pay to play leopard encounter
Cody Medina
Cody Medina
March 15, 2024 ·  4 min read

Man Gets More Than Bargained For From Black Leopard After Spending $150 For Pay-to-Play “Encounter”

Petting zoos can be a really fun experience and creates long-lasting memories. However, there are certain animals that probably shouldn’t be petted. Especially big endangered cats. For 50-year-old, Dwight Turner, this became all too much of a reality for him. Located in Davie, very near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, resides in an animal sanctuary. On August 31st, Turner was attacked by a black leopard in an enclosure while he was trying to play with the big cat. (1)

The Black Leopard Attack Incident

Michael Poggi, the owner of the black leopard that attacked Turner, has been known to give visitors a chance to play with big endangered cats for a price. Turner, with his wife, paid $150 for the ‘full contact experience’ with a black leopard. People can pet the leopard, rub its belly, and can also take pictures with the big cat. Unfortunately, that was not the case for Turner. (1)

Poggi and Turner entered the enclosure while Turner sat on a bench and waited as instructed. Poggi then opened the door to the enclosure for Turner to play with the cat. Without hesitation, the black leopard attacked Turner’s head. In just mere seconds, the black leopard maimed Turner’s head. The large cat ripped Turner’s ear in half as well as a severe scalp injury.

“Mr. Turner sustained injuries to the right side of his head and right ear. Mrs. Turner stated that she had to place part of Mr. Turner’s scalp back in place because it was hanging from his head and his right ear was torn in half,” States the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). (2)

The Aftermath Of The Black Leopard Attack

After Turner was able to leave the hospital, there was one thing on his mind. Claiming that he intends to sue the owner of the black leopard that attacked him. As a result, Poggi was issued two misdemeanor citations. One was for allowing full contact with an extremely dangerous animal. The second citation is for maintaining captive wildlife in unsafe conditions causing extensive damage, according to FWC.

Although Poggi has refused to give any statements on the black leopard attack. Although, he admitted he knew what he was doing was illegal. Original posting on his Facebook page, ‘Poggi’s Animal House’, his package deals and experiences. Poggi has posted on the page of his successes over the years. Proclaiming himself: “An Exotic Animal Breeder of rare or endangered species and has rescued thousands of exotic animals over the past 35 years.” (2)

Since the black leopard attack involving Turner, Poggi’s Facebook page has been deactivated. Although Poggi’s zoom hearing date is for Dec. 2nd, it is still unclear if he has a lawyer.

Read: When Animals Fight Back, The Hunters Become The Hunted.

It’s Illegal To Own Endangered Cats?

It is in fact illegal to own endangered, rare, or exotic pets. This includes big cats like the black leopard. However, there are only four states that have no regulations whatsoever on owning exotic cats. Nevada, Alabama, Wisconsin, and North Carolina are the only states that allow people to own wild cats. Some of these states require a simple registration instead of an outright ban on exotic animals. As an unfortunate result of this, there are quite a few endangered cats being held in captivity throughout the country. Which can cause animals to attack just as the black leopard did. (3)

People who have seen the popular television series known as Tiger King might be aware of this phenomenon already. This show put a lot into the public spotlight. Revealing how endangered cats are treated in these self-proclaimed ‘animal sanctuaries’. The animals are abused ruthlessly on the show, just to profit from their torment for the public’s entertainment. You could say essentially the same for Poggi’s ‘animal sanctuary’. Wild cats like the black leopard should not have been kept in captivity or exploited to the public for entertainment. These animals were not meant to be enslaved for personal enjoyment. (3)

The Real Rescuers

You can find real animal rescues that have practices put in place for endangered animals such as the black leopard. Over at the Carolina Tiger Rescue, you can find a much more suitable existence for wild cats. They have dedicated staff to help current and newly rescued animals. Their website as well as the facility provides tons of information about the rescue. There is also visiting for the public to see the endangered cats from a safe distance.

All of their rescued cats are from private owners, mom and pop zoos, traveling circuses, and other facilities. This is a result of being abandoned, relinquished, or confiscated by the authorities. They have a very firm set of rules when it comes to the life of these animals. More importantly how they handle rescuing big cats from breeders. The Carolina Tiger Rescue does not accept “rescues” from active breeders. This also includes non-AZA-accredited zoos, etc. who will continue to traffic in that species. This is unless they agree to sign a contract to close their business and never own a wild cat again. (3)

It’s important to research facilities that deal with exotic, rare or endangered animals. Chances are, they aren’t exactly who they say they are. The black leopard attack was merely a reflection of poor quality of life. Hopefully, this means that the leopard will be given a proper home, and that Poggi’s ‘animal sanctuary’ will be shut down for good.