Notorious Leopard Smuggled Into Russia as ‘Ex-Dog’

MOSCOW, January 17 (RIA Novosti) – There are many things traffic police could expect to find in the back of a car on the Minsk-Moscow highway, but a large feline with a track record of mangling humans is not on top of the list.

So a patrol team in Russia’s Smolensk Region was in for a surprise when it flagged down a minivan for a routine check, only to find a caged leopard inside, local media said on Thursday.

The cage was clumsily hidden under a stash of blankets that failed to deceive the officers, the regional branch of Rossia-1 television said.

The sole document affirming the feline’s legal status was a veterinary certificate that had “dog” crossed out and replaced by “leopard,” the report said. The certificate expired in 2006.

The animal apparently belonged to animal trainer Viktor Yaroslavtsev, 75, who was on tour in Belarus with his circus but cut the trip short and headed back to Russia after falling ill, Komsomolskaya Pravda daily said.

Yaroslavtsev and the leopard, Caesar, already made headlines in October, when the latter mangled a seven-year-old kid who was playing unsupervised near its cage. The feline faced the risk of being put to sleep, but its owner refused to hand it over to the authorities while the boy’s parents, a pair of circus illusionists, admitted that they shared the blame over the incident.

Caesar was passed into police custody following the minivan incident, and Yaroslavtsev was given five days to produce paperwork securing its release or risk having the animal seized.

The trainer kept a variety of pets at his home in Moscow, including a crocodile, though his neighbors were much more irritated by Tajik migrant workers living next door to Yaroslavtsev’s improvised zoo, Komsomolskaya Pravda said back in October.

It remained unclear where Yaroslavtsev got the leopard, the likes of which cost up to 1 million rubles ($33,000) if obtained legally.

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