SPEARFISH, S.D. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture is determining whether an investigation is warranted into the death of a tiger that bit a western South Dakota wildlife sanctuary employee, an agency spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Officials will look into whether any noncompliance with federal law contributed to the incident at Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, said Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
A sanctuary employee reported to authorities late Monday that the tiger was loose. Authorities found an employee bitten several times by the tiger, and a deputy fatally shot the animal to prevent it from escaping, Chief Deputy Paul Hansen of the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office said.
The bitten employee, director Michael Welchynski, was taken to Spearfish Regional Hospital where he was listed in fair condition, the Black Hills Pioneer reported.
"I'm alive," Welchynski told the newspaper Tuesday from the hospital.
A telephone message from The Associated Press left at the sanctuary Wednesday wasn't immediately returned.
Espinosa said the Department of Agriculture conducted a routine inspection of the sanctuary Sept. 28, which was first reported by the Pioneer. Since then, 18 animals have been transferred from the sanctuary to a Colorado facility, said Espinosa, who declined to offer many details.
The tiger that was shot wasn't part of the transfer, Espinosa said. She said more information will be available in a later inspection report.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary of Keenesburg, Colorado, has taken in nine tigers, one lion, one wolf and seven bears from the South Dakota facility, Executive Director Pat Craig said.
Nearly all of the animals were underweight and some had medical issues that had been left untreated, he said.
The South Dakota facility was established in 1999 to provide a home for animals from private owners, breeding facilities and the entertainment industry, according to its website. It is open to the public for tours.