According to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Randy Zellers, authorities are investigating the discovery of seven tigers, six lions and a leopard found in a barn in Poinsett County.
Zellers said the Poinsett County Sheriff’s Department received an anonymous tip about the animals. Deputies went to the scene and saw the animals plainly visible through one of the building’s open doors.
The owner told officers the animals were temporarily housed while waiting for shipment to Germany via Memphis International Airport.
Zellers said the animals’ owner, a man from England, was keeping them until they could be flown to Germany. He said the man possessed the appropriate paperwork for ownership of the animals. Zeller said the man didn’t alert the county that he would be temporarily holding the animals in Arkansas.
However, Zellers said the AGFC is trying to confirm the story with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
“We’re actually still going back and looking back and verifying all the information on the history of these animals and where their origin is, but what we do know about these animals is he does have the paperwork and he does have the proper licenses to move forward and to have these animals shipped to Germany which is their final destination.”
No one has been arrested or charged in connection with the discovery, Zellers said.
Poinsett County Sheriff Kevin Molder said the sight of the animals was something that his department had never dealt with before.
“At the time I didn’t know exactly how many, I could just see from outside and it was just it was not something that I’d ever seen, with the exception of at the zoo and not being that close to that kind of animal, they’re amazing animals,” Molder said.
AGFC Major Brad Young says wildlife officers will be at the location around the clock to make sure the animals are contained. They will also escort the animals to the Tennessee state line where they will be met by TWRA personnel.
Zellers stated large carnivores are among animals restricted for importation into the state without prior written approval from the AGFC, according to the Arkansas Code of Regulations.
Following up on Susy, the former circus tiger shot and killed in Georgia, E&E News reported earlier in the week that federal officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are joining the investigation.
Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for USDA-APHIS, said that “we are looking at compliance” with the Animal Welfare Act as part of what she termed initial fact-finding on the tiger’s death.
“When an incident occurs, we gather information to determine whether AWA non-compliances may have led to the incident,” Cole said.
A leopard, eight tigers and six lions approved for shipment back to Europe entered the United States between 2011 and 2014 and were part of the Ringling Bros. Blue Unit, one of two run by the circus. The tigers represent the eighth and ninth generations of tigers bred by the Lacey family.
“We believe these big cats are most likely the same group being transported from Florida to Tennessee that resulted in a tiger being shot and killed in Henry County, Georgia. We are in communication with the agencies involved with the investigation, said Lisa Salamat, CEO of the WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society.
“The description of the remaining big cats traveling through Georgia on their way to Tennessee to be flown back to Germany aligns with the big cats discovered in Arkansas,” she added.