LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. – A tiger that escaped from the home of a movie actor who once played Tarzan (search) was shot to death Tuesday after it lunged at a state wildlife officer who was trying to capture it.
Officers approached the tiger intending to shoot it with tranquilizers. But the tiger jumped at one officer, who shot it with a shotgun in self-defense, said Jorge Pino, a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (search).
A dozen wildlife trackers and sheriff's deputies had searched more than 24 hours for the animal, which escaped Monday. They had kept watch Tuesday in a five-acre area of dense slash pines and palm trees, hoping to catch the 6-year-old tiger named Bobo.
His owner, Steve Sipek (search), developed a soft spot for jungle beasts after playing Tarzan in B-movies decades ago. Sipek has another tiger, a panther, a cougar and lions on his south Florida compound, which is marked by a sign that reads, "Trespassers will be eaten."
Sipek told reporters he doubted Bobo had to be killed.
"Murder is the word," Sipek said. "They murdered a poor helpless animal that only looked ferocious, as any tiger would. But Bobo had a heart of gold."
"Needless to say, the owner is very distraught. We're distraught," Pino said. "Our concern was to recover this tiger alive and well."
Some nearby residents, who moved to the rural area so they could have room for their own pets, were less sympathetic.
"What I want to know is when he was in captivity, how long did he go without a feeding?" Kim Smith, who has horses and dogs that she normally keeps outside.
"Tigers are predatorial. All of us moved out here because we're city people wanting a taste of the country. But this is a little funky," said Smith, who lives with her husband and their six children.
Wildlife officials had said they did not believe the declawed pet would attack, even though he bit a woman working inside his cage two years ago.
An expert on tiger behavior disagreed that Bobo had posed no danger.
"Tigers are wild animals and they retain hard-wired instincts and to say just because a tiger doesn't have his claws -- so what? He still has his teeth and they're powerful," said Ron Tilson, conservation director at the Minnesota Zoo.
Sipek's compound sits about 10 miles from West Palm Beach, just off a main east-west thoroughfare.
"He never should have had these animals in the first place," said Andrea Newell, who grew up two doors away and was visiting family on Tuesday.
The tiger's escape and the shooting were under investigation, officials said.