A pet Siberian tiger kept on a property near 100 Mile House killed a woman who was outside its enclosure petting it on Thursday night.
The tiger is one of several owned by Kim Carlton, who keeps the big cats on his property in the tiny community of Bridge Lake, and invites the public to visit and have pictures taken with the tigers.
Thursday night, his girlfriend, Tanya Dumstrey-Soos, 32, was outside a cage petting a tiger when it apparently grabbed her leg and mauled her, and she bled to death as a result.
Her two young children were standing outside the cage and witnessed the attack, said her employer, Scott Nelson, the mayor of nearby Williams Lake.
"What was more horrifying was that it was the young kids that actually called in the ambulance and the police because they were right there with their mom. They are obviously under tremendous stress right now."
Carlton was not present at the time of the attack.
It's still unclear what will happen to the tiger.
The SPCA's Marlene Moriarty said that investigators have been trying to seize the tigers from Carlton since late 2005, as they were being kept in "substandard" chain-link enclosures.
"The animals were being horribly cared for. The enclosure they were in was about the size of a small living room, and there were two tigers in that enclosure. We had concerns about animal welfare, but obviously, safety is paramount."
There are so many tigers being kept as pets that there's not enough room for all of them at zoos, which limits the SPCA's ability to take action, Moriarty said.
No federal or provincial laws
Exotic animals are unpredictable, and this tragedy is one more indication that there should be a federal law that prevents people from owning them, she said.
The society has been campaigning for legislation without success, said Craig Naherniak, the SPCA's director of humane education.
Getting a bylaw or piece of legislation put in place isn't just about the safety of humans; it's also about the welfare of the animals, he said.
In the absence of any provincial regulations, several of B.C.'s largest municipalities have stepped in to fill the gap.
Surrey brought in a bylaw in 2003 prohibiting the sale of exotic pets, Richmond has restrictions on some animals, and the City of Vancouver passed a bylaw banning exotic pets last year.
Vancouver's ban covers not just the sale of exotic pets;it goes further to prohibit the keeping and display of pets such as tigers, bears, snakes or crocodiles.
When it passed the bylaw, Vancouver council also petitioned the Union of B.C. Municipalities to follow its lead and demand a provincewide ban on the sale of exotic animals. However, there is still no legislated banin place in B.C.