Though most would insist that adopting is simply about giving an animal a good home, there’s a certain level of pageantry that goes into it, too. But for those in the market for something flashier, the world of “exotic” pets is usually the first place they look.
This was the case for one Englishman, who decided to adopt two exotic pets, despite strict regulations against keeping them. Things were simple at first, but when the animals decided they no longer wished to be tamed, they embarked on a campaign of terror that shook one town to its core.
On an ordinary Tuesday in May 2019, a resident of Clarborough, Nottinghamshire, walked out into his backyard to check on two of his more… unusual pets. But when he arrived at the creatures’ pen, he made a startling discovery.
They were gone. Apparently, the clever creatures tunneled their way beneath the cage, and escaped to freedom. Yet while a runaway pet is enough to rattle anyone’s nerves, this particular pet owner was absolutely terrified.
You see, these animals were caged for a reason, as they weren’t exactly the friendliest. With the creatures now roaming free through the village of Clarborough and the surrounding farmland, the entire population was now at serious risk.
The concerned pet owner immediately alerted the authorities, who were quick to lay traps and cameras in the hope of apprehending the fugitive animals. But with each failed attempt to capture the creatures, law enforcement officials realized they weren’t dealing with just another pair of runaways.
Bird of Prey
With public safety at risk, local authorities issued a statement to the community urging them to use caution when leaving their homes, especially when it came to walking their pets. The runaway creatures weren’t fond of other animals, and they wouldn’t hesitate to attack them – and their owners – on sight.
While most complied with this order, others were barely phased by the so-called “threat” — after all, how deadly could two small animals really be? Well, as one couple would find out, some creatures are far more dangerous than meets the eye.
The noise that woke Dale and Mandy Marsh in the dead of night was nothing short of nightmarish. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a dream, and the sound that came from just beyond their bedroom was unmistakable: it was a scream.
“We were laid in bed at about 4 a.m., and I heard such a terrifying noise like I had never heard before,” Mandy told The Independent. “My husband went out and was gone for about 10 minutes and he came back and said, ‘You’ve got to see this’.”
The couple rushed outside to their animal pen, where they found both their pet goat and pet pony worked up into a frenzy. Then, as Dale and Mandy approached, a small creature darted from the shadows and went right for the terrified animals.
“We ran out and this animal… was trying to attack our goat,” Mandy recounted. “The pony was standing in the way trying to protect the goat. The [animal] was trying to kill it. It was absolutely crazy. It was hissing and screaming and snarling. It was going absolutely mad.”
Fearing for their animals’ safety, Dale and Mandy seized two large wooden planks and rushed the pen in an attempt to chase the strange creature away. But the small animal wouldn’t flee, and with both the goat and the pony too scared to move, a heart-stopping stalemate ensued.
“The animals wouldn’t move because they were terrified, and this thing wouldn’t budge either and was just hissing,” Mandy explained. “It kept coming up, and we couldn’t get near enough to put something on it. The goat and pony were going crazy. It went on for about two hours.”
Finally, the couple was able to frighten the creature from the pen, leaving their pets with just a few scratches. Yet without even knowing it, Dale and Mandy had inadvertently released the vicious animal on another innocent pet.
As a neighbor walked her dog past their property, the creature burst from the backyard and cornered the poor pooch, barking and nipping at its legs. With the dog’s owner powerless to stop the animal herself, Dale and Mandy rushed from their home. The three were finally able to capture the creature.
When the authorities arrived, they immediately identified the animal as one of the runaway pets they warned the community about just hours earlier. They were soon able to track down and capture the second animal, finally putting an end to this unusual manhunt.
So, what were these terrifying pets that managed to strike fear in an entire village? Well, one look at them would suggest they’d be anything but monstrous. These pets turned out to be tanukis, otherwise known as “raccoon dogs.”
Native to the forests of Siberia and East Asia, these fluffy creatures are neither raccoons nor dogs, their closest relative being the fox. Still, that hasn’t stopped adventurous pet owners from bringing them into their homes.
