Puma prince? War vet and his cat lead police on manhunt in Polish woods

Kamil Stanek is shown with his puma, Nubia. Darius Wojtowicz/Facebook

Netflix has its Tiger King, but Poland might have just found its “puma prince” after a wild caper involving an exotic cat, a war veteran, a well-meaning zoo and a small army of police.

An ex-soldier and his pet puma struck out together into the forests of Poland last weekend, triggering a massive, days-long manhunt that ended with the man surrendering his feline friend to a new life at a local zoo.

The man, an Afghan war vet named Kamil Stanek, was fleeing a court order to turn over his pet puma, Nubia, to a zoo in the Polish city of Poznan, according to reports. He had been fined twice before for keeping the illegal cat, which critics said was being kept in substandard conditions, the AFP reports.

Stanek had argued that Nubia was in a good place with him, and that he would always be her “father.”

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Zoo employees allege that Stanek threatened them with a knife when they showed up for the court-ordered handoff on Friday. Police said they were not informed of the handoff ahead of time, and were not present for the incident. However, local journalist Piotr Żytnicki, who was present for the handoff, said police should have known the time and simply failed to arrive.

Video posted on Facebook by Żytnicki shows the handoff spiralling out of control, with lots of shouting and confusion between Stanek, the zoo staff and gathered journalists.

“He waved a knife, put it around his neck, threatened to kill himself, and he wouldn’t give up the puma,” Żytnicki wrote in his account of the incident. “He also tried to terrorize a random driver with a knife. Then he ran off with the puma into the woods.”

Stanek can be seen bringing the puma out of its cage in the middle of the chaos. The edited video shows Stanek climbing into a car with the cat, then getting out with it and jogging off into the woods with his pet on a leash.

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Police scoured the area in search of the pair all weekend, while local officials warned the public to avoid the rogue vet and his giant cat.

“It’s not a cuddly toy. It’s one of the most dangerous animals in the world and it could be a real threat to people’s lives,” Ewa Zgrabcyzynska, head of the Poznan zoo, told AFP during the manhunt.

Dariusz Wojtowicz, mayor of the nearby town of Myslowice, was more sympathetic in a warning he posted on Facebook.

“Love for the animal and a heartless court decision forced him to flee,” Wojtowicz wrote. “He is hiding in the forest.”

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Stanek turned himself in and handed over the cat on Sunday, according to police in his hometown of Zawiercie.

Police called it a “happy ending” to the ordeal in a Facebook post.

“It is with great satisfaction that we can announce that thanks to the mutual willingness to solve the problem, none of the people associated with this issue suffered injuries and Nubia is currently resting at the Chorzów Zoo,” police wrote.

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Stanek apologized to zoo officials in a statement posted on his Facebook page Tuesday, saying he acted “under the influence of emotions.” He also vowed not to launch any “save Nubia” campaigns on social media.

He wrapped up his statement by urging his supporters to refrain from criticizing the zoo and its staff, “who have great merits in saving abused animals.”

Stanek reportedly bought the illegal cat six years ago and used her as the centrepiece for Projekt Puma, a self-styled zoo for educating people about exotic animals.

Social media posts show he spent lots of time playing with, cuddling and sleeping alongside the animal, which he insisted was harmless. He also appeared to take photos of people posing with the cat as part of his “workshops.”

The cat is now at the zoo, and various fundraising pages to secure its release are no longer visible online.

Stanek has pleaded not guilty to charges of illegally keeping a puma and faces up to three years in prison if convicted, according to reports.

“Sometimes to take two steps forward you have to take one back,” a post said on the Projekt Puma Facebook page on Tuesday.

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Stanek was not in police custody on Tuesday, his Facebook posts show.

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