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'It bit me!': Wisconsin women sue over lemur attacks

Posted at 2:10 PM, Feb 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-06 11:11:54-05

SHAWANO — "It bit me!" said Diane Wilke on cell phone video she shared with the I-Team. Wilke thought she was taking a cute animal video of a lemur. Instead, she captured the moment her life changed.

"Who bit you?" asks Rita Mondus, the lemur's owner, on the video.

"The lemur," said Wilke in the video.

Sitting down with the I-Team at her attorney's office in Green Bay, Wilke described what the video doesn't show, since she dropped her phone when the lemur approached her.

"Ripped my leg open in two places, he bit me and when I reached down to brush him off my leg he got me in the hand," she said.

Wilke said she suffered permanent nerve damage and now lives with post traumatic stress disorder.

"I was in disbelief that it could do such damage in the blink of an eye," she said.

Wilke was hired by Mondus and her husband to paint a mural in their Shawano, Wis. home. A home, Mondus tells the I-Team over the phone, the lemur, named Ringo, lives in "like a child," eating and sleeping with the family.

Her attorney advised Mondus not to speak to the I-Team on-camera. But, she did leave a voicemail in which she said "Ringo is not a bad animal." After the attack on Wilke, the Shawano County Health Department ordered Mondus to
quarantine Ringo for 30 days.

Knowing what happened to Wilke, the Mondus' neighbor Peggy Otto called and spoke with John Mondus when she wanted to bring vegetables from her garden to their home. She tells the I-Team John Mondus told her she could safely
leave the food on the porch.

"So I went over there, got out of my car, walked to the porch, I turn around this lemur came running at me," she said. Otto said Ringo bit her hand, requiring stitches at the hospital.

In accordance with state law, the Shawano County Health Department again ordered Mondus to quarantine Ringo for 30 days.

The I-Team's Casey Geraldo asked Wilke if she believed more should have been done. She said she did. Both women had to get expensive, painful vaccinations to protect against rabies, a disease lemurs can't be vaccinated against.

In the voicemail she left the I-Team, Mondus said "I'm heartly sorry anything like this could have even happened."

The I-Team reached out to agencies across the state to figure out who makes rules for exotic animals.

The Department of Natural Resources has rules for confining animals native to Wisconsin.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection issues permits for people importing exotic species. In fact, its website said the department "does not determine if it is legal to own a particular exotic animal species."

The state's consumer protection agency tells the I-Team it's up to municipalities to make rules for exotic animals. Shawano County doesn't have an ordinance governing exotic animals.

"If there's rules and regulations on exotic animals, I mean, you can't bring in a tiger," said Otto. "Wisconsin you can, it's just wrong."

The attorney who represented Wilke and Otto shared fifteen years of police reports involving animals owned by the Mondus', including a bird attack, a fox who bit a teen and a complaint about Ringo chasing someone across a street.

"I think there should be done with exotic animals and people owning them that there is accountability, that there is some responsibility. That they have to take on their part if they want to own these animals," Otto said.

State Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) agrees. In 2016, he co-sponsored a bill in response to the Milwaukee Lion, that some believed was an escaped pet. The bill would have required exotic animal owners to notify police and the DNR, but local law enforcement didn't feel they had the resources to fulfill the bill's expectations. The bill failed.

But Wilke and Otto believe this issue needs to be addressed again before it's too late.

"A bite from this animal to the neck of a child would be fatal, I'm sure," Wilke said.

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