However, being that these are wild animals, keeping them in captivity usually results in increased aggression. Let them roam free – as we saw with the case of Dale and Mandy – and these seemingly innocent looking creatures can pose a serious threat to domestic animals.
Raccoon dogs also put local animal populations at risk if released into the wild. Because they’re an invasive species, raccoon dogs will often multiply rapidly and wind up competing with native animals for resources.
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The U.K. has passed laws prohibiting the sale and breeding of raccoon dogs, though restrictions like these have so far done little to quell the booming animal trafficking industry. Even in the U.S., strict regulations haven’t been enough to stop some of the world’s deadliest creatures from slipping right through the front door.
Texas’ Rio Grande border is no stranger to smugglers, and over the years, border agents have seen their fair share of strange cargo. But in August 2018, folks attempted to bring one particularly unusual item across the river undetected.
While out on patrol, two agents from Brownsville, Texas, spotted three individuals lingering on the Mexican side of the river. The trio tried to look inconspicuous, but the sharp-eyed agents saw right through their charade.
The officers approached, and as they did, the trio knew they’d been made. Caught red-handed trying to cross the border, the individuals high-tailed it back to Mexico, leaving their possessions behind.
It was a typical find for a border agent: water jugs, shoes, and a few hastily packed bags. But there was one piece of luggage that the officers found themselves returning to again and again — a black duffel.
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Unable to shake their suspicions, the agents unzipped the bag and tossed the flap open. One peek inside told them everything they needed to know about the attempted border crossing. This wasn’t a bid for a new start: it was a smuggling.
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And what was it that was being smuggled? Well, none other than a tiger cub, likely just a few months old. The animal lay unconscious in the duffle, but, fortunately, it was alive.
Eagle Pass News Leader
Without a moment to lose, the agents grabbed the young tiger and carried him. They then made a b-line for the nearest town, hoping they weren’t too late to save the helpless cub.
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Feeling that a veterinary hospital wouldn’t be equipped to care for such an animal, the officers took the cub to Brownsville’s Gladys Porter Zoo. Hopefully, they figured, the wildlife specialists there could nurse the baby tiger back to health.
The cub was out cold when the zoo’s medical team finally got him onto the exam table, and they feared that the smugglers might’ve drugged the animal to sedate him for the trip. Luckily, they could stabilize him, and the little guy soon came to.
Not long after word of the cub’s discovery got out, Border Patrol communications director Irma Champa reported the tiger was “doing great” and was expected to make a full recovery. Once healed, the cub would be placed in a zoo.
But the attempted smuggling of tiger cubs like this one is something that the U.S., unfortunately, has become quite familiar with. All along the country’s southern border, exotic animal trafficking has become an epidemic over the last few decades.
“The illegal [wildlife] trade is pretty big business,” says Dan Crum, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent. “The U.S. is sometimes a destination and transit point, and the border along California and Mexico happens to be one of those flash points for trafficking.”
In fact, more than a quarter of the nearly 50,000 black market animal shipments seized at U.S. points of entry between 2005 and 2014 came from Latin America. Most of these shipments were comprised of birds and reptiles, but big cats like lions and tigers were also discovered.
Amazingly, the Brownsville recovery marked the first time in over 20 years that a live tiger had been discovered at this area of the border. Because tigers are relatively large, they’re much more difficult to smuggle — and worth that the much more to the buyer.
It’s also for this reason that tigers are smuggled primarily as cubs. Many wildlife experts believe that once a baby tiger has grown past a certain point, smugglers will simply dispose of them rather than bring them to market.
“By 16 weeks cubs are too big — they’re crawling and scratching and biting,” says Carole Baskin, founder of the Florida sanctuary Big Cat Rescue. “But there’s no legitimate secondary market for all those cubs that can’t be used any longer.”
This fear is especially prominent in Asia, where large numbers of adult tigers are killed every year to satisfy the demand for their teeth, bones, and other parts. A highly illegal practice, these killings are primarily responsible for the Asian tiger population’s significant drop to just 3,500.
