The roaming tiger shot by police in the area of Jodeco Road Wednesday morning was a former circus performer escaped from transport to Tennessee.
The female Bengal tiger was being transported from Florida to Memphis when she got loose in Henry County. After seeing news reports, an official with Feld Entertainment, the company contracted to transport the animal, notified law enforcement that a tiger was missing from the shipment.
Feld Entertainment is the company behind Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus, which closed for good in May after 146 years of performances under the iconic striped tent. The company had applied in May for a permit through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to return 14 big cats to Germany with their trainer, Alexander Lacey, after their retirement from the circus.
News reports have identified the tiger killed in Henry County as Suzy, which records show is one of eight tigers included in Feld Entertainment’s initial permit application. Suzy was 6 years old and bred in captivity.
“The truck had stopped in Georgia during the overnight hours and during that stop, the female Bengal tiger managed to escape unnoticed,” Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials said in a press release. “Feld discovered that it was missing when the truck arrived at the destination.”
The tiger was spotted roaming the area of Jodeco Road and Interstate 75 early Wednesday morning. Henry County police said the decision to kill the tiger was made after the animal was seen attacking a dog in the backyard of a home in the Meadowbrook community.
“With the tiger in close proximity to a school bus route in a densely populated area, officers made the decision to put the animal down with gunfire fearing that occupants of the home could be in danger as well as others in the area,” said police spokesman Capt. Joey Smith in an earlier release.
The first reports of a tiger on the loose in Henry County came in at about 6 a.m. Henry County police officers responded to the area, located the tiger and kept it in sight while they contacted animal professionals, Smith said.
Not long after, the tiger began running toward the homes on Meadowbrook Road. A FOX 5 reporter on the scene said she heard about a dozen gunshots before officers told her the threat had been “eliminated.”
FOX 5 also reported that the dog, a small Dachshund mix named Journey, survived the attack.
The DNR and Henry County Animal Control responded to the scene to remove the deceased tiger from the yard of the residence.
“An examination of the large cat revealed a microchip, which was matched to the number held by Feld Entertainment,” DNR officials said.
Nearby Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove was contacted to help in the capture of the tiger before officers made the decision to put the animal down. According to DNR, that action was taken “quickly and humanely.”
“Noah’s Ark was contacted to assist in capturing the tiger and we were in contact with officers on the scene multiple times during the time it took us to gather our gear and drive to the location of the incident,” said Allison Hedgecoth, animal husbandry manager for Noah’s Ark, in an email. “Unfortunately, we received a phone call while we were on route saying that the tiger had to be shot because human life was in jeopardy.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had offered up a reward of up to $2,500 for information on the identity of the tiger’s former owners. PETA Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders later issued a statement condemning Ringling Bros. and the use of animals for entertainment.
“When Feld sentenced these tigers to a miserable life in a German circus, this tiger’s fate was sealed,” Winders said. “She was gunned down on the streets of Atlanta, and PETA bets that she won’t be the last to die tragically. In light of this tragedy, we are calling on the federal government to revoke Feld’s permit to export 14 other big cats.”
The DNR and the Henry County Police Department are currently investigating the incident to determine any possible charges.
This story is developing. Check back to HenryHerald.com for updates.