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Short Video about TCWR

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

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Animal Rescues

Boone County Rescue


On May 14, 1996, The Boone County, Arkansas Sheriff's Department asked Turpentine Creek to rescue a number of confiscated wild cats. The Sheriff's Department wasn't sure what kind of cats there were or how many. When Turpentine Creek volunteers got to the cats, the situation they found was deplorable. A total of ten cats had been confiscated. Four tigers, two leopards, and a lion were in a twenty-foot horse trailer. A tiger and a leopard were locked in the overhead compartment; a mother tiger and two cubs were in the end section' the lion and the other leopard were in the middle two sections, with the divider open. Two other tigers were each in 6x6 foot cages. A cougar was in a two foot wide, four foot tall cargo drum. The floors of all the boxes were covered with excrement. Judging by the buildup of waste, as well as reports from neighbors, it's estimated that the cats had been in these small units for about three weeks.

All the cats were very thin. One of the leopards, Freckles, had died of starvation just hours before TCWR's arrival. On his side was a spot of skin where the fur had been licked away. Presumably, Toby, the lion, was trying to revive Freckles by licking him.

Dillian Rescue


Dillian's previous owners bought him from a breeder who assured them that a bobcat would be a good pet for them and their young children. In order to sell more animals, it is common for breeders to convince interested parties that these wild animals can be "domesticated"; that they are great with children and make wonderful pets. Unfortunately, many unsuspecting individuals then find themselves with a wild, aggressive and dangerous animal in their home. This was the situation with Dillian. He was living in the family home in suburban southeast Oklahoma. The couple was told by the breeder that if the cat was never fed raw meat it would mature to be docile and calm. Dillian's diet consisted of canned tuna and chicken, both cooked. Eventually, Dillian began acting more aggressive and bit the couple's five-year-old son on the shoulder and would not let go. Obviously, the cooked meat diet did not keep him very docile. Fortunately, the boy did not sustain any serious injuries, but the family realized that Dillian was not going to make a good pet and they needed to find him a new home.

Due to his inadequate diet, Dillian came to the refuge undernourished and very thin. His diet now consists of raw meat and supplemental zoological vitamins and he is steadily gaining weight. He is slowly acclimating to his new surroundings.

Buttons & Little Bud Rescue


On March 18, 2007, two cougars arrived at the refuge in the back of a pick-up truck. Buttons and Little Bud, 6-year old brothers, were brought to Turpentine Creek from Hope, AR. Their owner had received the mother, unaware that she was pregnant at the time. The mother rejected the three cubs, killing one and injuring Buttons tail, requiring it to be amputated. The man then removed Buttons and Little Bud from the mother and hand-raised them.


Due to a property ownership issue, the man was forced to move and needed to find a new home for Buttons and Little Bud. After researching the refuge, the man decided that Turpentine Creek would be a good home for his cats. Buttons and Little Bud were nervous at first, but they are beginning to be more comfortable with their new surroundings.

Sheba Rescue


Sheba, a 5-year-old female, arrived at the refuge on April 12, 2007. Like Buttons and Little Bud, Sheba needed a new home because the couple that owned her was moving and wanted Sheba to have the best care possible.


This couple had rescued Sheba two years previously from the woman's niece. At that time, Sheba was in terrible condition. She had been harassed and abused, shot at with a pellet gun and was starving to death. The husband said he didn't really want a cougar as a pet, but he couldn't leave her to suffer and die at the hands of these people.


The couple took her to their home in Ash Flat, AR, where they nursed her back to health. When she arrived at Turpentine Creek, she was in excellent condition and seemed very friendly. A week after her arrival, Sheba was taken to St. Francis Veterinary Hospital to be spayed and is doing very well. She loves to play with her toys and has become quite friendly and affectionate with many of the staff and interns.

Joe Bear Rescue


On March 12, 2007, the refuge received a very disturbing phone call. A man called the gift shop and said that if we did not come take his bear, he was going to "tie it to a tree and shoot it." After talking to the man, we discovered he had Joe, the bear, as a pet in Paragould, AR; due to neighbor complaints and not having the proper permits, the owner was required to find a new home for Joe or the bear was to be destroyed.


The Turpentine Creek staff left for the 5½-hour drive to Paragould the next day. On March 14, 2007, the staff arrived at the man's home to rescue the 3-year-old bear.


Joe was born in Minnesota and then brought to an exotic animal auction in Missouri as a cub and sold to a businessman in Paragould. When the young bear became too much to handle he was given to the man that had contacted us. He told us that he thought it would be "neat to have him" and figured that if Joe got too difficult to handle he would simply "make a rug out of him."


When the staff arrived at the man's property, we saw Joe in a cage that was about 12'x6' and about 8' high. The cage floor was dirt and mud and was not cleaned out regularly. We were told that when it became too filthy, the man just put a new layer of straw on the floor to cover up any waste. Inside the cage, there were several broken and chewed-on five-gallon buckets, which were used as water bowls. Joe had destroyed them, but they were never removed from the cage. Across from Joe's cage in the man's yard were the remains of an old doghouse, once the home to a dog that Joe had killed after the two got into a fight.