Surprisingly, the U.S. currently boasts the world’s largest tiger population at around 5,000, according to the World Wildlife Fund. However, the vast majority of these animals are born in captivity, not smuggled into the country.
But for every handful of tigers in zoos and sanctuaries, there are plenty of big cats being kept in unsavory conditions by private owners. Some are even showcased in cruel roadside attractions, where tourists can pay to cuddle and take pictures with them.
Thankfully, measures have been taken across the country to put an end to the exploitation of animals. Following a 2017 sting dubbed “Operation Jungle Book,” 200 animals were rescued from this kind of abuse, including lizards, songbirds, and even a king cobra.
Yet while countries around the world are making a conscious effort to stop the trafficking of exotic animals, a large number still slip through the cracks. Even in a big city like Paris, exotic creatures can sometimes go undetected for months – even years – at a time.
For instance, in late 2017, videos and images surfaced online of a 24-year-old man abusing a wild animal he was keeping as a pet. In response, a number of activists contacted law enforcement to see if this man and his “pet” could be located.
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An investigation soon began, with authorities using the man’s posts to pinpoint his location. After weeks of searching, they tracked the man to an apartment in the French suburb of Noisy-le-Sec.
When firefighters arrived on the scene, they found the apartment deserted. However, when they explored further, they discovered a heartbreaking sight in the back room.
Pompiers de Paris / Facebook
There, huddled in the corner of a small cage, was a tiny lion cub. Judging by his size, this little big cat was no older than one year old.
But the saddest part of it all was the poor shape they found him in. The cub was severely emaciated, and the many cuts and bruises on his body confirmed the reports that the little guy had been severely abused.
Not too long after the bust, police officials managed to find and arrest the cub’s owner, who had bought the animal simply to show it off online. But with the cub’s abuser behind bars, what was next for the little lion?
After hearing the cub’s story, the animal rescue organizations Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche decided to take him into their care. With their help, the little lion was transferred to the Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium, a rescue center known for rescuing and rehabilitating big cats.
As the cub began to acclimate to his new environment, animal rescuers gave him a strong name to fit his story of strength: King. And, boy, did he grow to fit his name!
But as King began to outgrow his surroundings, it became time to seek out a permanent home for the young lion. And so, the animal welfare organization Born Free started a campaign to move King to his ancestral home: Africa.
According to Born Free, their plan was to move King to their Big Cat Rescue Centre at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Here, King could frolic and play alongside other lions and lionesses that had been rescued.
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Once they had raised enough money to fund their mission, Born Free placed the now fully grown King in a cage ten times the size of the one he was first found in. It would be the last cage he’d ever be put in again.
On July 5th, 2018, King took his first ever plane ride to the London Heathrow airport under the care of Born Free’s expert team. Poor King was so nervous during the flight!
After transferring onto another flight (which is no easy task for a human, let alone a thousand-pound lion), King was finally on his way to his homeland. One short plane ride later, and King had arrived in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Lion World Travel
The final leg of the trip was completed by truck, with King’s large cage being pulled behind it. Though the plane rides had put a strain on poor King, it would all be worth it in just a few hours.
Lion World Travel
Finally, after traveling a total 6,000 miles from Belgium to Africa, King arrived at his new home at the Shamwari Reserve. The Born Free team was nervous at first about how King would react to his new surroundings…
As King stepped out into the winter sunlight, the young lion began to playfully leap through the grass. It was the first time he had ever seen grass before, let alone touched it.
Lion World Travel
Before King could continue exploring he caught sight of his new playmates Jora and Black, who were rescued from cruelty at the hands of a circus. They greeted King with a roar that left everyone with goosebumps!
Shamwari Game Reserve
Officially welcomed into his kingdom, King took off into the brush to join his fellow lions. After a day of play, exploration, and a meal fit for, well, a king, of course, King took to the shade for a well-deserved, long-overdue rest.