2002-10-16 / Front Page

Husband of ‘Tiger Lady’ recovering after attack

By kathy baratta
Staff Writer

Husband of ‘Tiger Lady’
recovering after attack
By kathy baratta
Staff Writer

JACKSON — Jan Marasek, the husband of the so-called "Tiger Lady," is recuperating from injuries to his head and arm that he sustained when he was mauled last week by one of 24 tigers kept at the couple’s Jackson property.

Marasek and his wife, Joan Byron-Marasek, are the owners and operators of the Tigers Only Preservation Society (TOPS), a 12-acre compound on Route 537 near Allyson Road, where they have lived for more than 25 years.

At present, there are 24 tigers living at the compound. The property borders Millstone Township and is less than 1 mile from the Freehold Township border.

Following the mauling which occurred at about 3 p.m. Oct. 11, Marasek, 70, was taken by ambulance to Jersey Shore Medical Center, Neptune. He was listed in satisfactory condition on Sunday when he spoke with a Greater Media Newspapers reporter.

"You’ll have to get the details from Joan because I’m under a lot of sedation," he said, adding, "but I’m feeling fine."

In a press release issued Oct. 11, Jackson police said that at no time was the incident a public safety threat. Police said the incident occurred in the innermost fence area and no animals were able to escape the compound. Police said a count of the tigers was taken, and compared with the record of the state Superior Court, Toms River, indicating there were 24 tigers on the premises, the count matched by the officers on the scene.

In a previous interview with Greater Media Newspapers, Byron-Marasek said she had "cutting-edge knowledge" of how to provide for the care of Bengal tigers. She explained how she has been raising and caring for her tigers for more than 25 years, sustained by private donations of funds and road kill that used to be brought to her by local game wardens.

Byron-Marasek said her goal has always been the preservation of a species she claims will be extinct in the wild in three to five years. She said the tigers are hunted, killed and sold in Asian markets for "perceived medical purposes."

She said she has been performing a public service by caring for the tigers.

"I’ve spent my entire adult life with these tigers; they are my life," she said. "Tigers are very fragile animals. If removed from here, they will die."

Adjacent to the tiger compound is The Preserve, a 31-home development. Over the weekend, resident Robert Fiorello told a Greater Media Newspapers reporter that homeowners have all "had enough."

"When does it end?" he asked, noting that a state effort to remove the tigers from Byron-Marasek’s compound has been "an ongoing three-year saga."

"I’ve got a ... woman with 24 killing machines in my back yard. When is it going to end?" he said.

Fiorello admitted he has never met Byron-Marasek, saying, "When the authorities go there with a warrant, they can’t get in. How am I going to meet her?"

He said there have been many neighborhood meetings regarding the TOPS compound. According to Fiorello, all of the homeowners in The Preserve are unanimous in their assertion that they were never told TOPS was next door to their new neighborhood when they bought their homes.

"The (real estate agents) never even alluded to it," he said, adding that the residents of The Preserve are not getting the protection they deserve.

The order of removal of Byron-Marasek’s tigers from her property followed the January 1999 killing by police of a tiger found wandering in the vicinity of the compound.

Following that incident and many state investigations of the property that followed, the state denied Byron-Marasek a permit renewal for the compound and ordered that the tigers be moved from the premises.

Byron-Marasek has been fighting the order since that time.

The state is proposing that the tigers be moved to the Wild Animal Orphanage, San Antonio, Texas.

Byron-Marasek has remained opposed to the Wild Animal Orphanage as a new home for her tigers.

On July 30, in what was supposed to have been the final hearing in the matter, state Superior Court Eugene D. Serpentelli, sitting in Toms River, closed the matter, but said he would reopen the hearing if Byron-Marasek offered a better relocation plan than the one being proposed by the state.

Attorney Darren Gelber, representing Byron-Marasek, filed a motion earlier this month requesting that the hearing be reopened. That motion is scheduled to be heard before Serpentelli on Oct. 25.

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