Tiger doing ‘well,’ headed for new home
By Derek Spellman
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Several days after being removed from a rural Seneca kennel, a malnourished tiger apparently has been faring better in new surroundings.
Sheena has gained a little bit of weight and has been cleaned up. She also appeared to delight Monday morning in digging through cereal boxes containing meatballs at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield.
“She’s doing very well,” said Erica Wilson, the zoo veterinarian. “She’s a sweetie.”
Last week, authorities removed Sheena from the care of Margaret “Jewel” Bond, the operator of J.B.’s Precious Puppies, along with 208 dogs and a cat after reports of unsanitary conditions and neglect. Bond now faces two charges of misdemeanor animal abuse, one of which stems from her alleged neglect of the tiger. Bond has denied the allegations.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires a permit for anyone or any institution exhibiting exotic animals to the public, such as a circus or zoo, or for anyone who is going to breed and sell animals such as tigers, according to the agency.
But for the average private individual looking to keep a tiger as pet, there is little in the way of regulation in Missouri.
Organizations and zoos have warned that the state has become a haven for the sale, and possibly ownership, of exotic animals because of its loose restrictions. They also have warned that such animals don’t make good pets.
Meanwhile, a Missouri lawmaker this year has renewed efforts to pass legislation that would impose regulations for individuals who own large carnivores.
“We really have a reputation of having lax animal-welfare laws,” said Julie Leicht, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, a nonprofit organization that promotes animal welfare.
The lone regulation now in place in Missouri is “a vague and unenforced statute” that requires people who keep tigers as pets only to notify local law enforcement that they do, said John Coffman, the legislative director for the alliance.
The statute does not specify when the owner must notify law enforcement or even how, and most people and law-enforcement agencies are unaware of the regulation, he said.
Missouri has “long been a hub of commercial activity” on exotic animals, Coffman said, partly because of its lax laws.
With no tracking system in place, there are no estimates as to how many tigers might be in private hands in the state.
Nationwide, estimates have ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 tigers that are kept as private pets, according to R. Eric Miller, senior vice president of zoological operations at the St. Louis Zoo. Miller has testified before state lawmakers about legislation now making its way through the House.
By contrast, there are fewer than 400 tigers in American zoos, Miller said.
Mike Crocker, superintendent of the Dickerson Park Zoo, speculated that people might purchase wild animals such as tigers for “a whole range of” reasons.
Asked whether those people are able to effectively care for the animals, he replied, “Probably a majority of them are not.”
The Dickerson Park Zoo, for example, has two Malayan tigers in a building with four to five indoor and outdoor stalls, along with an outdoor space that is between 60 and 80 feet deep and about 200 feet wide, Crocker said. The zoo feeds the tigers a commercially prepared beef product, sometimes along with fish. The cost runs about $1.14 per pound, and a large tiger can require between 10 and 12 pounds of the product per day.
Sheena, by contrast, was housed at the Seneca operation in an indoor and outdoor cage area that measured about 20 feet by 20 feet, according to Wilson, the zoo’s veterinarian. She was on hand when authorities removed Sheena last week.
Bond, the owner, told the Globe on Monday that she fed Sheena frozen chickens and cat food. She said she fed the tiger all she could eat, but that the tiger always was on the slim side.
“I loved the tiger dearly,” she said.
Rep. Mike Sutherland, R-Warrenton, has introduced a bill containing more restrictions for tiger owners such as Bond. The bill contains an array of measures designed to ensure that large carnivores, including those kept as personal pets, are registered, cared for and properly maintained.
Missouri’s eight adjoining states have passed similar legislation or legislation that bans private ownership outright.
The Humane Society of the United States “strongly opposes keeping wild animals as pets,” according to the organization.
“There’s a reason why they are called a wild animal,” Wilson said.
What’s next for Sheena?
Sheena is to be transported from the Dickerson Park Zoo on Wednesday to the care of the National Tiger Sanctuary near Bloomsdale, Mo.
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