A leopard fatally mauled a toddler whose father used the animal in his rock 'n' roll nightclub act and had fought a bill to restrict ownership of dangerous exotic animals, authorities said.
Five leopards owned by Joe Savage escaped from their cages Wednesday at the singer's home on 200 acres near Ashland City, said police Lt. Jim Blackmore.An orange spotted leopard attacked 2-year-old Nikka Savage in the family's yard, where the child was playing, police said.
Savage's only child died later Wednesday at Vanderbilt Medical Center from blood loss and massive injuries to her head and neck, said hospital spokeswoman Nancy Humphrey.
The 7-year-old leopard, Tabus, was captured soon after the attack, along with four others. More than 40 police officers and wildlife officials using a helicopter searched for five hours before finding the fifth leopard, a 40-pound cub.
Tabus was tranquilized but died while being taken to a wildlife facility, police said.
Police Chief Joe Casey said he did not know how the animals got out of the cages. Savage was in Las Vegas when the attack occurred, police said.
All five animals had been declawed, said Dr. John Parker, a veterinarian who had treated the animals.
In 1986, Savage successfully lobbied against a bill in the Legislature to restrict ownership of exotic animals.
"If an animal is kept in a very rural situation and he has enough room and there are no other people around, what harm can it do?" Savage said in November.
Savage, whose act features wild makeup and fireworks, has traveled across the country performing with pythons and leopards in his show.
He was treated at a Nashville hospital in 1984 after a boa constrictor choked him during an act, in which he wrapped snakes around his neck.