Tiger owner welcomes press, not police charges
By Frank Vaisvilas Correspondent March 11, 2014 7:26PM
John Basile, owner of the Big Run Wolf Ranch just outside of Lockport, feeds his baby Siberian tiger at his home. | Frank Vaisvilas~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 13, 2014 6:39AM
John Basile is trying to see the positive side of all the media attention he is getting after being stopped by police and later charged with reckless conduct last month when he brought his baby Siberian tiger into downtown Lockport.
“I can’t believe they are blowing this out of proportion,” Basile, 57, said. “But any publicity is good publicity. And we are getting a tremendous amount of support.”
Basile owns Big Run Wolf Ranch in unincorporated Will County just outside Lockport, which he operates as a nonprofit educational and conservation facility open to the public on select dates.
Basile said he brought his baby Siberian tiger named “Shere Khan” into a Lockport bar Feb. 16 to promote “Wild Fest 2014,” which was scheduled for a week later at Lockport Township High School. After leaving the bar with Shere Khan, Basile was stopped and questioned by police outside who told him to take the animal home.
On Feb. 23, Basile brought Shere Khan and other animals to the school — which was an authorized appearance — to show to the public. The event raised money for scholarships and animal rescue programs.
Basile was not formally charged with reckless conduct and keeping a dangerous animal until Feb. 24 after police consulted with the Will County state’s attorney’s office, Lockport Police Chief Terry Lemming said.
Basile’s attorney, Valerie Glockzin who has an office in Lockport, argued that the ranch is federally licensed and has passed 10 successive USDA inspections for exceeding standards for containment and housing of his animals, which include a 500-pound bear and several breeds of wolves.
“They (Lockport police) know I’ve been doing this for 28 years,” Basile said. “Now, we get a new police chief and all of a sudden I’m a bad guy.”
Lemming was hired as the police chief in Lockport in December. He said he doesn’t have a problem with Basile and appreciates the work he does for the community.
But, Lemming said, his only concern is with public safety.
“No past police chief would’ve ignored a tiger walking down the street,” Lemming said.
She added that Basile was not taking the animal for a walk after leaving the bar and that he had two additional handlers with him.
Glockzin said she believes police overreacted.
“It’s an exhibition animal that goes to schools,” Glockzin said.
And Basile said that Khan does not present a danger to the public.
“He is absolutely harmless,” Basile said. “He’s the equivalent of a 2-year child or a 4-month old baby German shepherd. He does not use his claws and he is not aggressive in any way. I’ve been doing this a long time. I would never bring a dangerous animal out into the public.”
He said Shere Khan now weighs about 63 pounds but weighed only about 40 pounds during the time of the Feb. 16 incident.
The retired UPS worker said he mostly taught himself how to handle the animals and has not been attacked in 30 years. Basile received Shere Khan in December from Brown’s Oakridge Zoo in Smithfield. He said he is currently working with a tiger handler to learn all the nuances of handling the breed.
Glockzin said in a statement that there has never been a report that any animal owned by Basile bit any person. She said one woman claimed to have been bitten in December after the Feb. 16 incident was televised, but no documentation was ever made.
Basile said he heard there has also been a call to shut his ranch down. If that happens, he said that would likely mean that many of the animals would have to be euthanized. He is scheduled to be back in court on March 28.
Basile said that would be shame because Shere Khan is an endangered species with only about 450 like him in the wild and many of his wolves are some of the purest bred. He said some of his animals had been used for breeding in the past in order to increase endangered populations.