Tiger escape prompts Canadian zoo probe

Cruelty-prevention group probes zoo
Investigation spurred by tiger’s escape from trailer after accident

JANE ARMSTRONG
POSTED ON 26/09/06

VANCOUVER — A tiger that sprang loose from a trailer on a busy B.C. highway last week caught conservation officers off guard. But the big cat’s unexpected appearance in northeastern B.C. also raised alarm bells with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has begun an investigation.

An SPCA investigator was dispatched yesterday to Taylor, about 55 kilometres north of Dawson Creek, to inspect the Outback Zoo, which recently reopened under a new name and new owners.

On Friday, the three-year old female tiger found itself in the wilds of B.C. after the pickup truck that was hauling the animal in a trailer collided with a gravel truck on the Alaska Highway between Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.

When the trailer landed in a ditch, its door opened and the tiger escaped to a nearby roadside pasture. A passenger in the pickup truck was killed in the collision.

B.C. SPCA spokeswoman Lorie Chortyk said any news of an exotic animal in captivity makes animal advocates suspicious. She said the SPCA disapproves on principle of people owning or displaying exotic animals.

The society is particularly opposed to roadside zoos owned by people with no formal animal training, even if they are well meaning.

“It has to do with how they [the animals] were captured and treated,” Ms. Chortyk said. “These are complex animals and in the cases of lions and tigers, there are huge danger issues as well.”

The tiger was en route from the Lower Mainland to the Outback Zoo in Taylor.

The zoo was previously known as Hidden Valley Exotics Mini Zoo, which was a popular attraction for years. The zoo had two lions, monkeys, llamas, peacocks and its star attraction, Jake the tiger.

Taylor Mayor Fred Jarvis said the zoo drew visitors to the region, especially young families.

The current owners have refused to discuss their operation, telling a reporter who telephoned that they won’t comment. A woman who answered the telephone on the weekend and who identified herself as an owner said she and her partner were upset about the car accident, adding she knew the passenger who died.

Police have not released the passenger’s name.

Conservation officers, with the help of the tiger’s owner, were able to coax the tiger into a bear trap on Friday morning.

The SPCA investigated the zoo when it was called Hidden Valley and operated by its previous owners. While the group is “vehemently opposed” to hobby zoos, Ms. Chortyk said they found no instances of animals being mistreated.

Ms. Chortyk said the SPCA recently closed a roadside zoo near Nelson and seized 103 primates. Many of the animals were kept in small cages in the back of a garage, she said. It took the society nearly two years, at a cost of $100,000, to find decent facilities to take the animals.

LAC.20060926.BCTIGER26/TPStory/National

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