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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 November, 2003, 22:10 GMT
Tigers freed from 'squalid' pens
Officials take sick tiger from sanctuary [pic courtesy International Fund for Animal Welfare]
The animals had not been well cared for, officials said
US authorities have begun removing 24 Bengal tigers from a private sanctuary in New Jersey after complaints they were not being properly looked after.

Workers lured the tigers into cages before readying them to be transported to an animal shelter in Texas.

State officials obtained a court order to take the animals away after a lengthy legal battle.

Officials from the International Fund for Animal Welfare said the tigers' pens were dirty and infested with rats.

Popular 'pets'

Ifaw officials said in a statement that one small, badly malnourished tiger was found caked in mud, with the pads of its feet covered in sores.

Some of the larger, more aggressive tigers were reported to be sedated with tranquiliser darts before they were moved.

The animals' plight first came to light in 1999, when officials shot a tiger found wandering in a suburban area.

Following that incident, New Jersey authorities criticised conditions at the five-hectare (12 acre) Tigers Only Preservation Society sanctuary.

And, even though they never managed to prove the tiger belonged to the sanctuary's owner, so-called "Tiger Lady" Joan Byron-Marasek, they did not renew her permit to keep animals, the Associated Press news agency reported.

After lengthy court battles Ms Bryon-Marasek's appeals were exhausted and a judge authorised the removal of the animals.

The Ifaw estimates that up to 10,000 tigers are currently being kept as pets in basements and backyards across the US.

In October, police in New York abseiled into a man's flat to remove a tiger and an alligator he had been keeping as pets.

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