A Florida man who paid $150 to get up-close and personal with a black leopard is now suing the sanctuary that made it happen, after the animal mauled him instead of submitting for pictures and belly-rubs.
The attack happened at a backyard animal sanctuary in Davie, Fla., on Aug. 31, according to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Dwight Turner, 50, paid $150 for a “full contact experience” with the black leopard, and expected to “play with it, rub its belly and take pictures,” local station WPLG reports.
Turner entered the backyard enclosure and the leopard growled at him, then attacked, according to the FWC report obtained by WPLG.
“The owner of the facility brought the victim into the leopard cage,” said the victim’s attorney, Steve Lander. “About three seconds after entering the cage, the leopard attacked, going for the jugular and took his head in its mouth.”
The animal ripped off part of the victim’s scalp and tore his ear in half, officials said. Turner says he spent a week in hospital and required multiple surgeries to recover from injuries sustained in the attack.
Turner alleges that the entire visit was illegal and so any safety waiver he might have signed is invalid. He announced plans to sue the sanctuary operator on Thursday on allegations that the operator let his insurance lapse.
The property’s occupant, Michael Poggi, describes himself on Facebook as an “exotic animal breeder” who owns a “private animal sanctuary” for rare, exotic and endangered animals.
The website for Poggi’s Animal House lists a black leopard named Dasha as the “resident carnivore.”
Poggi has already been charged with allowing full contact with an extremely dangerous animal, wildlife officials told WPLG. He was also cited for maintaining captive wildlife in an unsafe condition.
“Mr. Poggi allowed the victim access to inside of the leopard’s cage for a full contact experience which led to the leopard attacking the victim, causing extensive damage to the head and right ear,” an FWC officer wrote in a citation filed in court.
The citation adds that full contact with a black leopard is in violation of Florida law.
Officials say Poggi was licensed to have the leopard but not to offer full-contact experiences.
The Facebook page for Poggi’s Animal House was offline Friday morning. However, videos posted on Poggi’s YouTube page show a wide variety of animals on his property, including iguanas, zebras and big cats. Several of his most recent videos advertise marmosets for sale.
Poggi can be seen showing off a caged black leopard in 2012, in a video he flagged as a “pilot” for his “reality show.”
He describes one black leopard in the video as a female between six and eight months old. It’s unclear how many he had in the zoo at the time.
Poggi did not respond to requests for comment from WPLG and WSVN.
He is due for a court hearing on Dec. 2.