WEINER, AR (KAIT) - A Poinsett County farmer, who has only dealt with soybeans and rice in his career, found himself housing exotic big cats last week.
Farmer Craig Keller said he was helping a friend when state wildlife officials found lions, tigers and a leopard on his property near Weiner.
The animals are now on their way to Cologne, Germany. Keller said he learned a lot from the ordeal.
Keller said there have been a lot of rumors and speculation about the animals, which were found by Poinsett County deputies Saturday night.
"Everyone thought that they are down there smuggling black market tigers or whatever," Keller said in an interview with Region 8 News. "It just got way out of hand."
Keller said he now wants to put those rumors to bed.
"I just want to get on with my life and let everyone know that I am not the lion and tiger guy," Keller said.
He explained a friend at FedEx contacted him about temporarily housing the animals because their cages needed to be retrofitted before their flight to Germany. Keller said everything he did was legal.
"He told me he said I am in a bind, these animals we have got to get them off the airport," Keller said.
While officials say he failed to notify the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission about what was happening before the animals arrived in Poinsett County, Keller said he did get permission from the AGFC and a state senator to keep the animals.
Animal handler Alexander Lacey stayed with the big cats in a shop building until they could get on a flight to Germany.
"Cages were nice and large and had fans in them and as you can see they have water everywhere," Keller said, noting the animals ate ribeyes, chicken, and filets while they were on his property.
While Keller said he notified AGFC, he claims the owner of the animals failed to. He said the owner later contacted him.
"The owner called and he said you may be in trouble and I may be in trouble. I said no, I am not in trouble," Keller said.
Keller said he believes the situation was a miscommunication but said the experience was well worth it.
"I was glad to do and I would do it again because it was such a pleasant experience," Keller said.
The cats were only supposed to only be at Keller's farm for two days. However, issues with paperwork and retrofitting the cages kept them at the farm for about a week.
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