The Tracker School gets involved in escaped tiger case
by Dan Hirshberg
Tom Brown, Jr., along with Tracker School Director Kevin Reeve, was
called in by the Jackson Township (N.J.) police department on Jan. 27 to help ensure that
an escaped Bengal tiger did not elude them.
It was suspected at the time that the tiger had either escaped from a
nearby theme park, Great Adventure, or from a nearby private tiger preserve. Members of
the Jackson Township police department, several of whom had been trained by Brown, asked
for Brown's assistance in the event the animal eluded them and disappeared into nearby
"I have all the confidence in the world about the abilities of the men I
trained," Brown says of the Jackson police officers. "I didn't really need to be
Unfortunately, Brown and Reeve arrived at the scene moments after the tiger was shot.
It was confirmed through foot prints and blood that the tiger had been hit. Brown and
Reeve tracked the tiger through thick vegetation, across a stream, and finally to where
the tiger lay dead.
Brown, who does not carry any sort of firearm when he tracks, was backed up by officers
of the police department, including Anthony Senatore, a graduate of Brown's school.
The tiger was
beautiful," says Brown. "I wish the ending had somehow been different."
Brown, along with other officials, was hoping to capture the tiger alive. However, once
the tiger was close to escaping from the "containment" area, the decision was
made by law enforcement officials to shoot it so that it did not pose a threat to the
A few days later, Reeve returned to the scene along with school instructors Dan
Stanchfield, Ruth Ann Colby-Martin, and Tom McElroy, as well as caretaker Brian Gooding
and adjunct instructor Jon Young. They "back-tracked" the animal to within 1,000
feet of the private preserve to help officials determine the origination of the tiger.
|While the authorities have not officially charged (as of March 8) the owner of the
preserve with allowing the tiger to escape, they are requiring her to make extensive
improvements to her compound which currently houses 17 tigers.
The case, as well as the Tracker School, received massive media coverage, including a
piece in the New York Times national Week in Review section.
The nitty-gritty of back-tracking a tiger by our "team"
is reported in full detail
On February 1, 1999 The Tracker School was contacted by Tony
Senatore of the Jackson Township Police Department to back-track the tiger shot on 1/28/99
on Wright-Debow Road. In response to the request, a tracking team was dispatched. The team
included the following trackers: Kevin Reeve, Director Tom Brown, Jr.'s Tracking, Nature
and Wilderness Survival School, Jon Young, adjunct staff and master tracker, and school
instructors Dan Stanchfield, Ruth Ann Colby-Martin, and Tom McElroy, as well as Brian
Gooding, a caretaker at the school.
(The following report was filed with the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game &
Wildlife by Kevin Reeve, Tracker School Director, who led a
"back-tracking" expedition in the case of an escaped tiger in Jackson
We arrived at police headquarters at 12:15 p.m. We met with Detective
Senatore and three State Department of Fish, Game & Wildlife Officers. After meeting
for a few minutes and going over maps, we proceeded to the field to get our first took at
the tracks. We started at the place the tiger was first seen at 654 Wright-Debow Road.
Gary, Wayne, and Walt showed us a known track. We spent approximately 1.5 hours here
marking all the tracks we could find, and doing extensive track measurements. We measured
track length and width. We measured stride, straddle, pitch and trail width. We spent a
great deal of time here getting to know the animal, studying its behaviors, what it was
paying attention to, sensing from the tracks the animal's state of mind. From a rather
extensive study of the tracks, it was apparent to us that we were not tracking a wild cat.
Jon and I have tracked mountain lions before and these tracks did not reflect the typical
behaviors of a wild feline. Rather than approaching this area with the stealth of a
hunter, the cat moved around it with a combination of puppy like curiosity and some
discomfort. It was clear that as it approached and moved around this house it was
uncomfortable with its surroundings, that it seemed to be looking for something familiar.
After a thorough familiarization period, we broke into two teams. Gary,
myself, Ruth Ann, Dan, and Brian went over to Berwyn Street to cut for sign. Jon and Tom
went with Wayne and Walt to the greenhouse area to begin backtracking. The greenhouse had
previously been identified as a place where tracks were found.
Jon and Tom found quite a number of tracks around the greenhouses.
There is one string of tracks several hundred feet long. This particular string of tracks
was right next to a fence. From studying the animal's behavior we concluded that the tiger
was used to walking near a fence and that the fence made him comfortable, perhaps even
secure. These tracks were backtracked to where the tiger emerged from the woods, northeast
of the property. When the trail went down into the briars, this team decided to move
further west and cut for sign.
