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Alberta tycoon sues over loss of family's exotic animals

CP   2004-01-11 06:17:01  

CALGARY -- Alberta multimillionaire Phil Sprung Sr. is suing fish and wildlife officials for unlawfully seizing his poker-playing monkey and three other unusual pets. Sprung has filed a lawsuit against the province after the animals -- two macaque monkeys named Tarzan and Jane, a female moose that once carried the name Murray and a raccoon named Rascal -- were seized in late 2001 during a raid on his ranch near Okotoks, Alta.

In October, a judge ruled investigators used an illegally obtained warrant and the Crown dropped four charges of unlawfully possessing wildlife.

Sprung's court action says he was entitled to possess the monkeys and the other two animals.

Paul Brunnen, his lawyer on the Wildlife Act charges, said the pets were popular with the entire Sprung family.

And Tarzan even played cards with Sprung and others on the ranch, Brunnen said.

"I am told, and have seen pictures, that he would play poker," he said. "I don't know if he's any good at the game."

The moose was free to roam but always returned to the homestead and was kept penned at night for safety reasons, Brunnen said.

The animal has since been turned over to the Calgary Zoo, where it was discovered Murray is a girl and is now known as Anne Murray.

The monkeys have been sent to Ontario, while Rascal the raccoon was moved to a game farm in Olds, Alta., but died of stress within weeks of being permanently caged.

Civil lawyer Virginia May, who filed Sprung's lawsuit, said her client would like to get his remaining pets back.

She said Sprung has reluctantly taken legal action, seeking damages of nearly $600,000 for wrongful detention, malicious prosecution and other wrongful acts.

Sprung has said in a past interview the seizure of his exotic pets was painful for his family.

The businessperson was feted by U.S. President George W. Bush at a dinner in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centre.

Sprung's Calgary company, Sprung Instant Structures Ltd., donated the temporary stressed-membrane structures that were used by relief workers at the disaster site.

John Lear, a spokesperson for Alberta Sustainable Resources, said Sprung's statement of claim against the province is being reviewed by government lawyers and a statement of defence has not been filed.

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