New law will address issues raised by Bengal tiger in Chickasaw County

New law will address issues raised by Bengal tiger in Chickasaw County


NEW HAMPTON — The owners of a Bengal tiger shot and killed by a deputy in Chickasaw County after it escaped from a cage may be able to keep their remaining wild animals. That’s so long as the New Hampton residents register, buy insurance and meet other guidelines recently established by the state, Chickasaw County Sheriff Marty Larsen said.

In addition to the tiger, Dawn and Joseph Schmitt, 2651 180th St., reportedly own two mountain lions and a bear.

Dawn Schmitt called the sheriff’s office Wednesday afternoon after the 1-year-old tiger attacked domesticated animals, including the family’s collie, according to the Chickasaw County sheriff’s office. The full-grown tiger approached the squad car, Larsen said, and a deputy shot the big cat from a distance of two feet.

"Of course we deal with animal calls on a regular basis," Larsen said. "This is the first one where we’ve ever dealt with a Bengal tiger … "

The dog, Larsen added, was rushed to a vet and is doing OK.

Larsen said his department was aware of the wild animals at the farm and had warned owners that if any got loose that officers would destroy the animals.

Larson noted the county doesn’t have any licensing laws for exotic pets, and the matter has been turned over to state and federal authorities.

A new law in Iowa bans the sale and possession of wild or dangerous animals. However, existing owners such creatures can keep their animals after meeting a number of requirements, including registration with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The deadline to sign up is Dec. 31.

To cover the cost of regulating the animals, the department will charge annual fees. Initial bear and cougar fees are $300. Owners must also have a $100,000 liability insurance policy.

The legislation also demands owners be at least 18 and have a clean slate when it comes to the sale, breeding and care of animals. Wild and dangerous animals also had to be implanted with an electronic identification device by Aug. 29, 2007.

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa, the state’s largest nonprofit animal shelter, argued for even stricter legislation but endorses the measure, said Tom Colvin, executive director.

On Thursday, the organization, along with Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines and the Humane Society of the United States, released a joint statement endorsing the legislation. The statement cited the tiger incident as an example of why keeping wild animals can be risky.

"Tigers and other big cats are instinctive predators. People get these animals as cubs, and they quickly grow too dangerous to handle," according to the statement.

Colvin said it is unclear how many wild animals are kept as pets in Iowa. In part, he said, people aren’t always open about having "a tiger in the basement or an alligator in the bathtub."

Though the paperwork and additional costs to keep wild animals legally may discourage some owners from keeping their pets, the new expenses pale in comparison to costs of providing an adequate environment and care, Colvin said.

Individuals and organizations exempt from the new law include accredited zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, animal shelters, circuses, the Iowa State Fair and anyone "who owns an animal as an agricultural animal."

Linda Nebbe of the Black Hawk Rehabilitation Project said some animal lovers are simply attracted to exotic species because they are different and look fierce. And some owners may be qualified.

"Some people really do have a good basis of knowledge of the animal, its instincts, its behaviors," Nebbe said.

But risks exist for even the most careful, well-intentioned animal lover. Though animals like lions and bears may grow accustomed to people, they never truly become domesticated and maintain wild instincts, Nebbe said.

Instincts prompt the creatures to protect their territory, mates and food.

"Their methods of protecting these things can be harmful," Nebbe said.

An attempt to contact the Schmitts wasn’t successful.

Sheriff Larsen said he believes the couple will take steps to acquire proper licenses for their remaining animals.

Contact Karen Heinselman at (319) 291-1581 or The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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