WARRENTON — A volunteer was attacked by a tiger Sunday at an animal farm in Warren County that has been the subject of abuse and neglect allegations. Owners of the farm shot and killed the tiger.
The 26-year-old victim underwent surgery to his lower leg and will recover, said farm owner Sandra Smith. She was distraught during an interview and could remember only that the victim's name is Jacob and he lives in the Warrenton area.
Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison could not be reached.
Initially, the victim and another volunteer who witnessed the attack told authorities he was attacked by a dog, Smith said. "We went along with it, but it wasn't planned out," she said. "They were scared … We were all scared."
She said she told the Sheriff's Department what really happened after the victim was taken by helicopter to a hospital.
Smith, 58, and her husband, Ken Smith, own the farm, known as Wesa-A-Geh-Ya, about 10 miles northwest of Warrenton. She said they initially lied because they feared the approximately 60 animals — mostly tigers but also including lions, wolves, a bear and a leopard — would be taken and euthanized.
"And I'm going to let them do it, because I can't take it anymore," Sandra Smith said.
She said Jacob and another volunteer were trying to coax the tiger into a smaller cage so they could clean its main cage. Jacob was standing on top of the smaller cage when the tiger scaled a 12 to 14-foot chain-link fence of the main cage and got hold of Jacob.
The other volunteer shouted for Sandra Smith, who ran out with her gun and distracted the tiger. The tiger leaped at her, and she shot and wounded it, she said. Ken Smith arrived and shot the animal again, killing it.
"I've been here 20 years, and I've never had to shoot an animal," Sandra Smith said. "I've never had anybody hurt."
The Smiths started collecting wildlife before moving to Missouri in the mid-1980s with a tiger and two cougars. They soon established Wesa-A-Geh-Yah, which translates as "cat lady" in Sandra Smith's native Cherokee language. Owning exotic animals is legal in Missouri, as long as they are registered with local police.
About four years ago, the USDA filed allegations against the Smiths that included not providing proper veterinary treatment and lacking adequately trained employees. The Smiths gave up their exhibitor license, fearing that the animals would be confiscated. That took the animals off display and took a chunk out of their budget.
In 2003, Sandra Smith received probation for failing to keep the cages properly locked. This past May, Ken Smith was placed on probation for failing to register some animals.
"I'm so damn tired of people out there thinking I'm doing bad things," Sandra Smith said. "We're not bad people, we're just trying to give these animals some kind of quality life."
The tiger she shot was named Tony, Sandra Smith said. As is often the case, he was dumped on her doorstep about eight years ago.
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Carole's letter to Michele,
Wesa-A-Geh-Ya is no sanctuary. The US Fish & Wildlife service specifically states that accredited sanctuaries do NOT breed. As someone who has been involved with saving big cats for the past twenty years, I can assure you that there are no legitimate breeding and release programs for big cats and never will be because there isn't habitat for them to survive and raising and releasing captive born cats isn't possible without tremendous danger to the public.
Wasn't this facility part of Operation Snow Plow? Tim Santel, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's law enforcement office in Springfield, Ill., was named Officer of the Year in 2004 for his lengthy undercover investigation of the illegal killing of endangered species, specifically tigers, leopards, snow leopards and the commercialization of their meat, hides and other body parts. The investigation, dubbed "Operation Snow Plow," lasted more than six years, covered more than six states and resulted in the conviction of all 17 defendants (16 individuals and one business) charged with violating several federal wildlife protection laws. Combined, the defendants' sentences have resulted in 80 months in federal prison, 52 months home detention, 2,200 hours of community service, $75,000 in fines and $226,000 in restitution to the Fish and Wildlife Federation's Save the Tiger Fund. One of the convictions was that of a well-known "sanctuary" in MO that was selling their "rescued" lions to be served in restaurants.
The questions I would really like to see exposed are the following:
Why is is that "sanctuaries" and those who profess to "love" the big cats are so violently opposed to legislation that would end the private trade in them as pets and collectibles? My goal is that places like Big Cat Rescue no longer need to exist and my path to that goal is by asking for legislation that bans the breeding, sale, trade and collecting of these great cats. As a result, I may be the most hated person in the big cat "industry" and yet most of the people who spend so much time trying to discredit me with their lies and insinuations claim to be in the rescue and sanctuary business. Why isn't ending the abuse the most important goal of those who claim to be saving big cats from abuse?
Why are big cats being born in sanctuaries when there isn't enough sanctuary space for all of the unwanted big cats?
Why is contact with big cats allowed when a bill in Congress has died last year and stalled this year that would prevent it? (HR 1947 Haley's Act)
Where do all of the babies from last year go? When you look around at all of the places who advertise baby lions and tigers, where do they all go for the next 20 years?
It costs Big Cat Rescue between $5,000 and $7,500 per year to provide proper care for a big cat. Multiply that by the number of big cats in these pseudo sanctuaries and roadside zoos and then compare it to their annual budgets.
Lack of accountability. Most of these places hide behind their USDA licenses as if it were a badge of honor, but if you visit the abusers page on www.911AnimalAbuse.com you will see a repeating pattern of facilities having USDA violations reported year after year, for six years in some cases, before the USDA takes action. Meanwhile the USDA keeps renewing their licenses. Why does USDA renew licenses each year of facilities that have failed to meet even the more minimal of standards? To give you an idea of how low the standards are, the size of cage for a tiger only has to be big enough for the cat to stand up and turn around.
What does it cost the tax payer? When less than 1/10th of one percent of the public owns exotic animals, why do tax dollars fund entire governmental departments to regulate an industry that is unneeded and inhumane? What are the actual costs to tax payers for all of the reporting, licensing, enforcement and the clean up costs after these places allow escapes or they go belly up?
62% of the people polled say that seeing big cats in cages has done nothing to cause them to donate to conservation in the wild. Almost all of the places that use big cats for income will cite that noble cause as their excuse, and yet how much of the money they raise is actually put to work in saving the habitats?
The tiger is the best example of how this doesn't ring true. No big cat is more commonly kept in zoos and back yard menageries and yet with less than 4,000 left in the wild and one being poached per day, it is obvious that this great cat will disappear in the next few years. All of the cats who were born in cages for the last hundred years did nothing to stop the onslaught. I believe that the practice of keeping cats in cages has actually led to their demise in the wild. If you can have the convenience of driving a few miles to see a tiger in a cage, then why protect them half a world away where you may never see them?
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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