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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Jaguar escape gives park fright
Sovereign the jaguar
Sovereign's escape has attracted criticism from campaigners
The new owners of a Devon wildlife park faced a serious challenge four days after arriving, when a jaguar escaped.

Big cat Sovereign found a way out of his pen and into a tigers' enclosure at the Dartmoor Wildlife Park before it was sedated by keepers.

Campaign group, the Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS), said the escape was "not acceptable".

The escape, believed to have been caused by human error, is being investigated by South Hams Council.

It threw us in the at the deep end
Duncan Mee
The wildlife park at Sparkwell near Plymouth has just been taken over by the Mee family.

Duncan Mee, 46, whose brother Ben, 41, and mother Amelia moved to the Dartmoor Wildlife Park last weekend, praised staff for the handling of the situation on Wednesday night.

"We were really impressed with the way they worked," he said.

"Their response was immediate.

Duncan and Ben Mee
Duncan and Ben Mee bought the park after reading about its plight
"It threw us in the at the deep end, but that may be a good thing in the long run."

But Craig Redmond, of CAPS, said: "The escape of the jaguar is very worrying, coming just days after new owners moved in.

"Reports claim that the jaguar escape was due to human error, but that simply is not acceptable.

"Not only is there an obvious risk to zoo staff but as the jaguar gained access to the tiger enclosure it could have led to serious injuries to all the animals."

The park was bought by the Mee family after fears that former owner Ellis Daw would have to put down all the animals.

Exotic animals

The Mees, who have no experience running such businesses, said they were prompted to act when they saw the story on BBC News Interactive.

Duncan Mee told BBC News: "We had seen the property for sale in a magazine and put in a bid which came to nothing.

"Then we saw the story on the BBC website and got in contact again.

"We think Mr Daw decided to sell to us because we want to run it as a family attraction and not redevelop it."

The park, which currently does not have a public licence, is home to hundreds of exotic animals, including tigers and lions.

Mr Daw's aim was to give animals space to roam after being horrified by zoo conditions during childhood visits in the 1920s.

Pete Wearden, South Hams Council environmental health officer said: "As zoo licensing authority, we were made fully aware of the incident involving the jaguar within an hour of the event.

"The initial verbal report from the new owners indicates that the incident was dealt with properly and in accordance with procedure.

"We will be considering a full written report from the owners on the circumstances surrounding the incident in due course."


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