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Ohio sanctuary owner surrenders 5 tigers to state after failing to get permit, accreditation


COLUMBUS, Ohio — A man who kept five tigers at his Ohio animal sanctuary surrendered them to the state Monday after failing to meet tightened requirements for ownership of dangerous wild creatures.

Officials went to the sanctuary near Waldo and were prepared to get a warrant to seize the tigers, but owner Mike Stapleton voluntarily relinquished them, Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Erica Hawkins said.

The big cats were tranquilized and moved to the state holding facility in Reynoldsburg, where they will remain for at least two weeks while the state identifies a new home for them, Hawkins said. She said she had no information about how the tigers came to be in Stapleton's possession.

Stapleton doesn't have a public phone listing at his property and didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment. He previously had several bears at his Paws and Claws Animal Sanctuary, about 40 miles north of Columbus, but had relocated those outside Ohio.

In the spring, when the state sent Stapleton a letter warning that he was violating the law with his tigers, he told The Marion Star he'd been in contact with the department and had been adding fencing around his property to create more outdoor space for the tigers beyond the pole barn where they were kept.

He told the newspaper he was under the impression that he was in good standing with the agency as long as he was taking steps toward compliance.

Hawkins said Stapleton's animals had been put under quarantine several months ago because he didn't have a proper permit and the state determined he wasn't making significant progress toward compliance. She also said he tried unsuccessfully to get an accreditation to exempt him under the state requirements enacted after a suicidal man released dozens of animals, including lions and tigers, from a Zanesville-area farm in 2011.

Hawkins said she didn't immediately have details on the conditions in which Stapleton's tigers were found Monday, but she noted the department is closely watching one that exhibited unusual behavior. It was laying on its side when officials arrived, and when it was hit with a tranquilizer dart, it didn't get up or react as expected, she said.

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