A pair of tigers and a black leopard taken from the Loxahatchee home of former “Tarzan” movie actor Steve Sipek will soon head to an Okeechobee facility for homeless wildlife, after a judge’s ruling Tuesday.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials removed the animals from Sipek’s home in February 2012 after they say he violated state wildlife laws by keeping them there.
Sipek, the 71-year-old Croatian-born actor who famously earned the nickname “Spanish Tarzan,” tearfully accepted a plea deal in May that allowed him to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges that prosecutors will dismiss once he pays $4,800 restitution to the FWC. That money, the agency said, will go towards expenses to care for the big cats.
Sipek’s attorney Rob Melchiorre said the plea deal hit a snag recently when FWC did not move the tigers, Bo and Lepa, and the leopard, Oko, to their proposed new home at Animal Adventures, an 1,100-acre family-owned Okeechobee ranch that takes in homeless wildlife.
Melchiorre said FWC officials initially told them that they were working with the shelter currently holding the cats near Lakeland to move them. But in court Tuesday, he said state officials said Sipek owed the facility nearly $50,000.
“We had an agreement, and they tried to get more money on the back end,” Melchiorre said. “But the judge didn’t allow it.”
Judge Paul D’Amico ordered state officials to have the animals moved.
FWC officials late Tuesday said the cats are still at the Dade City facility. But the agency is working with the new shelter to have them transferred, FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson said.
Melchiorre said Sipek has some personal connections to the Okeechobee facility, and will be able to visit his former pets there often. Sipek, his attorney said, hasn’t seen his former pets in 16 months.
“We consider this a victory,” Melchiorre said. “We’re pleased that the judge saw things our way.”