SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) — 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 director, 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, where nearly 20 animals have recently been transferred away, said Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Authorities were alerted late Monday that the tiger was loose. Officials found a staff member 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.
Sanctuary Director Michael Welchynski, who was injured by the tiger, is making a full recovery, according to a Wednesday sanctuary statement. The statement said the tiger, named Boomer, attacked Welchynski during a regular feeding.
"I'm alive," Welchynski told the Black Hills Pioneer newspaper Tuesday from the hospital.
Espinosa said the Department of Agriculture conducted a routine inspection of the sanctuary Sept. 28. Since then, 18 animals have been transferred from the sanctuary to a Colorado facility, said Espinosa, who declined to offer many details but said more information will be available in a later inspection report.
The agency was unhappy with some of the animals' conditions, and the sanctuary thought it was best to relinquish their care to a different facility, sanctuary board president Fred Erdman said.
"Myself, along with probably all the other volunteers that have put their hearts and souls into this environment are all very saddened by what happened," Erdman said.
The tiger that was shot wasn't part of the transfer, Espinosa said.
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.
Three tigers and one bear under the custody of the Ohio Department of Agriculture were among the animals transferred to Colorado. The department was notified of an animal care concern at the facility and immediately took steps to relocate them, agency spokesman Mark Bruce 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.
Spirit of the Hills warned in the statement that additional exotic animal removals may be coming.