PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. -- The Otter Tail County has had more than its share of troubles with exotic animals as officials keep a wary eye on one tiger.
Here, as many as 14 tigers and one lion, along with camels, lemurs, a Burmese python and an Asian leopard, were caged at various times on two private menageries within a 30-minute drive of each other.
Three people were bitten or clawed. A lion ran loose and had to be shot. Tigers were found dead, half-eaten and frozen in the snow of one cage. Criminal charges were brought against both owners.
"I packed a gun all day long," said Edward Law, who lives near a menagerie in the Underwood area and who once considered shooting the animals himself.
In Otter Tail County, as in other rural parts of the state, ownership of exotic pets has become increasingly popular. A state law that took effect Jan. 1 is expected to limit future private ownership.
The last of the troubled big cats in the county is a tiger named Lilly. Lilly was the only one of five tigers Roy Cordy kept on his property north of Pelican Rapids that lived, authorities said. Police believe Lilly ate at least one of the four other tigers.
But nine months after Cordy, a 44-year-old physician, pleaded guilty to one count of animal mistreatment and agreed not to possess exotic animals in the state, Lilly's continued presence shocked township officials and prosecutors.
"If it was an exotic plant the (Department of Natural Resources) would be all over it. But I haven't seen milfoil go and climb a fence and attack a child yet," said Wayne Johnson, chairman of the township where Cordy's property was in.
Neither Cordy nor his attorney could be reached for comment by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He told police during a search of his property last year that he had been collecting animals since the early 1990s and intended to raise them for sale to other collectors.
Near the Otter Tail River, Wendy Mears, 40, collected nine Siberian tigers and several other animals. She told authorities her boyfriend, David Piccirillo, owned the tigers and left them with her when he left the state.
Three injuries were reported -- bites sustained by workers in March and July of 2004, and an injury to a child who was scratched and bitten while visiting this spring.
Diane Thorson, the county's public health director, said the last injury convinced her to declare the property a public nuisance.
In June, a neighbor reported finding a lion, a goat and other animals in her yard, not far from a bar and restaurant. Officers, unable to find a tranquilizing gun, shot and killed the lion.
"We can't really have a wild lion roaming the countryside," said Otter Tail County Attorney David Hauser.
Nine Siberian tigers from Mears' property were eventually taken to sanctuaries around the country.
She was charged with 12 counts, including mistreatment of animals and failure to register them under Minnesota's new exotic animal law.
Exotic animal expert Pete Bergerson of Plymouth, who is advising Mears, said she feels Piccirillo left her with the animals, the problems and the liability. Piccirillo, reached by phone in Connecticut by the newspaper, said he transferred ownership to Mears, so they were her responsibility.