Safari's Reopens After Deadly Liger Attack

Saturday, November 29th 2008, 5:33 pm
By: News On 6

By Dan Bewley, The News On 6

WAGONER COUNTY -- Safari's Animal Sanctuary is back open to the public.  It comes one month after a worker was killed by one of the exotic animals.  Pete Getz was attacked and killed by Rocky the liger, that's a cross between and lion and tiger.  The owner of the Safari's Animal Sanctuary said the decision to open was tough, but she says her mission is too important.

Dozens were there as soon as the gates opened.  They came to see the lions and tigers, even Rocky the liger.

"So far, we love Safari's and we love what they do to help rescue animals and give them a good home," said Brianne Hill of Houston, Texas.

Rocky has been at Safari's for 12 years.  One month ago, he attacked volunteer worker, Pete Getz.  The man was feeding Rocky, which is normally done by throwing food over the fence, but Safari's owner Lori Ensign says Getz didn't follow safety guidelines and went inside Rocky's cage.  She doesn't know why.

"So, that day they cut corners or ... I don't know," said Lori Ensign with Safari's Sanctuary.

Ensign says the decision to re-open was not easy, but decided to do it believing it's what Getz would have wanted.

"He would be rolling over if he thought that everything stopped," said Lori Ensign with Safari's Sanctuary.

Another motivation, she says, came when two different people called asking her opinion of getting a tiger as a pet for their children.    

"I was like that proves that we have to keep pushing our mission. People should know, instinctively, that tigers aren't good pets," said Lori Ensign with Safari's Sanctuary.

The News On 6 witnessed that mission first hand.  The most dramatic came as workers were feeding another tiger.  As one of the volunteers worked to distract the tiger, the other volunteer tended to her enclosure.  And soon, the tiger had enough.

"She's getting anxious. That's why you don't want one for a pet," said Lori Ensign with Safari's Sanctuary.

The tiger eventually goes to the back of her cage and nothing comes of it.  Ensign hopes visitors learn from her animals about the dangers they present.  She says the tragedy of a month ago hasn't changed her focus, but has made her more determined to stress the importance of safety.                   

"We've just sat everybody down and said, 'This is absolutely against protocol and it will never happen again,'" said Lori Ensign with Safari's Sanctuary.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture told The News On 6 that Rocky's fate is in the hands of state authorities.  Ensign says she's been told that Rocky will not be put down and be able to live out his life at Safari's.

Safari's will be open again on Sunday at noon,  but plans for beyond that are still up in the air.

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