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Tarzan's Escaped Tiger Killed

John Roach
for National Geographic News
July 14, 2004
 
A tiger that apparently scaled a 12-foot (3.7-meter) wall to escape the
Florida home of an actor who once played Tarzan was shot and killed
Tuesday after he made a threatening move at a wildlife officer.

"The animal made an aggressive move toward the officer, he felt threatened, and, unfortunately, the animal was [killed]," said Willie Puz, a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.


Two wildlife officers approached the escaped 600-pound (270-kilogram) Bengal-Siberian mixed tiger named Bobo. They had planned to shoot him with a tranquilizer and capture the animal alive, but the tiger's aggressive display prompted the lethal shot.

Bobo, a six-year-old, was owned by Steve Sipek, an actor who starred as the King of the Jungle in two movies in 1970 and 1972 under the screen name Steve Hawkes, according to the Internet Movie Database.

On the Lam

The tiger went on the lam Monday afternoon. Although Bobo stayed within 200 yards (180 meters) of home, he managed to elude a dozen wildlife trackers and sheriff's deputies for more than 24 hours.

According to press reports, thick scrub of palmettos, slash pine, and palm trees surrounding Sipek's five-acre (two-hectare) compound about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami made searching for the tiger difficult.

Trackers maintained a perimeter around the area and cautioned drivers about the escaped tiger. Residents were offered escorts to their homes and asked to call 911 if they spotted Bobo.

Sipek, his shirt soaked in blood from hugging the dead tiger, told reporters gathered at the scene that he doubted Bobo had to be killed, that he was shot so that the wildlife officers would be recognized as heroes for saving the people from the "vicious tiger."

"Murder is the word," he said. "They murdered a poor, helpless animal that only looked ferocious, as any tiger would. But Bobo had a heart of gold."

Bobo was de-clawed, but still had his fangs. Wildlife officials said that the tiger bit and injured a woman who was working at Sipek's home two years ago. Sipek said that Bobo did not intentionally hurt the woman.

The ex-Tarzan actor has a soft spot for mistreated big cats and has long held a permit to keep exotic animals at his home. In addition to the late Bobo, Sipek's pets include another tiger, a panther, a cougar, and a pair of lions.

Escapees

The San Francisco, California-based Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition issued a press release Tuesday cautioning that "Bobo's escape is the tip of the iceberg—the rate of animal escapees, human and animal injury and death from privately owned big cats is increasing."

According to the coalition, big cat incidents since April 2003 include four human fatalities, 18 human injuries, 124 animal fatalities, 28 animal escapes, and 222 confiscations.

On March 18, Jabari, a 340-pound (153-kilogram) gorilla made headlines when he apparently leapt across a 12-foot (3.5-meter) wide moat and wall at the Dallas Zoo in Texas and went on a 40-minute rampage in which he injured one adult and two children before being shot to death.

Bobo's Monday escape and Tuesday shooting are under investigation, officials said.

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