Tiger among exotic animals seized from Atchison County resident

Almost a dozen wild animals, including a tiger, were seized from an Atchison property, and their owner was jailed Sunday after sheriff’s deputies responded to reports that the animals were not being cared for properly.

The animals, which included a tiger, two cougars, three bobcats, two lynxes and two skunks, were living in small enclosures without food and water, and the owner’s license to keep such animals had lapsed, said Atchison County Sheriff Jack Laurie. The animal collection also included a serval, a medium-sized wild cat native to Africa.

Animal care experts remove a tiger, one of several wild animals kept illegally on a property about four miles southwest of Atchison. Workers from the Humane Society and a Kansas City Zoo veterinarian helped the Atchison County Sheriff's Office remove and care for the animals.

“The condition of these cages was terrible,” Laurie said. “The floors were covered in mud, feces.” The enclosures were too small for animals, Laurie said, and were not secure. Some of the cages appeared to be of improvised construction, while others were left unlocked. “It’s not only an animal cruelty issue, but also public safety. It was scary, really.”

The sheriff’s office investigated conditions at the property, about 4 miles southwest of Atchison, for about a month before seizing the animals Sunday, Laurie said. From 9 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m., sheriff’s deputies worked with representatives from the Humane Society of the United States and a veterinarian from the Kansas City Zoo to care for the muddy, unkempt animals until they were placed with animal sanctuaries in Texas and Florida.

The owner of the animals, Matthew B. Baker, 54, was cited on suspicion of 10 offenses, including animal cruelty and violations of the Dangerous Regulated Animals Act. Kansas law generally prohibits the keeping of dangerous, regulated animals as pets. But the law allows people who have a U.S. Department of Agriculture license to maintain an inventory of such animals, including big cats. Baker’s license had lapsed about two years ago, Laurie said.

Baker was arrested at the property for becoming disorderly while the sheriff’s deputies seized the animals, and he remained in custody Monday afternoon with bond not yet set, Laurie said. Deputies found a pipe in his possession that they believed was used for smoking methamphetamine.

In the past, Baker had been known to keep exotic animals at another, more suitable facility, Laurie said. How the care of the animals had deteriorated since then wasn’t entirely clear.

While Baker’s case is decided in court, the animals will be housed at animal sanctuaries around the country, according to a statement from the Humane Society. The tiger was taken to The Fund for Animals’ Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, an affiliate of the Humane Society, while the two cougars were taken to In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center in Wylie, Texas. The bobcats, lynxes and serval are to be housed at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla. The skunks will go to Operation Wildlife in Linwood.