Knife-wielding polish man flees into woods, hoping to keep Pet Puma

Daniel Victor and Monika Pronczuk, The New York Times

Posted at Jul 14 2020 07:38 AM

A puma at the Queens Zoo in New York on June 9, 2018. A man in Poland wielded a knife and fled to the woods, refusing to give up his beloved — but illegal — pet puma when officials from a zoo tried to retrieve the animal on Friday, July 10, 2020, according to local reports. Demetrius Freeman, The New York Times

A man in Poland wielded a knife and fled to the woods, refusing to give up his beloved — but illegal — pet puma when officials from a zoo tried to retrieve the animal Friday, according to local reports.

The man, Kamil Stanek, who bought the big cat and named her Nubia 6 years ago, has posted nearly 200 videos of her playfully nuzzling and nibbling him on social media.

But despite his assertion that the cat was harmless and well cared for, he was ordered by a court to hand over the puma to a zoo in Poznan. Police said that zoo employees had attempted to take Nubia before informing police, and the standoff Friday ensued.

Piotr Żytnicki, a local journalist, disputed that account, reporting that police had been notified but did not arrive in time. Stanek had twice been fined for keeping Nubia, and ultimately the courts decided Nubia must be taken to the zoo, he wrote.

Zoo officials said Nubia lived in substandard conditions. When the employees arrived to claim the puma, Stanek threatened them with a knife and dragged the animal away, the Poznań zoo said in a statement.

Police conducted an extensive search that mobilized more than 200 officers before Stanek finally relented Sunday, turning over Nubia to a zoo in Chorzow, a city in southwest Poland not far from where he lives.

Stanek pleaded not guilty to charges of illegally keeping the puma — ownership of wild animals is illegal in Poland — and faces up to three years in prison, according to local reports.

“The only positive aspect of the failed action is the fact that nobody was hurt,” police in Zawiercie, where Stanek lives, said in a statement.

Ewa Zgrabczynska, head of the zoo in Poznan, said on social media that the puma was “not a toy but a dangerous animal which may pose a real threat to the health and life of people.”

“She has no chance of living in nature,” she wrote, adding that living in the zoo would give the puma a chance to “at least partially regain its biological identity of a strong predator.”

It might not surprise viewers of Netflix’s “Tiger King” to hear that the owner of a big cat went to extreme lengths on behalf of an animal. Much like Joe Exotic, the breakout star of the Netflix series, Stanek has attracted tens of thousands of fans on his Facebook page and has charged visitors to pet Nubia and take photos with her.

In a post on social media before the incident over the weekend, Stanek said that Nubia had never harmed anyone and that he would “forever be her father.”

“Together with my wife Kasia we love her a lot and cannot imagine living without her,” he wrote in Polish on a crowdfunding page to raise money for the legal fight to get her back. “I am convinced that without me she will die of longing, regardless of her living conditions.”

Many states and countries ban private ownership of the big cats, but there are other reasons that pumas — known in other regions as cougars, panthers or mountain lions — aren’t more popular pets: They’re expensive and dangerous.

The animals are often forced to live in inadequate conditions in captivity. Animal welfare activists point to a slew of ethical concerns in how pumas are tamed.

Still, Stanek has received considerable sympathy, attracting tens of thousands of signatures on a petition for him to keep Nubia and more than $12,000 on the crowdfunding page.

Lukasz Litewka, a local politician, negotiated an end to the standoff Sunday, saying he hoped Stanek would ultimately be able to keep Nubia.

“Such a solution is better; they don’t have to hide in the forest,” he said.

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