Gert & Abby Hedengran of Tigers Only

We are all guilty of the tiger’s blood. unless we act now

tiger vs lionA nation mourns the shooting death of a tiger, an un named tiger, who was the declawed and unwanted pet of a Californian. Perhaps I should say that we didn’t know the tiger’s name. Most owners, even the most awful ones, usually name their pets. Someone knew the tiger’s name, but they didn’t care enough about him to come forward.

They could have told the authorities that this was a declawed animal that had never associated killing with eating. They could have called out to the disoriented, starving animal who had known only them as his providers for his whole life. They could have provided valuable insight into the animal’s habits and possibly coaxed the animal into a familiar transport. After nine days of being lost and hungry he might have given up his freedom for security. They could have pled for his life. Could a sharp shooter pull the trigger so quickly if they knew the cat’s name or knew that there was some tearful owner standing by who would take him home?

The owners could have been fined $500.00 for the escape and saving the money and saving their reputation was more important to them than saving the cat they had bottle raised from a cub. Who would support them with their donations if they knew that the “sanctuary” owners had released a big cat because they didn’t want him any more? Coming forward would have been bad for business and in most cases that is all it means to exotic owners; a way to get paid to play with dangerous animals that most people aren’t allowed to have. It is an industry of greed and ego masked as a charity in many cases of unaccredited pseudo sanctuaries.

More than 10,000 tigers are thought to be in the hands of private owners across our country. No one knows exactly how many, nor where they are because there is very little regulation requiring notification. They often hail themselves as rescuers and heroes and educators, but when they fall on hard times the animals pay the price.. in this case, the ultimate price.

Even in the best of circumstances these captive animals are paying a price that is far too high. They are born and bred for life in cages, so that we can thrill at their beauty and majesty. They live out 10-20 years of abject boredom, confined to areas that amount to little more than a jail cell; all for crimes that they never committed.

This tiger died free.

We are a nation of people who were rallied to action by the words, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Over the centuries we have fought for. and killed for freedom. It is so important to us that we invade other countries and fight for their freedom as well. Our deterrent to crime is a sentence of confinement. When it is imposed on humans we call it jail, when we impose it on animals we call it a zoo, a “sanctuary”, a cage, an ark for the future.but by whatever name you call it, the fact remains that it is imposed deprivation. We do this to animals that we proclaim to love.

Imagine what it might have been like to be this tiger: You have spent your entire life in a 10 foot square room that is barren and devoid of any plant life because you are so enormous, in such a small area, as to crush the life out of every blade of grass. Your water dish is covered in a layer of scum in the summer or a layer of ice in the winter. You have eaten the same meal every day for the past four years and it isn’t something that you ever would have chosen to eat had you been free to choose. When times were bad for your owner you may not have eaten for days on end and all you could do was sit there and cry out to the wind because no one could hear you.

Because of the lack of nutrition and exercise you suffer excruciating pain due to your paper shell bones and aching joints. Your teeth have broken and have exposed roots from a lack of calcium and from you chewing on the bars of your cage in a feeble attempt to escape. Your declawed, butchered feet, often with bones protruding through the surface, ache from your constant pacing. Deep inside you know that you were meant to roam free, to be the king of beasts, but that seems like an unreal dream because you don’t know anything of the world outside your little cell. You roar out, with a powerful and fearful sound that can be heard 5 miles away, but no one calls back. No one tells you that you aren’t alone in the world.

One day your world changes. The door is opened and you think that someone has finally called for your amnesty. At first you just cannot believe your good fortune. There is soft grass beneath your feet for the first time ever. You see sights that you could only imagine before, like the tranquility of the mountains as dusk settles in, like the beauty of a sunrise over the water or just the unimaginable freedom of the coyotes and cougars and bobcats. The ecstasy of the first couple of days over powers the pangs of hunger. You were designed to roam and defend a 400 square mile territory and in nine days your mangled feet have carried you almost 30 miles.

The only food you have ever known was a pile of bloody, fatty mush. You haven’t seen anything resembling what you know as food and a 425 pound tiger does have to eat. Instincts from thousands of years are coursing through your veins, but because you never knew your mother, and she never had the three years to devote to your training, you have no idea how to feed yourself. You are weak from hunger, dehydration and more exercise than you have had in your entire life now. The people who had pulled you from your mother’s soft, warm, nursing belly and force fed you so that you would depend on them are no where to be found.

Until now you have avoided humans because you wanted to savor every moment of this exhilarating freedom. But now they are coming to you. You see them stalking you through the brush and hear the roars of the helicopters and ATV’s. You would like to think that they are coming to bring you something to eat, but you sense the tension in the air. You know that they are afraid of you. If you walk toward them they will shoot, if you turn and run, they will shoot. So you just stand still. and still they shoot.

