Minnesota tigers get TV time
Animal Planet miniseries showcases the deadly risks of keeping exotic pets.
By KEVIN GILES, Star Tribune
Last update: March 5, 2010 – 9:25 PM
Titan and Lilly live behind two tall fences off a gravel road in the woods of Pine County, forgotten for the news they made four years ago.
Soon they’ll appear on national television — on Animal Planet on March 21 — as symbols of what can go wrong with private ownership of wild animals.
A tiger named Tango killed his owner, Cynthia Gamble, at her Pine County farm in April 2006. Titan and Lilly, who were kept there in separate enclosures, took no part in the attack. But they hit the headlines as icons of tragedy, portrayed as starving and emaciated.
The miniseries examines why people risk their lives to own so-called “exotic” pets that can turn on them in an instant. The three-part airing will show venomous reptiles first, deadly big cats second and chimpanzees third.
“Why are people attracted to something so dangerous?” asked Tammy Thies, director of the Wildcat Sanctuary, the tigers’ new home. “We all see the majesty in a wild animal and I think some people take that too far in a personal relationship thinking they’re going to get something out of it.”
The sanctuary is a private refuge where a black leopard, a jaguar, tigers, lions, cougars, bobcats, lynx and servals live out their years. All of the cats had private owners once. Many of them had become threats to public safety before they arrived at the sanctuary, which is funded with private donations.
A film team came to the Wildcat Sanctuary to document Titan and Lilly in their new habitat. Titan weighs 515 pounds and Lilly, less than 300. Both tigers, at 14, could live many more years.
The sanctuary, which was built in Pine County about the time that Gamble was attacked, now has 115 animals. Employees take great care to prevent escapes and guard against attacks, Thies said.
Animal Planet wanted to do “reenactments,” Thies said, including having her pet Titan and Lilly. “I said we don’t go in with the tigers,” she said. They are powerful enough that a single swat could kill a human being.
“They said it was the first happy filming they did because they had seen all the places that people died.”
Animal Planet promotes the miniseries as a window into the kinship people feel with dangerous animals that sometimes kill and maim their owners.
Both of the people featured in the reptile episode are dead — a man presumed eaten alive by one of his many monitor lizards, and a woman who didn’t survive her pet viper’s bite.
“Exotic pet ownership is not as rare as one might think, or as wildlife experts would wish,” Animal Planet said in promotional literature. “Millions of exotic animals are brought to the United States in any given year. A significant number of these pets have the potential to severely injure or kill their owners, neighbors or family.”
Thies said her sanctuary has seen less business lately — a good development, she said — because a new law in Minnesota requires registration of exotic animals and has discouraged ownership somewhat.
“The bad news is that we’re still allowing people from other states to come here and exhibit their animals,” Thies said, warning parents they should guard their children around exotic animals at malls, fairs and other places where they’re displayed.
THE WILDCAT SANCTUARY
The private refuge, which depends on donations to operate, has launched its largest-ever fundraising campaign, seeking to raise at least $50,000 by April 30. A foundation has pledged to match that amount, said Tammy Thies, the sanctuary’s director. Additional information is available at: www.wildcatsanctuary.org/Programs/match.html
WHEN TO WATCH
March 14: Venomous reptiles
March 21: Big cats
March 28: Chimpanzees
All shows air at 9 p.m.
For further information, go to http://animal.discovery.com/