(ANIMAL NEWS) Steve Sipek, also known as Spanish Tarzan, was recently released from jail following his arrest for misdemeanor charges of possession of wild animals without a USDA permit and possession of wild animals as pets. He has repeatedly failed to fix deficiencies at his Loxahatchee compound and one of his tigers was killed because of it. In 2004, a 600-pound tiger named Bobo escaped from his enclosure and ended up being shot five times with an assault rifle by a wildlife officer. Sipek’s affinity for big cats stems from a 1975 incident where a lion saved his life by dragging him out of a fire. Although Sipek seems to have good intentions, they have deadly consequences for the very animals he professes to love. Perhaps this King of the Jungle’s energy would be better spent contributing to big cat rescue rather than becoming another wildlife jailer. Tarzan friend of wildlife, me don’t think so.—Global Animal
Angel Streeter, Sun Sentinel
LOXAHATCHEE — Former Tarzan movie actor Steve Sipek was released from jail this afternoon after authorities arrested him on misdemeanor charges related to the two tigers and one leopard he kept on his property.
While he was being processed at the jail, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators sedated and removed the cats from Sipek’s property in the 3300 block of C Road.
Sipek’s USDA permit to keep the three large cats at a Loxahatchee facility that he maintains with Melanie Boynes has been revoked, said FWC spokesman Jorge Pino. Sipek now faces misdemeanor charges of possession of a Class 1 animal without a USDA permit and possession of a Class 1 animal as a pet. No one else was on the property.
Boynes arrived after Sipek’s arrest and was kept at a distance from the property with neighbors and media while wildlife officers worked. She was not arrested.
“Mr. Sipek and Ms. Boynes were in violation of federal and state laws that are in place to keep both people and animals safe and healthy,” Maj. Curtis Brown, leader of the FWC’s Captive Wildlife and Investigations Section, said in a statement this morning. “The FWC removed the animals to protect public safety and to place them in a licensed, healthy and safe facility.”
In addition, he said the warrant authorized the seizure of the animals based on “the facility’s repeated failure to correct violations, including multiple bites and escapes, fencing and caging deficiencies, possession of Class I wildlife without proof of consistent and sustained commercial activity, possession of Class I wildlife without a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit and feeding animals an improper diet.”
“After previous inspections and correspondence, the couple has continuously failed to comply with FWC and USDA regulations, presenting safety concerns at the facility,” Brown said. “Sipek has also told FWC investigators that nobody would ever take his animals, causing additional safety concerns.”
Sipek has 60 days to appeal, Pino said.
Boynes said her concerns are both for the animals and Sipek.
“I’d be the last person to ask for an attorney, but I’m asking. He needs an attorney,” Boynes said.
“Those cats were like his children,” said Kathy Carchia, who said she helped raise the cats until finances forced her to move to Fort Pierce last year. “He’s unorthodox, but he loves his animals.”
Tigers and panthers are Class 1 wildlife that are considered to pose significant danger to people. Owners must prove they have extensive experience caring for such animals and meet very specific requirements regarding their cages, according to the FWC.
Class 1 species such as cougars, panthers and cheetahs can’t be kept for personal possession unless they were owned previous to August 2009. Others had to have been privately kept before August 1980.
Authorities would not name the place where the cats would be housed while Sipek’s case moves through the system, but said it would be within the state.
An official from the Busch Wildlife sanctuary was on hand, invited by the FWC as an outside observer, Pino said.
Sipek, a Croatian man who was known during his acting career as the “Spanish Tarzan”, has a long-standing affinity for big cats.
He has more than once told the story of how in 1975 a lion dragged him out of a fire on a movie set, which made him a big-cat fancier on the spot.
In 2004, he was the subject of worldwide media coverage during a 26-hour hunt after a 600-pound tiger named Bobo escaped from Sipek’s Loxahatchee compound. Bobo was found and shot five times with an AK-47 assault rifle by a wildlife officer.
In 2005, after suffering from a string of setbacks including a house fire and the death of his 22-year-old cougar, Missy, and his 22-year-old lion, Elvis, Sipek paid $3,200 for two tiger cubs named Bo and Little Bo, according to a Palm Beach Post story written at the time.
It is unclear if these are the tigers that wildlife officials are collecting this morning.
Just last fall, Sipek told a Palm Beach Post reporter that he lets his tigers sleep with him in the house.
“When it’s cold like last night, they are very warm to cuddle up to,” Sipek said at the time.
In October, Sipek’s license was under review by the FWC.
Sipek isn’t the only keeper of big cats in Loxahatchee. In fact, he bought Bobo from a man who lives about five miles down the road and runs a wildlife sanctuary that houses 21 big cats, including tigers, a lion and Florida panthers, as well as tortoises, birds, small mammals and venomous snakes on display for private tours.
Check back for updates to this breaking news story.