Tigers, lions ride out Hurricane Ike

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by Melissa del Bosque
September 17th, 2008 at 10:06 am
You may have noticed a striking picture of a tiger [http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2835] on the cover of the Observer’s current issue. Not the usual fare for the magazine, but an opportunity to look into Texas’ booming exotic animal trade. Because Texas doesn’t enforce registration of lions and tigers with the state — no one really knows how large the population is. Laws regarding the breeding and sale of the animals are lax at best. One animal expert guessed that at least 3,000 tigers are living in Texas — more than in the wild of India.
Just to prove how wild it can be out there, media accounts report that a lion and tiger rode out Hurricane Ike, which wiped out a good part of Galveston, and destroyed Bolivar City and Crystal Beach. In today’s Houston Chronicle, there’s a story [http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/6005149.html] about an escaped tiger running loose on the devastated Bolivar Peninsula. The report says that the tiger probably escaped from a nearby exotic animal zoo. Law enforcement officials are trying to capture the tiger which, is reportedly extremely hungry.
The Associated Press also reports today [http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080917/ap_on_re_us/ike_tales_of_survival] that Michael Ray Kujawa rode out the hurricane with his 11-year old lioness, named Shackle, at the First Baptist Church. See photos here[http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/slideshow/photo//080916/480/cd30df461d46465489a8c811a5d78fdb/]. As the flood waters rose around his legs, Kujawa locked his lion in the church’s sanctuary then fed the lioness a pork pot roast in the morning to keep her friendly.
Apparently, Texas needs more than just an animal evacuation policy for dogs, cats and livestock. There are a significant number of exotic animals that are being overlooked during these devastating disasters. A prowling, hungry tiger is bad news not only for the neglected animal but also for hurricane survivors and emergency management personnel. Maybe the first step is registering these animals so the state at least knows what it’s dealing with during a disaster evacuation. Another logical precaution is requiring animal owners to take responsibility for the evacuation and care of these animals during a hurricane.
Granted, this is no easy task. I think we can guess what Motel 6’s pet policy is regarding a 500-pound tiger. But if a person or a facility chooses to keep these animals, they should, at least, have to shoulder the responsibility for them.

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