|QUITMAN, Ark. Sept. 23 — Lisa
Vaughan says her log cabin in the woods was so peaceful that sometimes the
only sound that could be heard was the trees swaying in the wind.
Now she's listening for lions.
In the past week, four 600- to 800-pound African lions believed to have
some connection to a nearby exotic animal farm have been killed near this
central Arkansas town. And residents say the terror may not be over,
because no one knows for sure whether more lions are on the loose.
"I had a terrible headache and my blood pressure has been up. ... It's
been a long ordeal," said Vaughan, whose husband, Johnny, killed two of
the lions with his .30-06 rifle.
"Everybody is scared around here," added neighbor Arvil Skinner.
"People have to sit out with a high-powered rifle just to let their kids
play in the yard.
"That's just how serious it is. It might be all right and it might not.
They might still be out there. We just don't know."
The Vaughans believe the lions belong to animal farm operator Steve
Henning, who moved in on the other side of the patch of trees almost a
year ago with 11 African lions, 30 tigers, five mountain lions and a lynx.
Henning says the lions killed in the woods were not his. He speculates
that someone who tried to give him lions last week turned them loose on
the 44-acre property of Safari Unlimited, the lion and tiger farm he
operates. The farm is not open to the public, Henning said.
Aside from the pens where Henning keeps his cats, the property is not
Neighbors expressed disbelief over Henning's response.
"That really blows my mind how anyone could believe that story," Lisa
Henning was not able to give Cleburne County sheriff's deputies or
Arkansas Game and Fish officials the name of a person they could track
down, authorities said.
"Mr. Henning told us the guy goes by different names and he doesn't
know where he lives," Deputy Jack Allen said.
Sheriff Dudley Lemon inspected Safari Unlimited and said he thinks
Henning is telling the truth. But he added that believing Henning's story
does mean more big cats could be roaming the woods.
Johnny Vaughan said he will be the first to apologize to Henning if
it's proven the lions that have been killed didn't belong to him. But he
and his neighbors around this town of 700 want local laws amended so that
Henning can't keep lions and tigers in their neighborhood.
"We've got to try and pass something to not only protect the people,
but to protect the animals," Vaughan said. "It's sad to think that someone
can have that many animals but they don't need some sort of license."