Three Tigers Attack Animal Park Worker in Missouri

Three tigers attacked a worker at an exotic animal park in southwestern Missouri on Monday — the state's second tiger attack in as many days.

Stone County Sheriff Richard Hill said the tigers attacked a 16-year-old worker at Predator World in Branson West after the teen entered their cage to photograph the tigers for customers.

Employees managed to pull the teen from the cage before emergency responders arrived. He was airlifted to a Springfield hospital and was in critical condition, with injuries including punctures to his neck. His name was not released.

The tigers were "locked down" after the attack, Hill said. A woman who answered the phone at Predator World said she could only confirm that a staff member had been seriously injured and asked for people's prayers for him.

The attack came a day after a tiger mauled a volunteer at the Wesa-A-Geh-Ya animal farm in Warrenton.

A roughly 800-pound tiger jumped an 8- to 10-foot gate at the Wesa-A-Geh-Ya facility and attacked the man who was trying to clean the tiger's cage, said Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison. He said when authorities arrived on scene Sunday, they were told the man was attacked by a pit bull, not a tiger. The volunteer, whose name was not released, had surgery on his leg and is expected to recover.

"They actively tried to cover it up and mislead us," said Harrison. He said the tiger was shot and killed before authorities arrived, that the site had been cleaned up, and, after they left, the tiger's carcass was taken to another property. Only later in the day were authorities told what really happened, he said.

Sandra Smith, one of the owners, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she had initially misled authorities because she feared the facility's animals would be euthanized if authorities learned the truth, the newspaper reported.

Harrison said no one from the animal facility had been charged and that the investigation was ongoing.

Wesa-A-Geh-Ya is owned by Smith and her husband, Kenneth, and means "Cat Lady" in Sandra Smith's native Cherokee language. The couple moved to Missouri in 1986 with a tiger and two cougars. The 17-acre Warren County site now holds dozens of animals on two acres, including wolves, a bear and "more lions and tigers than there are at the St. Louis Zoo," Harrison said.

In 2000, the Missouri Senate honored Wesa-A-Geh-Ya for housing the animals in harmony with the natural world. But in 2003, the Smiths surrendered their license to exhibit the animals, and it was later revoked, after the USDA said there were violations at the site, including gaps in fencing where lions and tigers resided.