POINSETT COUNTY, Ark. — According to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Randy Zellers, authorities are investigating the discovery of seven tigers, six lions and a leopard found in a barn in Poinsett County.
Zellers said the Poinsett County Sheriff's Department received an anonymous tip Saturday about the animals. Deputies went to the scene and saw the animals in plain view.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says officers spoke with the owner of the animals, who said they were being temporarily housed while waiting shipment to Germany by way of the Memphis International Airport.
At this time, officers are working to confirm the owner’s account with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. However, Zellers says that the owner does have the proper paperwork and licenses to have the animals shipped to Germany.
No one has been arrested or charged in connection with the discovery, Zellers said.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has set up a security detail in the area to make sure the animals do not get out or attempt to hurt anyone, Zellers said.
They will be escorted to the Tennessee state line, where personnel with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will guide them through the rest of their journey.
According to the Arkansas Code of Regulations, large carnivores are not allowed for importation into Arkansas without prior written approval from the state's Game and Fish Commission.
"Our No. 1 priority is to ensure the safety of the citizens of Poinsett County," Young said. "The owner of the animals is with them on-site, and the animals are being taken care of. We just want to make sure they remain secure throughout their time in Arkansas."
An international animal rights group, Animal Defenders International, claims the animals are owned by a former Ringling trainer and that another one of the owner's tigers was shot and killed in Georgia after it escaped during a stop on the way to Tennessee.
"The plight of these lions and tigers highlights everything that is wrong with the use of animals in traveling circuses," said Tim Phillips, president of Animal Defenders International. "We have seen the tragic consequences of keeping these animals in temporary mobile facilities with the escape and killing of tiger Suzy. Moving from state to state, any effective oversight of the welfare of these animals is impossible, and now the animals will be transported thousands of miles to perform in Europe. This needs a federal solution that ends the use of wild animals in circuses nationally – I hope we will see more Members of Congress backing the Traveling Exotic Animal & Public Safety Protection Act as a result of this needless tragedy."