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From 18 July 2004 Issue

Bobo and Tarzan
By Michelle Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com 

Living in Palm Beach County this past week has been anything but routine and trying to sort out one's feelings about complicated issues is a formidable and sometimes unnecessary exercise in futility. That is, until one's editor sends an e-mail that says "Animal Writes" readers surely want to know what's going on down there in the Sunshine State in the land of Tarzan and Bobo from someone who lives around the corner from where the big cat was killed.

Dozens of people gathered for a candlelight vigil the day after Bobo the tiger was killed. I was not among them. I wondered, though, while watching them leap on this bandwagon, how many of them have dogs purchased from petstores, bet on greyhounds in the sweltering heat and roast pigs on a spit in celebration of birthdays, holidays and promotions.

Well, there is that one lady. Did you hear the one about the woman who brought a young pig that goes by the unfortunate name of Baby Back Ribs in the trunk of her Cadillac to the site to offer him up as a martyr for the cause? Linda Meredith fancies herself an animal rights activist because she swung into action when she heard that Bobo the tiger was missing. But let's back up a bit for those who have not been CNN junkies over the past week and are looking into their dogs' eyes in wonder and confusion and asking them "What on earth is she talking about?"

Last week a six year old tiger liberated himself from the confines of his cage in a sanctuary in Loxahatchee, Florida. The animal was living there with Steve Sipek, a former Spanish movie star who played Tarzan in all the Spanish language Tarzan movies. Even though that was thirty years ago, he still receives royalties whenever his movies are played and thus has become a millionaire. He's not your ordinary millionaire, however, this man lives without a stick of furniture save for the bed he shares with six big cats. He can't own furniture, he says, because his six cats will just tear it apart. Well, make that five cats now.

And here's where the story gets a little sentimental, as most animal stories are wont to do. While filming a Tarzan movie many years ago, the set on which Steve and his lion were filming burst into flames. The crew and actors ran for cover, leaving Steve on the set and engulfed in flames. One actor, the lion, braved the flames and pulled Steve to safety where the others doused him with water. This event changed Steve's life forever in two profound ways. It ended his movie career because his "movie star good looks" were a distant memory having been replaced by burn scars, and his affinity for big cats was forever ingrained in his heart. He made a vow (think Howard Lyman here) about how he would dedicate his life to helping big cats. And so he has.

Tarzan moved to Palm Beach County, Florida, and set up a sanctuary for big cats. A few years later, the laws in the state of Florida were changed that restricted those with big cats to landowners with more than five acres of property and, of course, proper licensure. Tarzan was grandfathered in and so was allowed to keep his cats even though his property was not "up to code." There were more complications in the statute, such as what kind of big cats were allowed, that had to be addressed by Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the United States who was interviewed for several stories that appeared in the Palm Beach Post (www.pbpost.com).

Anyway, Bobo had been acquired by Steve a/k/a/ Tarzan when Bobo was just six months old. The circumstances under why Bobo was acquired by Steve a/k/a/ Tarzan are unclear, as are the facts surrounding his being declawed and de-fanged. He lived on the compound, having run of the house, with five other cats: two Bengal tigers named Princess and Elvis, a lioness, Stephanie, Missy the cougar and Oko the leopard. Steve a/k/a/ Tarzan insists that his cats sleep with him every night in his bed. Since the cats are so big and the bed is so small in comparison, he frequently finds himself on the floor.

Bobo's escape was cause for concern in the equestrian area where Steve a/k/a/ Tarzan lives but folks took it in stride. They rounded up their horses and dogs, they kept a closer eye on their kids and waited out the storm. Wildlife officers, along with sheriff's deputies, set up a perimeter and the world waited. Enter Linda Meredith, who showed up in her Cadillac and, upon opening the trunk of her vehicle, offered the officers a sweet young pig named Baby Back Ribs as "bait." "Just twist his ears and yank his legs" she told officers, demonstrating in front of tv cameras, "and he will scream and the tiger will come to eat him." I am happy to say that the officials at Animal Care and Control were flooded with calls complaining about her actions and she was cited for animal cruelty. She, however, is bewildered by that because, as she says, she was fattening him up for a pig roast on Halloween and was "going to be eaten anyway." When a tv reporter remarked to her that "animal rights activists will be coming after" her, she stated that she, herself, was an animal rights activist because she was the only one who was trying to help the tiger.

Twenty-six hours after Bobo escaped, he was shot and killed by a Florida wildlife officer much to the chagrin and deep disappointment of Steve a/k/a/ Tarzan and his followers. Questions abound. Why didn't they use a tranquilizer gun? Because the officer claimed that the tiger lunged at him and a tranquilizer gun takes time to take effect. Why didn't they just let Steve a/k/a/ Tarzan go to him and secure him and walk him home? Because Steve a/k/a/ Tarzan had left briefly to take a shower and therefore was "indisposed". Steve a/k/a/ Tarzan says he heard the five gunshots and knew that his beloved Bobo had been murdered.

So what are we to take from this horrendous event? Steve Sipek was not one of the bad guys who keeps big cats for pets and purchases them from dealers. He was trying to help them in the best way he knew how. But having those cats brings with it a huge responsibility, first and foremost of which is the responsibility to keep the tiger confined and his neighbors safe. Because he was irresponsible in that regard, he tied up law and wildlife officers for twenty-six hours, kept his neighbors on high alert and in fear of the safety of their horses and other animals for an entire day and night, and, ultimately, got his tiger killed. Was the officer justified in killing the tiger? We will never know. I wasn't there in the shoes of that officer. My feeling is that the officer was trying to do the right thing with the whole world watching, but then again, maybe he decided after 26 hours that "enough is enough" and he made the unilateral decision to end it then and there. Bobo's body has been sent for a necropsy but officials don't expect any clear answers. The bullets entered the animals' body and stopped his heart forever. He was a magnificent cat, a loving cat, but a cat with a history of attacking at least one other person. A volunteer was attacked by Bobo a few years ago who sustained a very nasty bite to her head but who still, to this day, volunteers at Steve's sanctuary and defends Bobo.

There will be a funeral for Bobo and the world grieves with Steve a/k/a/ Tarzan who, after all is said and done, is in mourning and deserves our sympathy and compassion for his loss, regardless of how we feel about his exotic "pets." Good night, Bobo, the world is a sadder place without you.

Go on to Regarding The Question: Is There An Afterlife For Pets?
Return to 18 July 2004 Issue
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