- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

ST. LOUIS | Three tigers attacked a worker at an exotic animal park in southwestern Missouri on Monday, the state’s second tiger attack in as many days.

Stone County Sheriff Richard Hill said the tigers attacked a 16-year-old worker at Predator World in Branson West after he entered their cage to photograph the tigers for customers.

Employees managed to pull the teen from the cage before emergency responders arrived. He was airlifted to a Springfield hospital and was in critical condition, with injuries including punctures to his neck. His name was not released.

The tigers were “locked down” after the attack, Sheriff Hill said. A woman who answered the phone at Predator World said she could only confirm that a staff member had been seriously injured.

The attack came a day after a tiger mauled a volunteer at the Wesa-A-Geh-Ya animal farm in Warrenton.

A roughly 800-pound tiger jumped an 8- to 10-foot gate and attacked the 26-year-old man who was trying to clean the tiger’s cage, said Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison.

He said the owners and others at the facility tried to cover up what had happened by cleaning up the site and saying the victim had been attacked by a pit bull. Only later Sunday were authorities told what really happened and led to the tiger’s carcass, which had been taken to another property, he said.

“They actively tried to cover it up and mislead us,” said Sheriff Harrison.

The volunteer, whose name was not released, had surgery on his leg and is expected to recover.

Sandra Smith, one of the owners, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she had initially misled authorities because she feared that the facility’s animals would be euthanized if authorities learned the truth, the newspaper reported.

Sheriff Harrison said that no one from the animal facility had been charged and that the investigation was ongoing.

Wesa-A-Geh-Ya is owned by Mrs. Smith and her husband, Kenneth, and means “Cat Lady” in Mrs. Smith’s native Cherokee language.

The couple moved to Missouri in 1986 with a tiger and two cougars. The 17-acre site now holds dozens of animals on two acres, including wolves, a bear and “more lions and tigers than there are at the St. Louis Zoo,” Sheriff Harrison said.

In 2000, the Missouri Senate honored Wesa-A-Geh-Ya for housing the animals in harmony with the natural world. But in 2003, the Smiths surrendered their license to exhibit the animals, and it was later revoked, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture said there were violations at the site, including gaps in fencing where lions and tigers lived.

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