POSTED: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 8:23pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 - 4:10pm
KETK Special Report: danger lurking for exotic pet owners
EAST TEXAS --- Most pets are part of the family. For some, it's their choice of pet that can kill them if not handled the right way.
Of five incidents last year where exotic animals killed people, one took place right here in East Texas. It's just some of the proof, the desire to tame the wild can go wrong for both man and beast.
"My unusual pet is an African Lion that is nearly 22 years old," says Sheree Daniels.
The biology professor is giving her students a lesson using the anatomy of her pet lion Cruizer.
"The relationship with the lion and myself has lasted longer than a lot of people's marriages," Daniel's says.
Sheree is one of the few exotic pet owners around the country who's successfully raised one of nature's fiercest beasts.
Just last November, a red stag deer gored his Waskom owner to death. The man fed him just as he did for years, when the deer went on the attack.
"The enclosure was so small he didn't have any room for retreat he couldn't get out of the way of it if it became aggressive," says Game Warden Chris Green.
Most owners don't succeed in caring for the expensive pets properly and give them up.
"Then you have these huge animals in these small cages for the rest of their lives," says Terri Werner.
Werner sees the battered and malnourished animals at tiger creek wildlife refugee.
"She had been hit and beat a lot," says Werner of tigers Amara and China.
They were taken by Smith County authorities.
"Literally you could walk up to the cages and a kid could stick his hands in cages," Werner said.
Owners tried to beat the cats into submission; even putting rottweilers in the cage to fight them.
"Because of her aggression, he made it worse. He would hit her with a cattle prod to get her to other parts of the compound," Werner said.
Authorities forced the owners to surrender the tigers.
"Down the line, that owner was going to get hurt or someone was going to get hurt," Werner said.
Werner says she knows responsible exotic owners but would never recommend a tiger as a pet.
"You are never going to domesticate these guys. You are never going to take their natural reactions out of them," Werner says.
"You can't tell when one of these animals are going to turn around and get you," Sheree agrees with Werner ... owning an exotic is not for everyone.
"They're very emotional, the lions with their female keeper. They'll kill a man," Sheree says.
She doesn't let visitors in the enclosure with her lion. After two decades, sheree comes only one enclosure away from her pet beast.
"When I want to talk to him or communicate, I'll sit on the cement next to him. he'll lay down and I pet him. he'll lick me through the fence," Sheree says.
Sheree has spent thousands of dollars on safety, food, and permits; all to keep the bond she's made with her lion.
"They have round pupils like a human and not elliptical like a house cat and it seems like you can look right into the depth of their souls when you look in their cages," Sheree says.
Still she says her fascination with the animal at the top of the food chain will end with Cruizer.
"When he's gone. I'll probably turn his case into a parrot cage."