Tiger head found near Lakemoor

Published: 3/3/2009 12:26 PM | Updated: 3/3/2009 5:54 PM

Mystery continues to shroud the case of a severed tiger's head found off a busy highway near Lakemoor last week.

Police aren't saying who owns the cat, and authorities don't know if it lived as a pet in the area or if it was killed in a hunt.

Other than noting the head was "white with black stripes," Lakemoor police Chief Wallace Fraiser on Tuesday didn't have many specifics about the unusual case.

Fraiser said it's believed the head bounced out of the back of a truck as the owner was traveling to a taxidermist to have it permanently preserved. Someone driving near the intersection of routes 12 and 120 spotted the animal's head on Feb. 26.

"They picked it up, put it in a milk crate and brought it to us," Fraiser said.

Police would not release the name of the person who found the tiger.

That same day, Lakemoor police received a call from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials saying they had the name and address of the tiger's owner, who had reported the lost head. Fish and Wildlife officials then checked with Lakemoor police, who confirmed the head was in their possession.

The head was kept outside the police station in the cold until it was retrieved by Fish and Wildlife officials on Feb. 27.

Jason Holm, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman for the Midwest region, could not immediately provide details about the incident.

Quoting Fish and Wildlife officials, Fraiser said he was told it was legal to return the head to the owner as long as the animal died of natural causes.

Whether it was legal to have the cat in the first place is still unclear.

Jeff Squibb, an Illinois Department of Agriculture spokesman, said a federal permit must be obtained for a private property owner to keep dangerous animals in the state.

Under the federal government's Captive Wildlife Safety Act, it's illegal to import, export, buy, sell, transport, receive or acquire certain big cats across state lines or the U.S. border. There are exemptions for certain entities and individuals, such as zoos, circuses, wildlife sanctuaries meeting specific criteria and state-licensed veterinarians.

Lions, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, jaguars, cheetahs and cougars are covered by the federal act, as well as hybrids of the species.

But the act doesn't ban big feline ownership.

At least 19 states prohibit private possession of dangerous cats, according to the federal government. Local laws also may regulate possession of the wild animals.