Stuart Hunter, The Province
Published: Saturday, May 12, 2007
The provincial government has vowed to enact legislation in a bid to prevent future tragedies like the fatal tiger mauling of Tania Dumstrey-Soos.
Agriculture Minister Pat Bell said he’ll meet with Environment Minister Barry Penner this week as well as members of the SPCA and Vancouver Humane Society, which have complained for years about safety standards at Siberian Magic zoo in Bridge Lake owned by Kim Carlton.
“I’m committed to doing whatever is necessary to make sure we have the appropriate regulatory regime in the province to ensure we don’t have incidents where exotic animals are attacking their owners,” Bell said while not committing to an outright ban on exotic species.
“There are many different cross-jurisdictional issues at play here – the federal government has areas of responsibility, local municipal and regional districts have responsibility but the province is prepared to take leadership in this area. We’ll deal with it as quickly as possible.”
Dumstrey-Soos, 32, was apparently killed by a single paw swipe by a beloved male Bengal named Gangus on Thursday night. She was standing outside the tiger’s cage saying goodnight when the big cat inexplicably lashed out.
With her 14-year-old son and Carlton’s 15-year-old boy, Kodiak, frantically trying to stem the bleeding from a severed leg artery for nearly an hour as an ambulance made its way to the zoo located about 40 kilometers east of 100-Mile House, Dumstrey-Soos talked with fiance Carlton, a former extreme fighter, on her cell phone. The recently engaged pair exchanged avowals of love.
Carlton raced home but was too late. Dumstrey-Soos was pronounced dead at hospital.
An autopsy will be performed and the B.C. Coroner’s Service, the provincial Conservation Officer Service and SPCA are investigating.
Mayor Scott Nelson said Dumstrey-Soos was a bubbly personality who worked for him as an office administrator at the Cariboo Advisor newspaper. She had two children, aged 14 and six, while Carlton has three kids.
“We were obviously horrified, more horrified that the young kids saw it, that they were there,” Nelson said. “Obviously our hearts are with them.”
The fate of Gangus – one of three tigers at the zoo – remains unknown.
Marcie Moriarty, B.C. SPCA spokeswoman, said the zoo was an accident waiting to happen.
“This is extremely sad, but not unexpected. We’ve spent thousands of dollars trying to have these animals removed,” Moriarty said adding the SPCA first learned Carlton had moved his animals to 100 Mile House in November, 2005. The most recent animal welfare violation order was served in January 2007.
Upon inspection, Moriarty said she was especially concerned because children were living on the property and she alleges the tigers were kept in small chain-link cages with no flooring.
Moriarty claimed that while the SPCA had grounds to charge Carlton with animal cruelty, the organization did not have a facility to house the tigers if they had been seized.
“When we went up there we realized we weren’t just dealing with animal cruelty, we were dealing with a public safety issue,” Moriarty said.
According the Siberian Magic website, a visit to the zoo promises to return “childhood excitement” and attacks by baboons and lions. Carlton had seven exotic animals on the property, including a Siberian tiger Kisa, African lion Sarmoti and Asian lioness Gypsy and two Bengal tigers male Gangus and female Raja.
Animal rights groups have been monitoring Carlton and his menagerie for almost a decade.
Carlton was in the news in 2003, when he lived in Abbotsford, after the appearance of one of his cats at a Burnaby shopping centre. The former stunt double who had appeared with his animals in movies, was also investigated by Abbotsford officials to determine whether he could keep Siberian tigers.
In 2002, one of his tigers chewed through a metal cage at a Fort St. John motel and was re-captured by local police.
At Siberian Magic, the tigers were kept in 12 X 12-foot chain link enclosures safeguarded by a padlock. Carlton said he often walked his tigers, let the kids feed them and members of the public pose with them for $30 to $40.
There is no law in B.C. prohibiting keeping of exotic pets.
It’s up to cities and regional districts to regulate exotic animals via bylaws and some like Surrey, Richmond and Vancouver have instituted bans.
When Vancouver brought in its ban last year, city officials urged the Union of B.C. Municipalities to call for a province-wide ban.
International treaties make it nearly impossible to take exotic animals across the Canadian border.
The SPCA estimates there are likely about a dozen tigers in B.C. In the U.S., there are an estimated 10,000 tigers and lions kept by private citizens and private zoos.
The SPCA said it only seizes animals when they are being denied the basic life needs or abused.
The SPCA asked the Calgary Zoo to adopt the Siberian Magic cats but were denied.
– with a file from David Carrigg and News Services