Zoo Next Door: Malibu Community Roars Over Tigers as Neighbors

By TOM BERMAN and FRANCESCA FERREIRA

When Nanette and Dan Bercu brought their dream home in the rustic Deer Park neighborhood set back in the cliffs above Malibu, Calif., they thought it was the perfect spot to raise a family.

That was until the day they came face-to-face with an issue at their neighbor's house that they say threatened to ruin everything, include their safety and their property value.

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Their neighbors are animal trainers Irena Hauser and Sophia Krysek, two sisters who wanted to move their white Siberian tigers to their home.

At first, the sisters thought it would be a formality to obtain a county permit to live with tigers on their property. They already had necessary state and federal licenses. But they faced an uphill battle after the neighborhood got a whiff of their plan.

The Bercu family lives only a few hundred yards away.

"They are our closest neighbors and a tiger could get here in thirty seconds," Nanette Bercu said. "We're a young family. The last thing we want to worry about is tigers getting loose and eating our children."

Dan Bercu isn't just a concerned father. He is in the real estate business and says any property next to a home with a wild animal preserve is "basically worthless."

"There's no way you would have any resale value," Bercu said. "If you wanted to try to sell your home, you would have to disclose to the buyers that there's a wild-game preserve next door."

And the Bercus weren't the only neighbors complaining. Others posted signs all along the roadside, encouraging people not to allow the tigers into the neighborhood. Protesters, including the Bercus and their two oldest boys, went to the Ventura County Planning Commission to complain.

The sisters say they are sympathetic, but only to a point.

"As mothers ourselves, we empathize," Hauser said, but she insists the neighborhood is perfectly safe. She says they plan to install protective fencing with barbed wire around the entire area and claims that "no tiger has ever escaped a property and gone to a neighboring property and killed anybody"

It's a familiar real estate issue. Twenty-four states, including California, permit the ownership of exotic animals, so similar neighborhood concerns have come up before.

For now, the Bercu's block is staying as is. The sister's request for a permit to keep the tigers on their property was defeated 3-to-2 in a planning commission meeting, but they are appealing that decision, saying the zoning law is on their side.

"We say it's safe because it's safe," Krysek said.

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