Big Cat Refuge Says Buying, Breeding Not Rare

State does not ban breeding of exotic animals, but most counties ban ownership

By Randy McIlwain
|  Thursday, Oct 20, 2011  |  Updated 12:43 AM CDT
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Most of the big cats at In-Sync Exotics were once owned by people in North Texas.

Randy McIlwain, NBC 5 News

Most of the big cats at In-Sync Exotics were once owned by people in North Texas.

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The operator of a North Texas wildlife sanctuary says Texas has its share of people who buy and breed exotic animals.

Animals such as those that were let loose in Ohio on Tuesday are not rare in Texas.

"There are people out there with the mentality that they want a bigger, badder pet than the one you have," said Ed Keahey, who runs a wildlife sanctuary in Wylie with his wife.

Since 1999, In-Sync Exotics has been a sanctuary for big cats such as lions, tigers, cougars and leopards. Most of them were once owned by people in North Texas.

But while the animals are cute and cuddly as cubs, they ultimately become the large predators they are meant to be. They cannot be domesticated, and once owners learn that, they don't want them anymore.

Keahey said that some people also attempt to breed and sell big cats for profit.

Texas does not have laws on the books that ban breeding, just a law that requires exotic animals to be registered with the state.

"All the counties in the state of Texas, except for five, outright banned ownership of exotic animals," Keahey said.

Collin County, which is one of the counties with an ownership ban, granted In-Sync Exotics an exemption because it existed prior to the passage of the measure.

The sanctuary has animal enclosures built like fortresses, designed to keep animals in and people out. Even the handlers never come in direct contact with the large cats, which can weigh up to 600 pounds and vertically leap up to 20 feet.

In Ohio, sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 wild animals -- including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions -- on Wednesday after the owner of an exotic-animal park threw their cages open and committed suicide.

Keahey said he doesn't understand how anyone who has ever cared for an exotic animal could simply open the gates and walk away because the only option after that is to kill the animals.

He warned that most folks woefully underestimate the animals' needs. People who seek to own one should take the time to learn more to decide if they truly want to offer one a home.

"Volunteer -- come spend time here, see what goes into taking care of one of these guys day to day," Keahey said.

In-Sync Exotics recently took in 20 large cats and is now at capacity with 60 animals on its grounds. But the refuge has room on its property to build more enclosures if needed.

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