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Officer kills escaped tiger after daylong search in Florida

LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. -- A tiger that escaped from the home of a movie actor who once played Tarzan was shot to death yesterday after he lunged at a state wildlife officer trying to capture him.

Officers approached the tiger intending to shoot him with tranquilizers, but an officer had to use a bullet in self-defense when the 600-pound cat lunged, said Jorge Pino, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

A dozen wildlife trackers and sheriff's deputies had searched more than 24 hours for the animal, which escaped Monday. They had kept watch yesterday in a 5-acre area of dense slash pines and palm trees, hoping to catch the 6-year-old tiger named Bobo.

His owner, Steve Sipek, developed a soft spot for jungle beasts after playing Tarzan in B movies decades ago. Sipek has another tiger, a panther, a cougar, and lions on his South Florida compound, which is marked by a sign that reads, "Trespassers will be eaten."

Sipek told reporters he doubted Bobo had to be killed.

"Murder is the word," Sipek said. "They murdered a poor helpless animal that only looked ferocious, as any tiger would. But Bobo had a heart of gold."

"Needless to say, the owner is very distraught. We're distraught," Pino said. "Our concern was to recover this tiger alive and well."

Some nearby residents were less sympathetic.

"What I want to know is when he was in captivity, how long did he go without a feeding?" said Kim Smith, who has horses and dogs that she normally keeps outside.

"Tigers are predatorial. All of us moved out here because we're city people wanting a taste of the country, but this is a little funky," said Smith, who lives with her husband and their six children.

Sipek's compound sits about 10 miles from West Palm Beach, just off a main east-west thoroughfare.

Wildlife officials had said they did not believe the declawed pet would attack, even though he bit a woman working inside his cage two years ago.

A specialist on tiger behavior disagreed, saying Bobo was dangerous.

"Tigers are wild animals and they retain hard-wired instincts, and to say just because a tiger doesn't have his claws -- so what? He still has his teeth and they're powerful," said Ron Tilson, conservation director at the Minnesota Zoo.

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