The strange and deadly saga of 15 circus cats’ final week in America


It was still dark as Billy Farley turned his delivery truck off Interstate 75 onto the Jodeco Road exit south of Atlanta. His headlights caught a figure striding down the ramp toward the highway.

“At first, I thought maybe there was a huge, very, very large dog,” Farley recalled. “As I got up on it, I realized it was a tiger.”

In disbelief, Farley hit his brakes and called 911. His was one of at least three such calls on that Wednesday morning last month, records show, and the more than dozen police officers who rushed to the area indeed found an exotic predator. They tried using their vehicles to herd the cat up the off-ramp, but it jumped a guard rail and retreated into an adjacent neighborhood. They watched it slink around houses, lie down among bushes, slip behind a dumpster.

Finally, after the tiger attacked a dachshund in a backyard around 6 a.m., police fatally shot it.

Federal officials estimate that at least 5,000 tigers are kept in the United States, many unknown to authorities. Yet this one, Georgia officials would discover, was one of the most famous. Suzy, a 6-year-old Siberian who starred in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus before it folded in May, had escaped from a convoy of trucks carrying her and 14 feline castmates — seven tigers, six lions and one leopard — from Florida to Memphis International Airport. Her handlers had not noticed her absence.

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