A Bengal tiger that escaped from the Black Pine Animal Park near Albion Tuesday afternoon, December 9, wandered right back home about eight hours later.
The incident started at 3:35 p.m. when Kevin Libben, a local volunteer firefighter, spotted the animal running loose on the northwest corner of his farm, just west of Albion. He notified the Noble County Sheriff's Department, which in turn called Black Pine. The park's executive director, Lori Gagen, discovered India, an 18 year old female Bengal tiger, had somehow gotten out of its enclosure.
Numerous members of the Sheriff's Department and Albion Police Department converged on the area and began searching. Police say the animal was described as docile, but also skittish around people; as with any wild animal, they approached the situation with caution.
At about 5 p.m. Gagen advised police she was with the tiger and requested tranquilizer darts, but an attempt to tranqulize India was only partially successful, and apparently resulted in her being spooked and getting away again.
Due to approaching darkness, Albion firefighters were dispatched to the scene, bringing with them thermal imaging cameras that could pick up an animal's heat signature in the dark. Searchers spotted India from a distance several times, but lost it again and had to call off the search at about 9:30 p.m. due to darkness and incliment weather. They planned to start searching again first thing in the morning, possibly with the assistance of an Indiana State Police aircraft.
However, Black Pine founder Karen Hoag had hopes that the tiger, which had been raised from a cub at the park, would return on its own. She camped out at the sanctuary near the closest access point into the compound. Hoag said she was encouraged when she heard the park's male lion, Kovu, roar: "I kept thinking 'you go Kuvo, call India home'."
Apparently it worked. At about 11:20 p.m. Hoag reported that the cat had returned on her own, and was secured inside the sanctuary's compound by an eight foot peremiter fence. Gagen came to the park to assist, and within the hour they managed to coax Indiana back into its den.
"We'd like to thank the county, state, town police and local fire departments for their support and working together with us," Hoag said. Park officials credited their response, and the park's emergency escape protocols, for helping bring the incident to a safe conclusion.
A gate accidentally left opened is blamed for the escape. Black Pine officials say they're going to investigate the incident and make changes to keep it from happening again.