Lion, tiger doing well at refuges post-Hurricane Ike
By LANA BERKOWITZ HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Dec. 10, 2008, 3:39PM
Whatever happened to the lion and tiger displaced by Hurricane Ike?
They are still in Texas.
Shackle the lion became famous when newspapers and TV stations ran a photo of her sprawled on the altar of Crystal Beach’s First Baptist Church, among the sleeping bags and cots of evacuees.
Michael Kujawa, who ran a small exotic zoo on Bolivar Peninsula, waded to the church with the 11-year-old lioness when their escape route was flooded by September’s devastating hurricane. Kujawa had left behind a tiger locked in a pen with extra food and water when he couldn’t persuade the 400-pound animal to get into a travel trailer.
“I couldn’t risk my own life and the lion’s life to stay there with her. I had to get to higher ground. But it’s not like I had abandoned her to die or nothing,” Kujawa said.
“As soon as the storm was over, I went to check on her, and she was alive and doing good. But she was mean as hell.”
Authorities’ discovery of the tiger left behind led to false reports of an escaped tiger, but authorities did have to call in a veterinarian to sedate the stressed-out tiger so she could be moved temporarily to a refuge near Lake Somerville with Shackle the lion.
About five weeks ago the Bengal tiger was taken to the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in North Texas. NASCAR champ Tony Stewart and his foundation donated $5,000 to have an enclosure built for the big cat, who was named Zippy in honor of Stewart’s crew chief, Greg Zipadelli.
“She’s a sweet cat,” said Louis Dorfman, the sanctuary’s animal behaviorist. Although humans couldn’t get within 50 feet of the 7-year-old tiger when she arrived, Dorfman said he was able to scratch Zippy’s back for the first time a few days ago.
Shackle is still at the refuge near Lake Somerville, and Kujawa, who has been living in a hotel, visits her every two or three days. He plans to move a trailer onto the refuge premises so he won’t have to stay in College Station when he goes to see his beloved lion, who has some medical problems.
Eventually Kujawa hopes to return to the coast with Shackle.
International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Boyd, 25 miles from Fort Worth, has more than 60 big cats and bears. Tours are available. www.bigcat.org