Deadly attack haunts tiger owner
By JAMIE MALERNEE
© St. Petersburg Times,
Robert Baudy, owner of the Savage Kingdom exotic animal ranch, ran to the tiger pen after hearing an assistant scream. Shotgun in hand, he didn't think twice about using it.
"It was my duty," said Baudy, who has worked with dangerous felines for decades. "The animal was in a fury. Its eyes were pure gold and the hair on his neck was standing straight up. That's a sign that a cat is out to kill."
Baudy says he will be haunted the rest of his life by the image of his dying friend, Vince Lowe, who was mauled to death last week at the Sumter County ranch.
If only, Baudy told the Times Monday, Lowe had listened to his advice while fixing the cage that held the 500-pound Siberian tiger, Tie.
"I felt terrible. I lost two friends that day: Vince and the tiger," said Baudy, 77. "But he did not follow my instructions. I said to isolate the cat, and move it to the end cage. They did not do that."
Instead, Lowe and his assistant moved the tiger to a middle cage, one of at least four inside the wooden tiger pen they were repairing. The tiger saw a hole in the cage just as Lowe, 49, rushed to cover it. The beast tore his way out of the cage and grabbed Lowe by the neck.
The assistant who witnessed the attack, Lesa Lucas of Ridge Manor, says the pair had tried to move Tie to the end cage but the cage doors were nailed closed.
Lucas has said that was just one of several things wrong with Savage Kingdom, which she calls unsafe.
Just before the attack, she says federal inspectors found 17 things wrong with the 40-acre property. In fact, she says that is why she and Lowe were there that day: to fix the problems before the U.S. Department of Agriculture returned.
But Baudy and USDA documents don't support Lucas' account.
Baudy acknowledges that his compound is aging, but he says the doors to the furthest cage were never nailed down.
"If they couldn't open it, then how did the (inspectors) open it right up?" he asked. "I've about 20 inspectors out here. It was like the Spanish Inquisition."
State inspectors said they found no violations at Savage Kingdom that contributed to the mauling. But state regulations do not address internal cages. Federal officials are still conducting an inquiry and have not released their findings.
A federal inspection report from six days before the attack, however, shows only minor problems were found at the breeding facility. They included cobwebs and feces in the cages and the lack of a property pest control plan.
This is the same report Lucas said contained a litany of violations. When asked about the discrepancy between her version of the report and the one released to the St. Petersburg Times, Lucas stuck by her story but declined further comment on the advice of her attorney.
Baudy says he is saddened by Lowe's death, but not necessarily surprised. He said that although Lowe was a good man and a hard worker, he could be cocky when dealing with large felines.
At the time of the attack, Lowe had been working at Savage Kingdom to earn a certification that would allow him to handle the most dangerous of animals, such as tigers, gorillas and elephants.
He was already licensed to own smaller cats, and he often mentioned how he wrestled with them and allowed his favorite Florida cougar, Fubar, to nap with him on his couch. Scuffles with Fubar over the years had broken his nose, torn his lip and nearly forced the amputation of his arm.
"He used to brag about the scars he had from his own cats. He told me, "You have sissies working around here. You need a real man,' " Baudy recalled. "I said, "They may be sissies, but they have all their fingers.' "
After a pause, Baudy continued:
"The worst kind of help are people who think they know something just because they have a few cats of their own. It's better to have people who don't know anything . . . other than fear."
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