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Lions Killed After Fleeing Game Compound

September 21, 1995 GMT

LAVA HOT SPRINGS, Idaho (AP) _ Hunters on Thursday killed 15 lions whose escape from a chicken wire-enclosed game compound for lions, tigers and crossbred ``ligers″ forced parents to keep their children indoors.

Authorities said they didn’t think any more of the big cats were on the loose. The animals escaped Wednesday night from the private Ligertown Game Farm Inc. in rural southeastern Idaho, prompting officials to call parents early Thursday and warn them not to send their children to school.

Ligertown owners Robert Fieber and Dotti Martin were treated for minor injuries at a hospital Wednesday after they were attacked by at least one of the cats. No other injuries were reported.

Up to 25 lions, tigers and ``ligers″ remained at the compound and a veterinarian from the Humane Society planned to investigate, said county Undersheriff Lorin Nielsen. Lion carcasses were strewn on either side of a highway outside the compound Thursday.

Sharpshooters stood by in case any more of the animals got out of the enclosure, about a mile outside Lava Hot Springs. The tiny tourist town is 28 miles southeast of Pocatello.

Nielsen and others said there have been problems for years at the compound.

The compound ``looks like mostly salvage material _ various and sundry types of wire, net wire, plywood, chicken wire. All different kinds of things are cobbled together out there,″ said Greg Tourtlotte, the state Fish and Game Department’s regional supervisor in Pocatello. ``A lot of our people felt that it was just a matter of time before something happened.″

Authorities learned of the escape from Bruce Hansen, who owns property next to Ligertown. Hansen saw a lion stalking some of his farm animals and shot it, Nielsen said. The other 14 were killed by law officers.

About 50 sheriff’s deputies, SWAT teams, Fish and Game officers and Idaho State Police troopers hunted down the escaped animals. A helicopter with a heat-sensing device also was used to help search for the cats, some of which weighed up to 550 pounds.

Lava Elementary School, with 146 students, was closed for the day. A well-worn horse path leads directly from Ligertown to the school, and officials were afraid the cats might follow it.

In 1984, federal and state authorities in Oregon raided a game ranch Fieber had operated there and charged him with 54 counts of animal cruelty. He pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor counts alleging food sanitation violations and the other charges were dropped.

He later moved to north-central Idaho, where a 250-pound lion he owned with Martin was shot after a resident saw it stalking a horse. Fieber and Martin were ordered to build adequate cages for the animals to prevent more escapes, but instead they moved to Lava Hot Springs in 1986. They had 14 lions and tigers at the time.

The owners were found guilty in 1989 of operating a private wildlife park without a permit, but a judge overturned the conviction because a state law defining a wildlife park was vague.

Tourtlotte didn’t believe that Ligertown had been open to the public.

``I believe that they may have sold some animals in the past. They may market them somehow or other, but as far as I know they just keep them,″ Tourtlotte said.

Mayor Newt Lowe said city officials have tried in vain to get the county or state or crack down on the operation.

``But now we’re leaving no stone unturned. We’ll do everything we can to prosecute these people to the full extent of the law,″ he said.