Lions, tigers sent to sanctuaries

Lions, tigers sent to sanctuaries


Tuesday,  October 23, 2007 3:34 AM

By Dana Wilson



Six lions and tigers left behind when their owner was evicted from a Knox County farm last spring are settling into a new home.


The giant cats, wards of the county since September, were taken this weekend from their home in Gambier to Big Cat Rescue, a nonprofit sanctuary in Tampa, Fla., Roger Reed, Knox County humane officer, said yesterday.


"The safety and welfare of the animals is the most important thing to us," Reed said.


His office began caring for the cats in April after owner Diana McCourt was evicted from the Deal Road property where she and the cats lived. At that site, McCourt ran the Siberian Tiger Conservation Association, an exotic-cat training facility closed to the public. After a series of complaints, McCourt gave up her federal license to exhibit cats in 2002.


After McCourt’s eviction, the animals remained at the farm, which is owned by Donnalynn and Christian Laver of Columbus. The Lavers looked after the animals until county officials determined they had no legal obligation to do so.


On Sept. 28, a judge labeled the lions and tigers "abandoned" and officially turned them over to animal control, Reed said.


Reed then worked to place them with a rescue facility. He estimates the county spent about $4,700 to build cages for the cats, and he said local donations of chicken and beef helped to offset feeding costs.


On Saturday, representatives from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Big Cat Rescue and the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio loaded the cats and drove them to Florida. Four of the six will stay in Florida. The other two will be taken to Texas.


The cats arrived safely and are doing fine, said Scott Lope, director of operations for Big Cat Rescue.


"They’ll have a big, natural enclosure," Lope said. "We’ll give them the best life in captivity that we can."


McCourt said she is appealing her eviction and maintains that the cats are her property. She was angry that she wasn’t told the cats were being moved.


"I don’t know what will happen now," she said.


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