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PHOTOS: Lions, tigers, leopard found in cages in Arkansas workshop

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State wildlife officers will escort a transport carrying former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus animals from Poinsett County to Memphis International Airport today after deputies found lions, tigers and a leopard in cages in a Poinsett County workshop.

Randy Zellers, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman, said authorities confirmed that the animals are bound for Germany and were kept in a building near Weiner until arrangements could be made for them to be flown overseas.

"They were in transport," Zellers said. "Poinsett County was just basically a layover for them."

The animals -- seven tigers, six lions and a leopard -- all appeared healthy, Zellers said. The animals' owner was with them, he added.

The animals were owned by a Tampa, Fla., act that was contracted by the circus company. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey discontinued operating in May after performing for 146 years.

Last week, one of the former circus tigers escaped in Stockbridge, Ga., while being transported from Florida to Tennessee to board an airplane bound for Germany. Officers shot and killed the tiger when it attacked a dog at a residence.

Zellers said that tiger, a 6-year-old Bengal tiger named Suzy, was originally a part of the group that ended up in Poinsett County.

Officers first learned of the animals at about 9:30 p.m. Saturday when the Poinsett County sheriff's office received an anonymous call about exotic animals in the county.

"Needless to say, that was strange," Sheriff Kevin Molder said. "In my 22½ years of law enforcement, I've never had a call like that.

"We seriously thought it was just a prank call."

A dispatcher sent a deputy to investigate a large warehouse about 8 miles from Weiner. When the deputy arrived, he could see the animals inside their cages through an open doorway.

"He called for backup," Molder said. "We knew it was a serious call."

Molder went to the warehouse with other deputies and then called a Game and Fish wildlife officer who lives nearby.

"They were sitting in their cages, looking at us," Molder said of the 14 animals. "I've never been that close to animals like that. It was a sight."

Zellers said the animals' owner was from England. He had proper paperwork proving his ownership of the animals but failed to notify the county that he had the animals housed there temporarily.

He said investigators were trying to determine from where the animals came. He said they were taken to Weiner from Tennessee while the owner waited for proper documentation to fly them to Germany.

The owner of the warehouse was not there Saturday, and officials were still trying to contact him Monday, Zellers said.

"Our main concern was safety," he said.

Wildlife officers have remained at the warehouse to watch over the animals since their discovery Saturday.

"There was no way they could escape," Zellers said.

Map showing the location of Weiner, Arkansas

Officers with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will escort a truck carrying the animals from Weiner to the Arkansas state line today, Zellers said. Members of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will meet them there and then follow the transport truck to Memphis International Airport.

State Desk on 09/12/2017

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