A zoo story

(FORTUNE Magazine) – One live cougar, one dead cougar, and three Nebraska black bears are making a monkey out of Ted Turner, CEO of Turner Broadcasting System. Out of the news lately, and glad of it, Turner, 49, now finds himself facing three misdemeanor charges for violating Florida wildlife laws. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a fine of $500, but officials emphasized that Turner was cooperating and that the possibility of his serving time was slim. The mare's-nest started last year when Turner, an animal collector as well as a hunter, applied for a permit to relocate to Florida some of the wild animals overpopulating his menagerie at the 5,000-acre Hope Plantation in South Carolina. Florida seldom issues the permits. Anxious to preserve the genetic purity of the state animal -- the Florida panther -- the officials are reluctant to allow other subspecies into the state. Turner's cats, western cougars, never had a chance. The problem was different with the three bears. (''I'm the proud father of three baby bears'' was the way Turner had announced their birth.) ''These bears are not exactly Florida bears,'' explains Henry Cabbage, spokesman for the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. ''They could be carrying diseases our bears are not used to. Or they could displace the native wildlife.'' An investigation of the dead cougar, which had been hit by a car near Tallahassee, led wildlife officials to Turner's Florida plantation nearby. Turner employees said their boss ordered them to release the bears and cougars into the wilds of the 8,000-acre estate. (Turner was unavailable for comment.) Turner or his lawyer must appear before a judge on May 4 to face the charges -- unlawfully transporting non-native wildlife into the state of Florida and possessing non-native wildlife without a permit. In the meantime, the fugitive animals run free. Cabbage says Florida game officials will try to catch the cougar, but probably not the bears. Nebraska bears are generally larger than the Florida variety, but, Cabbage observes, the bears are not full grown yet. The trouble of distinguishing them from ursine Floridians would be unbearable.