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Tiger saga nears finale

As the saga of nine tigers seized from a private farm near Underwood, Minn., draws to a close, debate over who should be able to own exotic animals rages on, an animal welfare advocate said Thursday.

As the saga of nine tigers seized from a private farm near Underwood, Minn., draws to a close, debate over who should be able to own exotic animals rages on, an animal welfare advocate said Thursday.

The mauling of a 10-year-old boy by a tiger Wednesday in Morrison County highlights the danger of owning big cats, said Keith Streff, an investigator with the Animal Humane Society of Golden Valley, Minn.

Streff, who coordinated the June 14 confiscation of nine tigers from the Arcangel Wildlife farm near Underwood, planned to place those tigers on trucks this morning for transportation to new homes elsewhere in the country.

The owner of the cats, David Piccirillo, did not return the necessary paperwork to challenge the seizure action by Thursday's deadline and custody of the cats officially switched to Otter Tail County today, Streff said.

The tigers have been kept at a farm near Pillager, Minn., Streff said.


The Wildcat Sanctuary of Cedar, Minn., assisted the Humane Society in finding new homes for the cats in Columbus, Miss., Kingston, Tenn., and Center Point, Ind.

The tigers would likely have been euthanized if alternative placement had not been found, Streff said.

The incident in Morrison County was yet another example of the frequent problems cropping up with exotic animals, Streff said.

Streff said his agency has complaints on file regarding tigers in Morrison County, though he said he wasn't sure if any involved Best Buy Auto near Little Falls, where a tiger critically injured Russell LaLa of Royalton, Minn., late Wednesday.

The boy was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis after being initially transported to St. Gabriel's Hospital in Little Falls.

"Clearly, these particular animals (tigers) do not make sound personal pets," Streff said, adding that many people get in over their heads when they buy an exotic animal.

"It makes no sense to get your animal first and then try and construct your facilities and resources around it. It's an accident waiting to happen," Streff said.

Wendy Mears, who began Arcangel Wildlife several years ago with Piccirillo, has said she found it extremely difficult to care for the big cats, particularly after Piccirillo moved away earlier this year.


Neither Mears nor Piccirillo could be reached for comment Thursday. Both have maintained in the past that the tigers were in good shape.

Otter Tail County officials seized the Arcangel tigers in conjunction with a nuisance abatement order and an investigation into whether animal welfare and ownership laws had been violated.

Just days before the cats were seized, a lion escaped its enclosure on the property and was shot by a sheriff's deputy after it wandered onto a neighbor's land.

Mears and Piccirillo maintain someone let the cat out of its cage. County officials say there were no indications the escape was the result of a malicious act.

Five of the Underwood tigers will be taken to Tigerhaven, an animal sanctuary in Kingston, Tenn.

The others will be evenly split between the Cedar Hill Animal Sanctuary near Columbus, Miss., and the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Ind.

The Wildcat Sanctuary has raised $25,000 in donations, which will be given to the sanctuaries taking the tigers to offset expenses, said Tammy Quist, director of the Wildcat Sanctuary.

Quist, who advocates a ban on buying and selling exotic animals, said her sanctuary has been at capacity for two years and needs to relocate in order to house more animals.


While incidents involving exotic animals grab headlines, many owners of such creatures are responsible caretakers and never have problems, said Rachel Lampl, who runs the Majestic Te Ranch near Rollag, Minn.

"We are members of Responsible Animal Owners of Minnesota, and there are a lot of us out there," said Lampl, whose ranch is home to a variety of animals, including wolf hybrids and wallabies.

Sandi Cossette, who has raised exotic cats for decades with her husband, Jerry, in rural Moorhead, said they have never had a serious incident. The largest cat on their property is a Siberian lynx.

Animal breeders who take proper measures to keep the public safe should be allowed to stay in business, Cossette said, but she added she thinks there are too many tigers in private hands.

"They (tigers) need special people to take care of them because of their size," Cossette said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article. Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com.
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