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Poland Deadly Tiger Escape Probed

March 16, 2000

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Polish officials are investigating an unknown animal rights group’s claim that it was responsible for releasing three circus tigers from their cage in a breakout that had a tragic ending.

The three tigers were freed Tuesday in a Warsaw suburb. A veterinarian was attacked by one of the tigers when he tried to subdue it _ and police then accidentally shot and killed the man as they opened fire on the animal.

The Rzeczpospolita daily newspaper said Thursday it received a claim of responsibility in an e-mail from a group calling itself the Polish League for Protection of Animals. ``Once a week we will release animals from a circus or a zoo,″ the message said.

Police and environmentalists said they did not know of any such group and were trying to determine whether the message was authentic. Prosecutors also were trying to determine which of several officers fired the bullet that killed the veterinarian, 43-year-old Ryszard Karczewski.

The incident began when the tigers were found loose from their cage at the Korona circus. Karczewski fired a tranquilizer dart at one tiger, but was attacked by the animal before it could take effect.

Polish television footage showed the tiger chasing Karczewski, jumping at him from behind and turning back at the sound of shots. Karczewski was seen falling as if he had stumbled.

The tiger was shot to death a short time later. The other two were captured by zoo workers.

An autopsy Wednesday confirmed that Karczewski died from a gunshot to the head. Warsaw Police Chief Antoni Kowalczyk acknowledged that police appeared to have mishandled the chase, but said they were ill-equipped to handle such an unusual occurrence.

The head of the Korona circus, Lidia Krol, said the tiger cage had been securely locked by zoo workers. It was unclear how the cage was opened, but one of two padlocks was missing after the incident.