Joe was fed only a couple gallons of dog food every other day and, in an attempt to make Joe less dangerous, he was de-clawed and never fed raw meat. Despite this, the previous owner told us several stories about Joe getting mad, wanting to fight, and trying to bite people. When Joe would get aggressive they would "whoop him" or "kick him" as a way the "teach him manners."


Now at the refuge Joe is adjusting very well. He is extremely playful and seems to enjoy all the attention he gets from staff and interns.

Havana Rescue


On October 10th, the TCWR rescue trailer took a trip down to Havana, AR on a mission. Two exotic cats were in need of a home, and after some shuffling at the refuge, cages were ready for the new arrivals. A couple had acquired a cougar and a tiger as cubs and had been keeping them as pets. With the new laws restricting exotic cat ownership, Arkansas Game and Fish had put the pressure on them to meet the new standards. When they could not comply, they asked Turpentine Creek to take the cats.


Ben, a male cougar now 14 years old, was housed in a 10'x10' chain link cage. The nine year old female tiger named Sassy was in a tunnel-like cage 16' long and only 5' high.


Vines had grown up around her cage for so long it was almost completely engulfed. Both cages were inside a backyard junkyard not 300 ft from the main intersection of town. The cats had been fed well; however Ben suffered from a serious wrist injury that apparently had not been tended to, and to this day suffers from major arthritis problems.


With an Arkansas Game and Fish officer standing by, the cat transfer went underway. Ben's owner had a small portable cage and we were able to easily load him into the trailer. Sassy was too big for this cage, however, and because of the position of the cage, the TCWR trailer would not fit through the junkyard to load her safely. The only option was to anesthetize her, which went off without a hitch. With Ben safely in the front and Sassy sleeping soundly in the back, the trailer headed home.


Ben has taken no time fitting in with his friendly, bubbly personality, and has quickly become a staff favorite. Sassy was a bit more upset from her experience, and has had trouble trusting her new caretakers. We are confident that with time she will be a beloved member of the TCWR family.

The Quitman Rescue


In the fall of 2002, the TCWR Rescue Team was called to Safari Park in Quitman, AR. The owner of the breeding facility said his big cat population had grown too large for him to care for. He was in the business of breeding and selling big cats to people as "pets". Apparently he had been forced out of his previous property after receiving so many complaints about his treatment of the animals. After moving his 66 cats and many other animals, his funds had quickly diminished. He called TCWR to take six of those cats off his hands, hoping to lighten his burden. The rescue crew returned to TCWR with four one year old tigers (Jerry, Haley, Whitney, Roulon) and two three month old tigers. (Tammy, Garth) The one year old tigers were bone thin from starvation. Each tiger had to be given almost 40 lbs of meat that first night, simply so they wouldn't kill each other. It was clear that their meals had been few and far between.


Just a few short weeks after these six tigers were rescued, TCWR staff became informed of disturbing news from that same Quitman facility. A local newspaper had reported that four lions from the Safari Park had broken out of their caging and killed a camel. All four were subsequently shot and killed. It was clear that the remaining animals were in desperate need of help. When TCWR asked the owner what could be done to help, he responded by stating that he would "probably just euthanize them". Unwilling to let 56 magnificent cats be killed, the huge task of relocation began.


At the time the Quitman Rescue began, TCWR was already at it's limits as far as available caging. But a staff as caring and capable as this one was up for the challenge. Multiple lock down areas in existing habitats were erected to support the coming population boom. These lock downs not only allowed the rescue of these desperate cats, but also allowed the development of the habitat program. Instead of bringing the cats in and placing them in small cages, these lock downs allowed different groups of cats to alternate days into a 1/4 to 1/2 acre natural habitat.


These cats were on a deadline, so the construction had to be swift. The entire rescue took place over a span of several months, with the Rescue Team returning to Quitman multiple times as caging became available. To the staff it seemed the cats just kept coming and coming until the rescue was finally finished in late 2002. The largest rescue mission in Turpentine Creek's history was complete, with a total of 21 cats finding a home at the refuge. (Jerry, Roulon, Haley, Whitney, Tammy, Garth, Tasha, TJ, Lucci, Wyoming, Livingston, JJ, Reese, Titan, CJ, Cessna, Clancy, Lana, Greg, Boris, and Thunder) The remaining cats found a home at Tiger Haven in Tennessee.


Even with the cats finally in safe caging and on a steady diet, the tribulation was just beginning. The malnutrition and inbreeding these cats had experienced was going to have long term affects. A string of medical issues from these new cats had tripled the refuge's vet bills and mystified the doctors. Abscessed teeth, broken bones and strange seizures are among the long list of medical problems we encountered. Their lack of nutrition had left the animals with brittle bones and soft tooth enamel. Inbreeding had left others with various developmental problems, several of which turned out to be fatal. Tooth extractions, bone settings, amputations, MRI's and three explorative necropsies rocketed the vet bill to over $4,000 in the first few months. All the Quitman cats were put on a strict regimen of vitamins, including taurine and calcium for bone development. The good diet, great medical care, and unending compassion proved to be all these cats needed, and with time came better health.


Today, all the Quitman cats are healthy and happy, every one of them in a beautiful natural habitat where they can run and play. It is hard to imagine as you see them romping and playing that at one time they had been starved, depraved, and virtually left to die. Thanks to the refuge, they now live the life they deserve.