Kim Cooper had been volunteering at Safari’s for a little over two years when she was giving a guided tour in the fall of 2003. Reaching out to pet Shammi, the golden tabby Bengal tiger, while looking in another direction and with her back turned toward the tiger, Kim was shocked by the big cat’s reaction, when Shammi bit the end off of her middle finger on her right hand. Shammi likely meant her no harm. Before 2007, treats were given to the big cats using a set of metal kitchen tongs. The look and feel of Kim’s long, artificial nails may have reminded Shammi of the feeding tongs and she could have thought she was in for a treat of a chicken leg.
This is another injury by one of Safari’s animals that should have been reported to the USDA, as required by federal regulations, but wasn’t. Medical personnel were told that Kim and a staff member were down by the river and had tried to stop a dog fight. That was the standby story for many of the bite injuries caused by Safari’s animals—it was a dog bite—to avoid having an incident reported to the USDA, which could result in a write-up and possible penalties.
A photo of Kim Cooper with her bandaged finger was taken at the park a day or two later. You can view it in the photo album attached to this post on Safari’s Truth Destination Facebook page:
Presenting Safari’s Sanctuary as a safe and secure park, Safari’s park manager, Kurt Beckelman (who started working at Safari’s in 2001, just before Kim) told a reporter in 2005 that a tiger had never tried to bite anyone at Safari’s. As the person in charge of the big cats and supervisor over Kim, he would almost certainly have been aware of the biting injury caused by Shammi four years earlier. The news article followed a teen’s death from a tiger attack at an animal sanctuary in Kansas.
“Incidents such as the Kansas death are exactly why Safari’s Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary stopped picture-taking a year ago, said Kurt Becklman, a volunteer at the Broken Arrow park.
“Anything can make a cat turn, he said. “If the cat isn’t familiar with the person, then anything can kind of set a cat off. I’m not saying it will all the time, but there is always that chance.
He said a tiger has never tried to bite anyone at the sanctuary’s most popular exhibit.
The sanctuary is one of the parks that allows visitors to feed tigers. For $10, visitors can feed a tiger raw chicken with a long tong. Beckelman said a park guide is always between the fenced tiger and the visitor.”
Regardless of the known dangers of working with large exotic animals, in particular carnivorous cats, Safari’s staff continued to enter many of the large cats’ cages and enclosures to feed them, sometimes directly from their hands to the mouths of these potentially dangerous animals. See photos of recent examples of this in the album connected to this post.
Safari’s owner, Lori Ensign-Scroggins, confirmed in writing this month that staff still do enter some of the big cats’ cages at feeding time but brushes the danger aside by describing those particular cats as “sweethearts,” giving a false sense of security, when the reality is—proven time and time again, there are no guarantees when it comes to undomesticated large carnivorous cats—whether or not a person is familiar with the cat or not. This is an excerpt of what Lori posted on March 9, 2013, to a KJRH news article about Safari’s to raise money and donations, in response to comments posted to the article bringing up serious issues at the park, including how big cats were fed. [Capitalization and punctuation are Lori’s, copied directly from the comment on the article.]
WE DO GO IN WITH SOME EXOTICS, ARE BUILDING LOCKOUTS FOR THEM ALL, BUT THE ONES WE RAISED ARE STILL SWEETHEARTS, AND ONLY A FEW OF US TRAINED PERSONS DO THIS… WE ONLY GO IN WITH A HANDFUL OF CATS WE RAISED. WE DO NOT TRAIN NEW PEOPLE TO DO THIS, AS WE ARE BUILDING LOCKOUTS AND ALL WILL BE HANDLED THIS WAY AS WE CHANGE. THIS IS NOT AGAINST THE LAW. YOU HAVE PROOF? I POST THE PICTURES, AND EXPLAIN EACH ISSUE DAILY! PROOF OF WHAT? ME LOVING THESE ANIMALS?
In a 2003 Tulsa World article titled “Keeping exotic animals as pets can be dangerous,” Lori is quoted as saying:
“They play rough; it’s the nature of the beast,” Ensign said. “(The owners) truly believe they have bonded with an animal, but they’re never going to be tame. They’re wild animals.”
Unfortunately, Lori and many of her staff are just like those private owners, when it comes to the exotic animals they care for. They think their personal relationships caring for and working with these animals will protect them from an attack, because the animals are “sweethearts” or were “raised” at Safari’s—ignoring the truth of Lori’s words “…they’re never going to be tame. They’re wild animals.”
Lori takes great pride in Safari’s having been around for 17 years. Despite that longevity, and despite the tragic death of intern Peter Getz following the liger attack in 2008, it wasn’t until the USDA revoked Lori’s license in the summer of 2012 and the park was subsequently closed to the public that serious efforts were underway to add lock-outs to more of the big cats’ enclosures and cages. When Lori and Kurt talk to the media, they give lip service to the dangers that exotic animals present, particularly large carnivores. There is a contradiction between their words and the reality of how the park is run on a day-to-day basis.