Man killed by tiger that mauled boy in 2004, police believe

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Man killed by tiger that mauled boy in 2004, police believe

Katherine Laidlaw, National Post
Published: Sunday, January 10, 2010

The same Siberian tiger that mauled a 10-year-old Toronto boy six years ago killed a lifelong exotic animal lover and keeper yesterday, police say.

“We believe it to be the same animal,” said Constable Troy Carlson of Port Elgin OPP. “As far as what’s being done with the animal, at this point it’s up to the family.”

Norman Buwalda, a businessman from Southwold Township, near London, died yesterday at approximately 3 p.m. when he entered the cage to feed the tiger, one of many exotic animals on his property. A male family member found Mr. Buwalda, 66, in the cage and separated the 650-pound animal by trapping it behind a set of glass doors that divides the cage. Reached yesterday at Mr. Buwalda’s home, a family member said the family had no comment.

Neighbours paint a picture of an introverted man who cared for his tigers, lions and panthers as though they were his friends. David Rawson, whose property touches Mr. Buwalda’s, said his neighbour kept exotic pets as a hobby. He cared for many large cats in the twelve years Mr. Rawson lived in the area, whose growls were audible at night from Mr. Rawson’s land. He usually kept between two or three at a time.

“I’ve seen a panther, a cougar and a tiger,” he said. “It’s a very nice property and very private. I think he would say that his friends were animals. I don’t think he felt he had a bond with humanity.”

Mr. Rawson said the cage in which Mr. Buwalda kept the tiger was of “zoo quality” and he had no safety concerns as long as the animals were kept in their pens. The two-storey cage, made of concrete, glass and steel bars, is as big as a house, he said. The rest of Mr. Buwalda’s land was not fenced in, although Const. Carlson said there was a fenced in area on the land where Mr. Buwalda kept deer or other roaming animals at one time.

“I had no serious concerns about my safety at anytime unless it would be released,” he said. “This was a totally unfenced property and should that tiger have gotten away after he mauled the boy, what would have stopped him from galloping into the woods?”

Mr. Buwalda’s 80-acre property contained two cages, as well as a large stone house standing at nearly 10,000 square feet on a landscaped lawn protected by a security gate. “It would be considered to be a significant residential estate in this area,” he said. Mr. Rawson said Mr. Buwalda was not married and had no children living at his home.

The tiger is still in its enclosure on the property. Const. Carlson said police believe Mr. Buwalda kept the animals there legally but an investigation is ongoing. “It’s somewhat different than a dog that bites somebody,” Const. Carlson said. “What would you do with the animal if somebody went into a cage at the zoo and got mauled? Would you put the tiger down? No.”

The tiger living on the property, which police believe, mauled a 10-year-old Toronto boy in June of 2004, igniting a heated discussion in Southwold Township on whether exotic animals should be banned from the area. The boy and his family were visiting Mr. Buwalda’s residence when Mr. Buwalda led the tiger out of the cage to allow the boy and his younger siblings to take photos of the animal. The tiger was on a leash but lunged forward, knocking its owner off balance. No charges were laid in the incident. Residents were furious when the town lost a court case that would have seen Mr. Buwalda’s exotic animals banned. Mr. Rawson said Mr. Buwalda had been injured by his own animals in the past.

Mr. Buwalda is listed as the contact person for a Canadian Exotic Animal Owners’ Association, and the address and phone number listed on that website is the same as the information listed on Can-Fab Strathroy, an industrial supply company.

Const. Carlson said Mr. Buwalda told him he had once provided animals to a zoo.

A post-mortem is scheduled for today, police said.

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