Love me, love my 600-pound tiger, neighbor

July 19, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

LET'S BEGIN WITH this hypothetical situation: you've just moved into a new house and now it's time to meet the neighbors.

Which is when you discover the neighbors have a pet.

But this pet isn't a golden retriever or a Siamese cat or a cockatiel, or something like that.

No, this pet is a tiger.

And not some cute little tiger cub that weighs 20 pounds and gets fed with a baby bottle and makes everyone laugh when he claws the drapes.

No, this is a 600-pound tiger.

With a head the size of a microwave oven and big teeth that look like they could rip through bank vaults.

Would you have a problem with this?

If your answer is something like: "No, that would be fine, I love animals and would have no problem living next door to a large jungle cat that could kill and strip the carcass of a water buffalo in 20 minutes," there is no point in your reading any further.

Because there's obviously something wrong with you.

And you probably subscribe to the philosophy espoused by the lunatic fringe of pet owners, a philosophy that seems to be: No matter how big or how dangerous an animal is, if I want it in my home, I should be able to have it.

In fact, our hypothetical example above closely mirrors the case of Steve Sipek, the Florida man who, until last week, owned a tiger named Bobo.

Bobo, you may have heard, is now deceased.

The reason Bobo is no longer with us is that he escaped from Sipek's home in a rural area 10 miles from West Palm Beach and was shot after he lunged at wildlife officers who cornered him after a 26-hour search.

The officers were hoping to get close enough to fire a tranquilizer dart and capture him alive, but things didn't go according to plan.

They often don't when you're dealing with wild animals.

Generally, when a tiger sees a bunch of guys with rifles and badges creeping up on him, he's not thinking: Well, the jig's up. Might as well go quietly.

Instead, if he's hungry, he's thinking: Yo, my take-out order just arrived!

I'm not going to get into whether the shooting of Bobo could have been prevented - although if I were an armed wildlife officer and a 600-pound tiger lunged at me, I don't think yelling "Bad Bobo!" would be enough to save me.

And there's no doubt that Sipek, a former actor who played Tarzan in two movies in the late '60s and '70s, genuinely loved Bobo and was grief-stricken over his death.

But the question is: what in God's name is a homeowner doing with a pet tiger?

Rural Sumatra - now that's a good place for tigers.

Not rural Florida.

According to the Florida newspapers, though, Sipek is one of only two people in the state to have a permit to keep large cats as pets.

And I'm sure his neighbors will be comforted to know that Sipek has another tiger at home, along with a panther, a cougar and a pair of lions.

But just because you have a permit for these animals, that doesn't make the whole situation right.

Then there's this: Sipek told the Palm Beach Post that Bobo probably escaped when a woman Sipek had a "bad relationship" with broke into his compound and left the gate open.

At my house, if someone leaves the gate open, you got an 11-pound Shih-Tzu running around the streets, ready to lick someone to death.

A gate gets left open at Sipek's place and half of South Florida's law enforcement agencies get called out for a safari.

Of course, it's not just Florida where idiot pet owners are keeping animals that are too big and dangerous for the environment.

It's everywhere.

In Carroll County, animal control officers were called to remove a pet African lion from a home in Finksburg four years ago.

I know, I know ... hasn't everyone had a pet lion at one time or another?

Sure they have.

You start with the box turtle and goldfish, move up to the gerbils and hamsters, go through rabbits and parrots and into the puppy and kitten phase.

Then next thing you know, you're leafing through Exotic Animals Today and thinking: "Boy, wouldn't it be cool to have a lion around here? The back yard's big enough, don't you think?"

By the way, Carroll County Animal Control has also received calls to remove pet jaguars, orangutans, boa constrictors and giant lizards from homes.

And I used to think people were nuts to own ferrets.

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