Police hope disappearance of Bengal Room’s tiger a prank

Update

The Fairmont Empress tiger remains on the loose.

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Staff discovered that the distinctive Bengal tiger pelt was missing on Tuesday evening and reported the theft to police.

“We’ve had a couple of tips come in, but are certainly hoping for more,” said Victoria police spokesman Bowen Osoko.

Police don’t have any suspects, he said, and are hoping its disappearance is a prank. “It’s a distinctive item, so our hope is it ends up being returned.”

Original story

The Bengal Room’s tiger has been stolen, and police are on the hunt for the perp.

Only a sooty silhouette remains where the pelt of a tiger had been mounted above the fireplace in the Fairmont Empress’s Bengal Room, which is closed for renovations. A fuzzy tuft of mounting fabric is stuck on one of the nine fasteners on the wall, possibly indicating a rushed job.

“All I know is we just want our tiger back,” hotel manager Indu Brar said Thursday.

“I wish I knew how someone got in. We are a bit perplexed.”

Hotel security staff discovered the cat-nabbing during a routine check of the Bengal Room.

“We are measuring floors. Looking at paint. Touching up the room. So we have had people in and out,” Brar said, adding that doors and windows are normally locked.

The theft took place between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Tuesday, she said. Video from security cameras showing the inside and exterior of the hotel has been given to Victoria police.

The hotel is talking about a $500 reward to be offered through the police for information leading to the safe return of the tiger.

Brar hopes the cat comes back in good condition and asks that anyone with information call Victoria police.

She has dubbed the case Operation Tiger, hoping this — like a previous theft in April 1980 — is merely a prank.

In that case, the hotel’s tiger skin was taken. A poultry box containing the skin was left near a freight elevator inside the back door of the Times newspaper office.

The note attached said: “Please return to the Bengal Room at the Empress Hotel. It was borrowed. Thank you.” It was signed Barney and Fred.

A Times employee spotted a giggling young woman dropping off the box.

Speculation at the time was that University of Victoria students might be responsible. A couple of weeks earlier, another big-cat prank had taken place: Two stone lions were taken from the gates of Uplands and put on the Cornett Building at UVic.

The most recent cat burglar took off with a pelt about 1.8 metres (six feet) long. “It would be cumbersome to carry,” Brar said.

It is not the hotel’s original tiger. This one arrived in the early 1990s, she said. It was purchased after a government-sanctioned hunt in India and is worth more than $5,000, a hotel official said.

Many offers have come in to buy the tiger, Brar said, but all have been turned down.

The hotel was the focus of a community uproar when it announced that the 61-year-old Bengal Lounge was closing this year.

The space, now known as the Bengal Room, will be refreshed as a special event space by this fall. Major features are being kept, and Brar hopes the tiger will return to its traditional spot.

“For whatever reason that they took it, I hope they understand that it is important to us. It’s really important to our guests. They have a strong feeling for our tiger. It’s part of the history of the hotel.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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