Last Updated: 2:51am GMT 28/02/2008
By Tom Peterkin
A WILDLIFE keeper has lost his job at an animal sanctuary for
allowing children to pose for pictures stroking a tiger inside its
The action was taken against Norman Elder, 44, after pictures of a
young girl petting the 15-year-old Sumatran tiger called Sonya
appeared on the social networking website Bebo.
His website, Wildlife Northern Ireland, had carried a picture showing
a young girl bending down and scratching the head of the tiger as Mr
Elder looked on. By yesterday the image had been removed.
Mr Elder had been running the Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre
on behalf of the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals for two years. He also took care of wolves, snakes, lizards
and dangerous dogs at the centre.
But he was removed from the facility in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, this
week after the charity called in police.
Stephen Philpott, of the USPCA, said he was shocked by pictures of
visitors inside the tiger enclosure and said he had no option but to
act after it was brought to his attention.
Mr Philpott said: "The premises in question are under the charge of
the USPCA and we feel that people were exposed to an unacceptable
level of risk because of what happened.
"We decided that we could not let it go on any longer which is why we
took the action that we did to regain control of the site." Last
night Mr Elder - who is licensed to keep dangerous wild animals -
insisted he had done nothing wrong in letting people be photographed
He said: "There is no law against it and at the time I thought that
the tiger was behaving well enough for someone to go into the
enclosure with her.
"A tiger is a dangerous animal and there are safety issues involved
which is why I don't let everyone go in. I don't accept that I have
done anything wrong.
"Because she was bred in captivity she is not aggressive and the only
danger is if she decides to play because she's so strong.
"She is unusually docile and doesn't get stressed from being in a
cage or having contact with humans. She does take to certain people."
Mr Elder has been looking after Sonya - who he considers to be a pet -
for two years. She was among a number of wild cats rescued by the
USPCA from a house in Omagh. Her enclosure is the former elephant
compound of an old safari park.
Later, the USPCA unearthed the bodies of four headless lions on the
sanctuary site. The elderly lions were put down in April because no
home could be found for them following the closure of the safari park
a few years ago.
"Apparently lions' heads fetch big money from taxidermists. They are
also used in some traditional African medicines," said a USPCA
spokesman. "You have to ask if these animals were disposed of