A tiger shot and killed after wandering loose around a suburban Atlanta neighborhood and attacking a terrified dog was identified as a circus performer named Suzy.
The 6-year-old Bengal tiger managed to escape from a transport truck carrying 14 of the big cats from Florida to Tennessee, officials said late Wednesday.
Circus presenter and big cat trainer Alexnder Lacey owned Suzy, Feld Entertainmnt Inc. spokesman Stephen Payne told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lacey was contracted to work with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The Department of Natural Resources said Feld Entertainment, which was transporting the animal, reported the tiger missing from a shipment.
“The truck had stopped in Georgia during the overnight hours, and during that stop the female Bengal tiger managed to escape unnoticed,” DNR spokesman Mark McKinnon said in a news release. “(The company) discovered that she was missing when the truck arrived at the destination.”
McKinnon said officials found a microchip in the tiger that matched a number for the entertainment company, which touts itself as “the worldwide leader in producing and presenting live touring family entertainment experiences,” according to its website.
Feld Entertainment ran Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus for 146 years before its last show in May.
The 14 tigers on board the truck were all owned by Lacey and were the last to be shipped from a property in Tampa that housed the animals after the circus closed, Payne said. The tigers, originally from Great Britain, were headed to a Tennessee airport where they would fly to Germany, he said. The company is not releasing where in Tennessee the tigers were being transported.
Payne said the surviving 13 are healthy and in good care. Authorities have not filed charges against the company or Lacey.
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Suzy first sent residents into a frenzy about 6 a.m. Authorities received at least two 911 calls from people who spotted her near the ramp from I-75 North to Jodeco Road and near a home in the area, Henry police Capt. Joey Smith said.
Officers later found the big cat and alerted animal control officials.
“Unfortunately, it jumped a fence and went after a dog back behind one of the residences here,” Smith said. “And the officers had to use some force to put the tiger down.”
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Officers weren’t equipped with tranquilizers and came across the Bengal tiger before animal control authorities arrived, Smith said.
“It was large enough to be of great concern to us,” Smith said.
Suzy was also “in close proximity to a school bus route in a densely populated area,” Smith said.
The search for the owner prompted PETA to issue a $2,500 reward.
“Wild animals belong in the wild,” PETA spokeswoman Brittany Peet said in a news release, “and when dangerous apex predators are confined to private homes or for entertainment, the consequences can be fatal.”
Brittney Speck, who owns the dog in the incident, said she woke up to high beams and other lights flashed on by officers in the area.
“My dog was also going crazy in the backyard,” Speck said.
When she went to her back window to check on her Dachshund named Journey, she saw the tiger in her neighbor’s yard along the side nearest her yard and called 911.
Soon after, the tiger jumped on her dog, Speck said.
“And the officers I guess just started firing rounds and took it down and then gave me my dog back,” Speck said.
The dog is OK.
Speck said she’s thankful her 3-year-old, 4-year-old and 7-year-old children weren’t outside at the time.
“It was like a full-grown zoo tiger,” Speck said.
“We’re very glad that no one was injured,” McKinnon said. “It’s unfortunate that the tiger had to be put down, but public safety comes first.”
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