GREENWICH - A tiger escaped Wednesday from a private zoo in north Greenwich, and the 350-pound beast was on the loose for about 3-1/2 hours before she was found and tranquilized less than a mile away.
About two dozen State Police and Department of Environmental Conservation officers spent much of the day searching for the tiger over a several-square-mile area in northern Greenwich and southern Argyle. The zoo, Ashville Game Farm, is located on Lick Springs Road, about a mile south of Duer Road.
The full-grown female tiger was found at about 2 p.m. lolling on the lawn of a neighbor, Denny Herrington, on Sullivan Lane.
Tahan, a rare golden tabby tiger, escaped from her cage at about 10:30 a.m. when she was spooked by the growls of another tiger nearby, zoo owner Jeff Ash said.
Tahan leapt upward when startled, bursting through a heavy wire mesh ceiling stapled to wooden beams, Ash said.
Scott Williams, a zookeeper who was cleaning the pen at the time, ran out of the cage to make sure no one was nearby and told Ash, who alerted authorities, Williams said.
Lick Springs Road neighbor Jim Sullivan said he didn't find the tiger's escape worrisome.
"It don't bother me a bit," he said as he pulled a Reader's Digest out of his mailbox. "I got my rifle waiting for it."
In response to an alert from authorities, Argyle Central School, about 6 miles to the north, canceled outdoor recess periods and escorted children to school buses, said Superintendent of Schools Ryan Sherman.
State police and DEC officers dispatched to the area - plus volunteers and animal trainers from other upstate zoos - searched fields, woods and swamps surrounding the 1.5-acre game farm.
While searchers spread out over rural two-lane roads, Ash waited back at the zoo, worried about the cat's whereabouts, whether authorities would shoot it with deadly ammunition and whether the cat would be able to survive in the wild.
"You could throw a live chicken in her cage, and she wouldn't know what to do with it," he said about Tahan as he stuck his fingers into a growling black leopard's mouth.
But the searchers didn't locate Tahan.
The animal had wandered into Herrington's backyard, about two-thirds of a mile over a hill off Sullivan Lane.
Tahan walked up to Herrington, brushed up against him, then lay down in the grass, Ash said.
Herrington called Ash at the zoo, and Ash in turn radioed the animal trainers searching nearby. They responded to the scene and shot Tahan with two tranquilizer darts before chasing the cat up an adjacent hill.
Ash then arrived to retrieve the cat. He slipped a rope noose around the tiger's back legs, dragging her toward the truck. Five men lifted the tranquilized cat into a cage, placing her in the bed of Ash's pickup to take her back to the zoo.
Five men unloaded Tahan back at the zoo at about 3 p.m. while a zookeeper spread out a flowered quilt on the floor of Tahan's cage. Volunteers rubbed her neck and chest to speed recovery.
Open from May through September, the Ashville Zoo and Game Farm features large cats, exotic monkeys and a couple of kangaroos. This is the first escape incident at the enterprise, which has been in operation about four years.
Ash said the cage had already been reinforced to prevent a future escape.
DEC officers on the scene refused to comment on the incident.
Ash said authorities had not issued a violation or a warning, and he was thankful his "baby" was home.
"It would have been a nightmare if we had to find her in the dark or wait until tomorrow," Ash said. "She's friendly and normally not at all dangerous, but it's a wild animal, and you never know."
Tahan the golden tabby tiger is featured on the Ashville Zoo and Game Farm Web site: