A brief documentary about the people and wildlife at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and its history of providing lifetime sanctuary to hundreds of exotic animals.
by: Charles Ragsdell, II
Turpentine Creek needs your help providing meat for the cats.
We need $6,000 each month to provide the meat we cannot get for free. Please help. Any monthly amount you send goes a long way to keeping our cats well-fed and happy.
Thanks for helping us keep the 'food wagon' filled.
Turpentine Creek has been asked by the Crawford County Sheriff's Office to help them peacefully orchestrate the relocation of 34 big cats to Turpentine Creek or other reputable facilities. TCWR staff has moved 6 tigers to date and needs Help placing 26 of the 34 big cats currently residing in Mountainburg, AR. Another option TCWR has available is to build permanent facilities for the big cats on the 459-acre, 20 year old facilities property. The refuge has the infrastructure/staff/and experience to professionally take care of the animals. The only obstacle is money.
Below is a chronicle of the events since October 29, 2012:
Photos are online at:
Monday, October 29, 2012 dialog between TCWR and the sheriff of a county that 34 big cats call home began. Turpentine Creek was asked to help with the situation so TCWR president and two staff members made arrangements to visit the animals with the sheriff to assess the severity of the problem. This was last week, Thursday, November 1, 2012.
The person with the cats is 72 years old with failing health. The youngest tiger is 14-15 years old and the owner was hoping to be able to care for all 34 of them until they succumb to a natural death. Most of the cats are healthy and should live to be 18-25 years old. The owner's health is not going to hold up and be able to see the plan through. Turpentine Creek has been asked to help by both the owner and the local sheriff.
The visit, on November 1, was eye opening and the depth and magnitude of the situation became very evident. The problem had been compounded by canceled expectations of help from another facility. Dens were allowed to collapse without repair. Grounds maintenance and road upkeep had stopped some time ago and no truck/trailer can access the animals. Equipment and tools are almost all in nonworking order and much needed repairs go undone. There is no running water to the animals so all/most of it must be hauled up and down the mountain on horrible paths accessible by foot, four wheeler, and tractor only. The cage construction is unsafe. It is amazing that no big cats were running loose. Safety by the gun of a sheriff is calming on one hand, yet unnerving to need such a presence on the other.
The 34 big cats that call this rugged, rocky mountaintop home, for the most part, are doing well. A visual inspection of the animals revealed that a female tiger needed immediate veterinary care. The other 33 appeared fat and healthy. Although the living conditions of the animals have diminished, their health has not.
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge staff members had to come up with a plan. The owners' health is not good so we do not know how much time is available. The land the animals live on is not secure. If the owner were to die, the animals would be in deep trouble. Turpentine Creek's management team has assessed the problem and knows that it is too big to conquer quickly on our own. Tanya Smith, TCWR president, has been in contact with many reputable facilities and has received a definite "we have no cage space" from all but one. This one facility is actively assessing their ability to help. TCWR does have room for 8 big cats at this time so plans were made to move the tiger in need of veterinary care first and pick up another to fill trailer compartments.
On November 5, 2012 TCWR president, vice president, curator, and two biologists made the trip to pick up two tigers for relocation to the refuge via our veterinarians clinic. Upon arrival the county sheriff and two of his deputies met us along with the owner and two of her helpers. It was decided to load India, a female Bengal tiger, first followed by Chopper, the tigress that needs immediate care. Emily McCormack and Scott Smith watched from outside the perimeter fence while the owner and one helper loaded India into a roll cage. A half hour later and India was transported up the rocky hill to the TCWR rescue trailer successfully. Chopper's trip did not go so well. After trying to load her into the roll cage for a period of time, it was decided she would never load into the roll cage because she was "freaked out" by its presence. Time was running out to get her to the vet by 3 o'clock pm. so the decision was made to knock her out and physically carry her to the trailer. Chopper made it to the vet on time and her surgery went well. Samples had to be sent off for diagnostics but the vet was pretty sure it was cancerous. She woke up grumpy at the refuge the next morning but is doing well now.
There are 32 more big cats needing a life long home. TCWR staff is doing all it can to arrange to help these needy animals. If you are a person who can afford to make a large donation, now is the time. If you cannot go large, any amount will help.
On November 12, 2012, Turpentine Creek staff, along with two sheriffs' deputies, arrived on the property, near Mountainburg, Arkansas, at the Riverglen Tiger Sanctuary at 9:00 a.m. The weather was very cool, about 30 degrees, so we decided to load tigers we thought would load without meds.
We started with a tiger named Lily. She is in the top, number 1 pod, near the owner's house. The roll cage was put in place, the door opened and the waiting began. After about an hour of trying everything at our disposal to coax the skittish tiger into the roll cage we decided to try her neighbor, Duke.
Ten minutes later we had the roll cage adjacent to Duke's door, secured and ready. It took about 30 minutes to load Duke into the roll cage. This was an intense time, as the roll cage at the facility is not constructed with ease of use in mind. It requires that five two-foot pieces of chain be wrapped around the door in strategic places to secure it properly, with a bolt through each. This takes time and patience. Threading chain through tight places while a ticked-off tiger is trying to rip your head off is hard on the nerves and incredibly dangerous. We rolled the cage to the rescue trailer and secured Duke safely. Wow!
The next cat to load was Austin, a 700-pound tiger. After trying to coax him into the roll cage for some time we decided to entice himwithsome chicken. TCWR staff were able to get the job done like pro's. Although safe and unharmed, Austin proceeded to throw a fit while we were securing him for the trip to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. He had no knowledge that he was part of a safe big cat rescue taking him to a tiger haven...a job well done by great staff.
Two hours later the TCWR staff arrived back at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge with the two tigers doing well; pretty mad, but doing well. We unloaded the two tigers into their temporary homes in the compound without incident.
The whole situation is touchy; like having to walk on eggs with every word in an attempt not to make Betty Young mad or offend her. Betty is the 72-year-old owner of the cats. I could not mention her name and location until now in fear of her "clamming" up and sending us walking. We've got to make this rescue happen as quickly as possible. The whole facility is in degraded conditions and the animals deserve better. Please donate Today.
On November 14, 2012, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Staff Members met two representatives from the Crawford County Sheriff's Department to discuss the plans for the day. The evening before, Nat Geo Wild's Animal Intervention aired with a show featuring Betty Young, the owner of Riverglen Tiger Sanctuary. It was thought the negative impact of the show would light up the sheriff's phone with blood thirsty animal rights groups demands, but that did not happen because of the tasteful way the show was done.
We headed up the mountain to RTS and prepared to load two tigers. These tigers were four hundred yards from the closest point we could maneuver the truck/trailer so we had to use the roll cage again.
After initial talk and strategic planning, the roll cage was loaded onto a small trailer and slowly driven down the mountains bumpy, rocky road to a location near the cage of Duckie, a female tiger. Ten minutes later we had the roll cage in place and the doors open. Duckie surprised us all by walking into the cage within ten minutes, the door was shut and up the bumpy mountain we went.
After unloading Duckie into the TCWR trailer we proceeded directly down the mountain to try to load Odie, another female tiger. The roll cage was unloaded and attached to the cage in front of the door. The 50/50 game of "will the cat load into the roll cage" began. Odie decided it was not her day to go with us so, once again, we had to redirect our efforts.
Another female tiger was about thirty feet away. After coming to the realization that removing Princess from her cage would free up some materials to move to TCWR for building, we went right to work. We tried to get Princess to load into the roll cage for over an hour before deciding to anesthetize her. She succumbed to the drugs perfectly and was move to the TCWR trailer without incident. All related activities that go along with anesthetizing a big cat were completed flawlessly and the Turpentine Creek crew headed for the refuge. Because of the time of day these two cats would have to spend the night in the trailer and be unloaded in the morning.
At this point in the mission Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge has relocated six tigers to the refuge: Chopper, India, Duke, Austin, Duckie, and Princess. Two of the six had to be anesthetized, two went really easy, and two were highly aggravated, but loaded without drugs. These are not bad numbers or percentages. Actually they are about par for moving big cats safely. However, up to this point Betty has suggested we take certain cats based on their estimated ability to adjust at Turpentine Creek.
Riverglen Tiger Shelter is located deep in the Boston Mountains and the cats there do not get visitors nor do they experience much activity or stimulation. We have loaded the "easy" tigers first. It will be hard or impossible to load the remaining cats without anesthetization being used as a "tool" for the animal's safety. Turpentine Creek can take two small cats, the leopards, before being full. What will happen to the rest of the animals?
Today's date is November 15, 2012. At this point there are 28 cats at Riverglen Tiger Sanctuary needing homes soon: 24 Tigers, 2 Cougars, and 2 Leopards
There are two plan of actions at work currently; raise the money to keep rescuing animals and moving them to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, while at the same time try to find homes for the cats in reputable facilities around the country. Currently at Turpentine Creek we are doing our best to accomplish both objectives listed above. The final outcome may be a blend of both plans. At this point we have raised enough money to begin dozer work on the site location of the new enclosures. This must be done first to make building quicker and more efficient. Simultaneously, we continue to talk to other facilities about animal placement.
When it comes down to the answer, rather it is the relocation of animals to TCWR or finding them homes elsewhere, will require over $200,000. Yesterday, while on the mountaintop staring into the eyes of all these great cats I could not help but fix my mind on the known answer to this epic problem: Donations. That is right, money is the only obstacle these cats need to overcome. They cannot raise the money themselves; they need us to do that for them to insure they live out their lives with dignity and comfort. Please spread the word, you never know what can happen.
November 16, Friday: Turpentine Creek staff members travel to RTS to accomplish two things; clear a road for a trailer to reach the majority of the cats and drop off two roll cages that the sheriff agreed to fix for the refuge. We pulled onto location about 10 am and after unloading the roll cages the crew headed down the ¼ mile road with a chainsaw. Within an hour the road was cleared to the point that a truck with a trailer could reach the animals. This will make future trips much easier.
November 21, Wednesday: Staff members Scott, Laurie, and Mary head to RTS to pick up Makita, a female cougar. Also during this trip five crew members follow to disassemble and load 38 Prefiert panels for transport to the refuge.
Upon arrival at 10 am TCWR staff members were told they could not disassemble and load the Prefiert panels until Mr. Sweetie, a male tiger, had his claws clipped. So, for the following 1.5 hours they waited as Laurie and Scott went with Betty to clip the claws of a 700 pound tiger. That was tricky and a story all its own!
After Mr. Sweetie was all set the staff went to work, part of them tearing down fence panels while others went to load Makita, a female cougar. It was thought that loading Makita would be easy. She is so friendly, rubbing on the cage while purring every time someone comes near her cage. This lead us to believe she would just walk into a Vari Kennel. Makita had different plans. The staff would throw meat into the Vari Kennel and Makita would stretch out as far as she could to reach the meat without getting "caught" in the box. After several failed attempts and many hours flying by the staff members realized that if we were to pick up Makita on this day we would have to do it quick. The amount of time until dark, which is when the temperature would drop to a risky level, was fast slipping away, something had to be done right away. A shot was prepared which would just relax her enough to allow staff members to get her to the trailer safely, but not too much so she would wake up quickly. Success! It worked perfectly and Makita was loaded, transferred to the refuge, and settled in for the night without incident.
November 22, Thanksgiving: The following day was Thanksgiving. Following a great day came a phone call early in the evening from Betty, RTS owner/director. She had been warned not to make matters worse by upsetting the sheriff. Well, Betty did not take that warning to heart and thought it a good idea to call the sheriff at 8 am on Thanksgiving Day. Betty was told that she was not going to be able to keep any of her big cats, they all had to go. This news hit Betty hard, she was very upset on the phone. Her concerns, on this one occasion, were directed towards herself, not the animals. "If all my animals are gone how will I make the mortgage on the land and how will I care for myself without any donations"? It is difficult to not care about the people involved in the animal rescues, maybe impossible. It is TCWR's mission to save big cats and bears in need, but sometimes we help people indirectly. We hope Betty solves this problem by the time the animals have been relocated.
On a side note; Turpentine Creek President/Founding Member Tanya Smith, broke her ankle on Thanksgiving Day. She was in the presence of her family, but nonetheless very upset and concerned about her ability to physically direct the further rescues coming in the near future. While she heals, TCWR staff will have to move forward. It is hoped that she will be able to go along on the next visit to RTS since it may be two weeks away.