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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Loose lion located at Pasco sanctuary

SPRING HILL — Wildlife officials safely recaptured an adult lioness that escaped her enclosure Friday at the Survival Outreach Sanctuary in Spring Hill.

The 7-year-old lioness named Savannah, who is about 6 to 8 feet in size, never left the secondary 10-foot enclosure on the property before being tranquilized and caged, said Baryl Martin, public information officer for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“After the animal left its initial enclosure, it left to the trees and was calm the whole time,” he said. “At this point we (were) prepared for any contingency. The animal can be in just as much danger as a person can.”

How the 150-pound lioness got out of the initial enclosure, which was reported about 10 a.m., is still under investigation, Martin said.

In a news release, FWC said it inspected the facility and its records and charged director Judy Watson with one misdemeanor for conditions that led to an escape.

Pasco sheriff's deputies were called in to assist the FWC in the search at the sanctuary, 22005 Bowman Road in Spring Hill. Officers tranquilized the lion and placed her back in the enclosure Friday afternoon.

“She's not a threat to the community,” sheriff's spokeswoman Melanie Snow said of the lioness. “She's still in the sanctuary, she just got out of her enclosure. She's calm — she's actually laying in the sun.”

Ron Gard, owner of “Gard Zoo” in Brooksville, was called on site to assist Friday. He said Savannah allowed the officers to lead her back to the enclosure.

“In all, really this is the best outcome we could encounter,” Martin said, noting that there was “never a danger to the general public.”

According to its website, the sanctuary houses large cats including tigers and cougars, as well as wolf dogs and other wildilfe. The nonprofit sanctuary was founded in 1990 by Watson and cares for animals that have been abandoned or abused.

Neighbors David and Heather Gillman said animals at Survival Outreach are all well fed and cared for. “This is just a freak accident,” Heather Gillman said.

Savannah was relocated to the facility in 2009 after the U.S. Department of Agriculture revoked the license of a south Florida big cat exhibitor who had previously owned her.

Hernando Today reporter Matthew Reinig contributed to this report.

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