ROCKWELL, N.C.,None — Upset parents who said a tiger cub broke out of a cage just feet from their children emailed Eyewitness News a picture they say proves it.
On Friday, Leticia Ford said she and her 7-year-old son, Prince Jr., were at Tiger World in Rockwell when a tiger broke out of its cage wearing a leash, but without a trainer behind it for several feet.
"One of the tigers charged at the plexiglass and his head busted through, so I was like, 'Oh my God, he's going to eat us,'" Ford said.
Eyewitness News asked Tiger World owner Lea Jaunakais on Friday about Ford's claim, and she said a tiger cub did not break out of the cage.
She said the tiger cub stepped out of a large air vent opening on a mobile cage while being held on a leash by a trainer the entire time. Jaunakais said the tiger never escaped and was under control during the incident.
But the parent's picture showed the same cage with a smaller area of broken Plexiglas. Eyewitness News showed the picture to Tiger World employees and asked for clarification.
Jaunakais was away at meetings, so Eyewitness News talked a general manager instead. The manager admitted the tiger broke through the cage and said the cage had been modified before and after the incident.
In an e-mail, Jaunakais apologized for any confusion in answering intial questions and also offered an apology to both families.
Eyewitness News spoke with Ford Monday, who said the apology is too late. Ford said she and her son are seeking counseling.
"I can't sleep," she said. "I keep seeing that image over and over, that tiger breaking through that hole. I don't know what the long -term effects will be for me, so an apology is a little too late. They should have been honest [and] upfront about what happened. They should have offered services to us to make sure we were OK, and they didn't do that."
Tiger World employees said no other tigers have ever broken out of their cages or escaped.
Tiger World is regulated by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Inspection reports revealed the tiger reserve passed an inspection in February. A representative with the USDA-APHIS said by standard procedure when an incident, complaint, or violation is reported, they follow up with an inspection within days.