If you aren’t familiar with what went down in Ligertown, it’s probably because it’s one of those things in history that most folks outside of the small town of Lava, Idaho have long forgotten about or maybe had never even heard of. I only learned about it recently myself and I’ve lived in Idaho for almost twenty years now.
Ligertown was, as you’ve probably guessed, a compound where lions, tigers and their hybrid offspring, ligers, were kept by a couple, Bob Fieber and his partner, Dottie Martin. They had come to town with just a handful of big cats but eventually their ramshackle operation grew to have over 40 in total.
They lived a couple miles outside of Lava, and became infamous for how poorly their big cat sanctuary was run. A mishmash of pallets and salvage barely kept the animals contained and it was only a matter of time until one escaped.
And one day they did. On the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 20, 1995, law enforcement received a call that a rancher had shot and killed a lion on his property. When they arrived, they found that the owner of Ligertown, Bob Fieber, was injured after trying to stop an escaping male lion. It wasn’t the only escapee that night. LEO learned there were more. Many more.
From there the hunt was on.
For the next four days, schools were closed and residents were warned to shelter inside with their pets while SWAT teams tracked down and killed fifteen escaped big cats.
Two more were shot and killed by locals. A rescue group, Wildlife Waystation came and tranquilized the rest and took them to live in California while the town of Lava was left traumatized and forced to deal with the aftermath.
Ligertown was completely demolished and no trace of it is left today. The owners were initially charged and found guilty of 13 misdemeanors but appealed their case and served no jail time for their crimes. They are extremely lucky that no one died in the ordeal, if you ask me.
If you have ever seen the movie Napoleon Dynamite, you’ll remember that his favorite animal was a liger and Preston, Napoleon’s hometown, is just a short drive from Lava. So Ligertown undoubtedly played a role in inspiring the writers of Napoleon Dynamite.
Ligertown also inspired lawmakers to impose tighter restrictions on keeping exotic animals in Idaho.