In an effort to cut down on the amount of tracking required, Jon, Tom, Walt, and Wayne
moved down Wright-Debow road to the northeast to where a stream ran under the road. With
the direction of travel at the nursery indicating that the cat had come from the west and
moved to the east, we felt moving further to the east was a logical step in determining
the point of origin. The plan was for the team to walk the stream from north to south
looking for logical crossing points for a cat of this size. As Jon and Wayne got into the
stream and walked south, they encountered intense green briars. The green briars formed an
almost impenetrable wall that prevented them from staying in the stream. Finally they had
to move to the side of the briars, Jon taking the west bank and Wayne the east. Tom and
Walt had to circle to the west and attempt to hook up with them further down the stream
due to the fact that only Jon and Wayne had waders. After moving along in this manner for
over an hour and covering only a few hundred yards it became apparent that in order for a
tiger to get through the briars, it would have had to follow a deer trail. Finally, Wayne
encountered what he thought might be a track. Jon began working a deer trail, moving now
west to east towards Wayne and also encountered the tiger's tracks on the west side of the
stream. The tracks indicated a west to east direction of travel. Jon also found a
flattened area near the trail where the tiger had laid down to rest for a long period. The
elbow and hip marks of the cat were there, just as would be found in a mountain lion lay
only much larger. It was in this area that Jon found a hair, orange in color that appeared
to be a tiger hair. This hair was turned over to Gary. Jon also found where the tiger
approached the stream, placed one foot down into the water, found the ground giving way
and backed up. The tiger then moved to the side where it found a log and crossed far
enough on the log and jumped across the stream. It moved forward to where Wayne had picked
up the tracks. Jon and Wayne then turned west and moved towards where the rest of us were
tracking. They met Tom who directed them out of the briars and onto the dirt road that
runs from the end of Berwyn Street to the east-southeast.
In the meantime, Kevin had traveled with Gary, Ruth Ann, Dan, and Brian
to the dirt road that runs from the end of Berwyn street into the woods to the southeast.
We planned to cut north to south looking for an indication that the tiger had come from
further west. They began by cutting for sign along the edge of Berwyn. Dan and Ruth Ann
went north from Berwyn towards Woodbury road. Brian and Kevin began working from the dirt
road towards Alyson. Brian began working the edge of the road, and Kevin began scanning
the area about I 0 ft in from the road. Kevin almost immediately noticed a track and
Utilizing the stride measurements gathered at the house on
he identified seven other tracks coming from the woods and onto the dirt road. At this
point, Brian returned from his scan along the edge of the road walking with one of the
residents of the houses on Berwyn. This neighbor, who did not identify herself, told us
that this area had been a madhouse on Friday. She described a fleet of news vans and media
folks that parked along the edge of Berwyn, and that they had hiked back into the woods
looking for the tiger compound. She also said the police and state officials had been in
there on Friday too, looking for evidence. This explained why the area was so tracked up
with human prints, and why we were unable to locate more than seven tracks. The tiger had
emerged from the woods onto the dirt road by walking under a briar bush that was waist
high. This exit was not particularly open to humans, but the tiger had no problem
negotiating it, so the tracks were not destroyed. Right next to this area was a
well-trampled trail that bad many human footprints on it. The two trails merged about 20
feet back into the woods. Brian located within the sixth print, a hair consistent with
hair found between the toes of felines. It was turned over to Gary as evidence. These
seven tracks indicate a cat with no apprehension about being seen as it crossed an open
area. A wild cat will almost always move cautiously and apprehensively across an opening
like this. The apprehension that was present in the tracks found at 654 Wright-Debow is
not present in these tracks.
Brian and Ruth Ann also tracked further west on the dirt road that
starts at the end of Berwyn Road. They identified a probable track several hundred yards
west of Berwyn. This road is traveled frequently by partiers, and the tracks were pretty
well destroyed by traffic, so this print was a single print and no others were confirmed
in the area. This however is another piece of the puzzle.
By looking at the map of where the tracks we located were and the direction of travel
they indicated, we have four points in a line that indicate the tiger moving in a
northwest to southeast direction. The first track we were able to conclusively identify
was coming out of the woods approximately 100 yards behind the tiger compound at the end
of Berwyn Rd. We had a probable, but not conclusive track further down the dirt road that
runs from Berwyn to the SE. We had a series of tracks and a bedding area further
east-southeast from there where an additional hair was located. We have further tracks to
the northeast of this near the greenhouse. We have tracks around the house at 969
Wright-Debow Rd. Finally, we have the tiger shot approximately 100 yards southeast of this
sighting. It is our conclusion as professional trackers that the tiger shot at the end of
Wright-Debow road came from the woods bordered by Berwyn, Alyson and Woodbury roads.
From True Tracks, Spring 1999, published by the Tracker
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