NOAH'S LOST ARK Boomerang heads west, not expected to come back
A sanctuary owner said the cage was insufficient to transport the lion.
BERLIN CENTER -- At 5:35 p.m. Monday, a Ryder truck left Noah's Lost Ark Animal Sanctuary here carrying the lion sanctuary owners had cared for since October 2003.
It took about 15 minutes for handlers and a veterinarian hired by lion owner William Long of Upper Arlington to move the heavily sedated animal, known as Boomerang, to a stretcher, into the truck and into a strawn-strewn cage.
The lion would be taken to Columbus, then put on a plane headed to Shambala, a wildlife preserve about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, run by The Roar Foundation founded by actress Tippi Hedren.
But just like most everything else associated with the lion over the past 15 months, Boomerang's transfer did not go smoothly.
A distraught Ellen Whitehouse, one of the sanctuary owners, implored reporters and photographers gathered in below-freezing temperatures at the sanctuary to make sure the animal arrived safely in California. She was in tears as the lion was removed.
She said she worried about the animal's body temperature dropping dangerously low during the trip while it was sedated.
She also complained the carrier Long provided did not meet the specifications ordered by a county common pleas court judge to properly transport the animal.
There were signs on sanctuary property that read "No Justice for Boomy" as county deputies were on hand to ensure the animal was turned over to Long.
Long said he arrived in the county around 11:30 a.m. to get the lion, but was told he couldn't set foot on the property. He called his lawyer, J. Jeffrey Holland, and calls were made to the sheriff and Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of common pleas court, who ruled Jan. 4 the lion must be turned over to Long.
Deputies arrived at the sanctuary around 3 p.m.
Lawyers Ned Gold and Matthew Gurbach, who represent Noah's Lost Ark, also were present.
Gold said, "The chapter is closed on Boomerang staying at Noah's Lost Ark." He added the judge made it clear her order was to be followed. Gurbach said the lion now weighs about 250 pounds.
Gold said he would notify Judge Sweeney today about the struggle to get the animal into the cage.
Long was confident the carrier was sufficient to take the animal back to Columbus.
Long said he was glad the matter was finally over, and that the lion, which he has renamed Uhuru, the Swahili word for freedom, will now enjoy a long, happy life at Shambala.
"The Whitehouses are good people, and they provided excellent care for the animal," Long said.
Long and Alfred Guart, a former New York Post reporter, brought Boomerang to Noah's in October 2003 shortly after buying the8-day-old cub from an animal fair in Wapakoneta in northwest Ohio for $1,000.
Long said he never abandoned the lion, as the sanctuary owners have long contended, and that the animal was never sick or near death. He was concerned the cub could not make the trip west and intended for it to stay at Noah's only until it was strong enough for travel.
The 7th District Court of Appeals ruled in August the lion belongs to Long. That ruling upheld a May decision from common pleas court.
Sanctuary owners had argued the two were irresponsible separating such a young cub from its mother and gave up ownership when they dropped it off. The Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal in December.
Judge Sweeney and the appellate court both refused Friday to delay their orders to turn the animal over to Long.
"They've kept Mr. Long's lion for over a year and used it for fund-raising purposes the entire time," Holland said in a press release.
A veterinarian specializing in large animal care was to accompany the lion on the flight to California, Holland said.
Noah's Lost Ark and Long both have claimed they suffered damages in the custody battle, and Judge Sweeney will have a hearing on that matter in February.
To date, 14 states, including Ohio, have no laws governing the private ownership of exotic animals, Holland said.
In December 2003, President Bush signed the Captive Wildlife Act, which bans the interstate trafficking in exotic animals. The bill had been promoted by Hedren.