A tiger shot and killed after attacking a dog on Wednesday was revealed to be one of the stars of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus before it closed, a spokesman confirms PEOPLE.
Suzy, a 6-year-old Bengal tiger, escaped as Feld Entertainment, Inc – the company behind Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Disney On Ice – transport tigers from Florida to Memphis, Tennessee.
A spokesman for the company, Stephen Payne tells PEOPLE the tiger was owned by big cat handler Alex Lacey. Payne said Suzy was being transported with 13 other tigers from the circus.
“The tiger was owned by an act that was contracted by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, so these tigers were being transported from Florida to Tennessee and then to Europe,” Payne says.
He confirmed the 14 tigers, which were based in Tampa, Florida since the circus closed, were on their way to Germany.
The tigers had been sent to the US from the same German circus they were being re-exported to.
As to how Suzy could have escaped the transport, Payne says, “We do not know what occurred.”
Lacey’s family has bred tigers for generations, according to YouTube videos made by him that feature several tigers under his care.
PEOPLE reached out to the Henry County Police Department but they could not be reached.
A press release by the department said it had made contact with the owner of the tiger after Feld Entertainment, Inc., contacted Georgia DNR Law Enforcement after discovering the animal missing.
Suzy was discovered prowling I-75 on Wednesday morning. Officers responded to the calls and quickly located the animal. Once they had visual confirmation, the police called animal experts to help them sedate and move the tiger.
Before handlers arrived the tiger left the interstate and walked into a residential community, where it attacked a dog in the backyard of one of the residences.
Concerned that the tiger now posed a threat to others, the officers chose to fatally shoot the animal.
The investigation is ongoing and possible charges are pending, according to the department’s release.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus did its final “greatest show on earth” in May after closing up shop after 146 years.
The circus folded up its big top as audience numbers diminished, show costs skyrocketed and it faced heavy criticism from animal rights groups.