know. We’ve asked lots of questions of neighbors about the lion, because I have small children — and want to make sure this is properly caged and supposed to be here.”
Narla did have her papers. Back on Jan. 15, 1997, the state Department of Environmental Management issued an exotic animal permit to Robert Loppi, who lived in Johnston at the time, according to Gail Mastrati, a DEM spokeswoman.
The DEM paperwork indicates the spayed animal was kept in a double-fenced cage. Those cages are now in the yard behind the Glocester home where Narla lived.
Mastrati said Narla’s owners wouldn’t have been able to get a permit to keep her today, given recent incidents such as the attack on a woman by a chimpanzee in Connecticut recently.
“We would not issue such a permit other than to a zoo,” she said.
Marilyn Loppi said she’ll visit Narla, whom she describes as a “very, very affectionate, very gentle” animal, in Florida. “She was just a real pleasure to have.”
Marilyn says she’s glad the mountain lion will have more attention from handlers at the sanctuary, and more room to roam. But the day was bittersweet.
“It’s sad,” she said. “It’s sad and it’s kind of lonely, now that I’ve been here and I look out at her cage and it’s empty.
“It’s going to be an adjustment for me.”
— The Providence Journal has been following this story today as it develops. Our initial report was posted at 7:40 a.m., and updated at 9:45 a.m. and 1:01 p.m.
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