Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigators seized two tigers and one leopard Monday at a Loxahatchee facility maintained by Melanie Boynes and Steve Sipek, a former actor who played Tarzan in six films.
FWC issued a search warrant to the facility, saying the couple repeatedly failed to correct violations, including reports of numerous bites, escapes, improper diet, and fencing and caging deficiencies. Sipek allegedly told investigators "nobody would ever take his animals," prompting them to become even more alarmed.
The Croatian native, who moved from Miami to Loxahatchee when neighbors discovered he was keeping a lion in a residential neighborhood, was arrested on misdemeanor charges of possession of a Class 1 animal without a USDA permit and possession of a Class 1 animal as a pet, reports the Palm Beach Post.
Class I describes any wildlife that could pose a significant danger to humans such as baboons, bears, crocodiles, lions, and rhinoceros. A Florida Administrative code dictates that such animals are kept on facilities larger than 5 acres with at least 35 feet between the caged wildlife and the property line. There are specific requirements for height and strength of fencing used as well.
“Mr. Sipek and Ms. Boynes were in violation of federal and state laws that are in place to keep both people and animals safe and healthy," said Major Curtis Brown, leader of the FWC’s Captive Wildlife and Investigations Section. "The FWC removed the animals to protect public safety and to place them in a licensed, healthy and safe facility.”
Last fall, Sipek told the Post that he lets his tigers sleep in the house with him: "When it's cold like last night, they are very warm to cuddle up to."
Sipek reportedly vowed to spend his life taking care of big cats after a fire on the set of what would be his last Tarzan film, 1972's Tarzan and the Brown Prince, left him with burns on 90 percent of his body. Sipek and his costar were tied down as part of a scene when the blaze broke out, and a lion trained to free them from restraints on camera saved their lives by untying them just in time.
Florida currently has 255 facilities that are permitted to house Class I wildlife, 7 of which are in Palm Beach County, according to FWC's Jorge Pino. FWC inspects such facilities twice a year.