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Startled tiger swats its owner

He stumbles while cleaning its cage. The young tiger's owner, from a circus family, says his injury "comes with the territory."

By BEN MONTGOMERY and ABBIE VAN SICKLE
Published September 13, 2006


[Times photo: Skip O'Rourke]
Lancelot Kollmann has 14 tigers, two leopards, four jaguars and five lions. He recently bought the female tiger, Rula (not shown here), that clawed him.

BALM - Lancelot Kollmann stumbled Tuesday, inside a cage with a jittery 250-pound tiger named Rula. He paid in blood.

The last in a long line of lion tamers escaped the cage with cuts on his left shoulder and a gash on his lip that took stitches to close.

"It comes with the territory," a weary-looking Kollmann said at his rural eastern Hillsborough County compound, where lions and tigers roam in a row of cages and a sign bears a number to call "In case of emergency."

Kollmann's family has been in traveling circuses for more than 200 years. His grandfather was a lion tamer. His father and uncles owned big cats. Other kin were jugglers, high-wire artists, acrobats.

Kollmann started at age 10, feeding and washing the beasts. Tuesday was the first time he has been injured, he said.

It happened like this: He was cleaning Rula's cage late Tuesday morning when he stumbled. He braced his fall with his arm, but he startled the 1½-year-old female he bought a few days ago.

Then she swiped him with a claw.

A neighbor took Kollmann to South Bay Hospital in Sun City Center, where doctors treated his wounds and released him by afternoon.

"She was just scared," said Kollmann, 37, a barrel-chested man who performed in arenas dressed as a gladiator. "It wasn't a bite, just a claw."

He's recovering from his wounds, which weren't serious, but the beat-up lion tamer isn't in the clear yet.

State officials say Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Lt. Steve De Lacure, who recently wrapped up an investigation into the high-profile tiger attack at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, will investigate the Kollmann incident.

Kollmann owns an animal business in Balm called Sir Lance A Lot, deputies say.

He is licensed by the state to exhibit exotic animals, including two leopards, four jaguars, one elephant, five lions and 14 tigers, wildlife commission spokesman Willie Puz said. His license is valid through October.

The U.S. Agriculture Department gave him permission to exhibit the animals in January 2005, and he's had a valid license since, department spokesman Darby Holladay said. Kollmann hasn't had any problems with the license, Holladay said.

But his family is well known to both agencies.

In 2000, Kollmann's father, Manuel Ramos, was forced to give up his license to avoid prosecution for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act and sentenced to probation for improperly handling an elephant.

The African elephant, Kenya, broke loose from a tether at the family's compound in Riverview, stomping Kollmann's aunt, acrobat Teresa Ramos-Caballero, to death.

Ramos, who owned the Oscarian Brothers Circus, agreed to serve one year of probation, perform community service and pay investigative costs in the case.

Ramos faced misdemeanor charges of keeping animals in cages that were too small for them, and mishandling the elephant. The Agriculture Department also accused him of failing to screen the elephant handlers, including Kollmann, for tuberculosis, which is required.

His license was revoked in July 2000, records show.

Ramos turned over the family's livelihood to his son, Kollmann, who built a $35,000 compound in Balm.

At first, the Agriculture Department refused to give Kollmann a license to exhibit the animals, which meant they could not travel with the family's circus. But federal officials and the family eventually reached a settlement.

The attack marks the second time in recent weeks that tigers have made headlines in Hillsborough County.

On Aug. 22, Lowry Park Zoo officials shot and killed a 14-year-old Sumatran tiger, Enshala, after the animal slipped out of her enclosure through an unlocked door.

The zoo's director shot Enshala after she lunged at a veterinarian who was trying to tranquilize her.

The state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Agriculture Department investigated the incident. Wildlife commission officials completed their investigation Monday of the Lowry Park Zoo case.

The case is now in the hands of prosecutors, who will decide whether to file criminal charges against a zookeeper who left a door unlocked, allowing the tiger to escape.

Prosecutors expect that the decision will take a few weeks, Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Gabbard said.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813 661-2443.

[Last modified September 17, 2006, 13:33:06]


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