As you are gasping for air and feel the life blood running from searing bullet holes through your body, what scenes would flash before your eyes? Being torn from your mother. Being handled by countless people who were paying to have their photos taken holding you as a cute little cub. Being forced to perform in a circus act or for some commercial. The monotony of thousands of days from inside your little cage. The hot days with no shade or the cold nights with no way to shield yourself from the blowing snow and rain.

This is all that most captive cats could revisit in those last moments before death, but at least this tiger had a couple of days to add to his experience; a few precious days of what it felt like to be free.

It is easy to be angry at the people involved in this sad situation in California last month but we need to look at how we are promoting this sort of abuse by our actions and more commonly our inaction. Buying products that use animals in their commercials or testing helps to promote this very industry. Two Brothers may have had a nice message, but it used 30 tigers for the film. Where are those cats now? As long as zoos sell or give their animals to brokers who sell them to these road side menageries your support of the zoo is supporting this misery. If you shake your head and say, “What a shame!” and do nothing, you are just as guilty of this tiger’s blood.

Image hosting by PhotobucketWe have made it so easy to contact your representatives in government that there is absolutely no excuse for inaction. By entering your zip code you find your senators, state representatives, the USDA, and the press in your area. With simple forms to fill in your name and address you can click to send pre-written letters or you can add your own thoughts. There is legislation pending that can curb the abuse. Some of it has failed six years in a row because not enough people cared to speak up. Visit our site at: and see how you can really make a difference with just a few mouse clicks. Don’t let this tiger die in vain.

The top photo was the un named tiger who was shot in CA in 2005. Federal authorities said charges were filed relating to the possession of exotic cats by Gert “Abby” Hedengran and his wife, Roena “Emma” Hedengran, owners of Wild World/Tiger Creek Foundation, in the escape and death of Tuffy the tiger. They have denied all responsibility.

Read Big Cat Rescue‘s Daily Updates on Wildcats in the Wild at Field Projects

Twenty servals, caracals, Canada and Siberian Lynx ended up in this shelter.  Click on the image to see the slideshow.

Judge questions whether charges should be heard in criminal court

By Jean Ortiz, jortiz@VenturaCountyStar.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
September 16, 2006

A federal court case involving a former Tierra Rejada Valley couple accused of owning an escaped tiger that was shot and killed in Moorpark last year has hit another snag.

U.S. District Judge George H. King has thrown out the recently submitted signed plea agreements of the alleged owners of the tiger, Gert “Abby” Hedengran and Roena “Emma” Hedengran, until a prosecution issue is resolved.

King questions whether some of the charges the couple face are violations of criminal statutes or more properly heard as regulatory violations, according to court records.

Abby Hedengran had agreed to plead guilty to six counts, including four misdemeanor charges for transporting exotic cats in enclosures of “insufficient structural strength” and in a manner that could cause them harm; exhibiti

ng exotic cats without a license; and keeping the animals in facilities that couldn’t prevent their escape, according to court records summarizing the plea agreements submitted Aug. 21. The remaining charges, according to the complaint, are felonies: making a false statement to a federal authority, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

Emma Hedengran had agreed to plead guilty to the same misdemeanor charges minus the exhibiting without a license charge.

King has called into question only the misdemeanor charges and suggests that they could be violations of administrative rules, subject to an administrative hearing before the Department of Agriculture. If so, punishment would be in the form of fines rather than prison time. It does not affect the felony charges Abby Hedengran faces, which are still intact, nor indicate the case could be thrown out.

“It’s better to figure it out now than it is to convict them and then find out later through the appellate process at the U.S. Court of Appeals that this was never a crime and have the convictions reversed,” said Alfred Vargas, a Ventura lawyer not connected with the case but familiar with federal court proceedings.

The matter is not unusual, but merely an area of untested law, he said.

Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, agreed, saying it’s always good when there is thorough consideration of a case.

“It’s an indication that they’re a bit in uncharted territory and they want to make sure they are on the right track,” she said.

The couple were to appear in court Sept. 5 for the change of plea hearing, but that was pushed off pending resolution of this latest issue.

Lawyers have until Sept. 25 to submit briefs arguing whether the couple violated the criminal code or administrative rules.

The Hedengrans were at the center of controversy during a weeklong search for the exotic cat in February 2005. The 352-pound tiger was found in a city park and shot and killed by wildlife officials out of concern for public safety. Authorities alleged the animal belonged to the couple, who had recently moved to the area with nearly two dozen exotic cats, and that the animal escaped two weeks before the search began. A ranch worker’s sighting prompted the search.

The couple now live in Nevada.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns, the prosecutor in the case, did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

Janet Sherman, who represents Emma Hedengran in the case, declined comment.

Kimberly Savo, Abby Hedengran’s lawyer, was unavailable for comment.

When the couple were initially charged in March 2005, Abby Hedengran faced as much as 60 years in federal prison, while Emma Hedengran faced a maximum 10-year federal prison sentence.