Monthly Archives: March 2012

Lions, Tigers, Bears, and Cougars.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lions, Tigers, Bears, and Cougars.

Scott and another tigerTurpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is taking on rescued wild animals and putting them where they belong — in a world where they’re free to feel the grass under their feet.

Imagine life in a 400 square foot apartment. You can’t leave, you can only have select visitors — you’re fed well, but you live on a concrete pad.

Imagine living that way, and then suddenly finding yourself with a half acre of your own woodland paradise.

That’s what many of the tigers, cougars, and lions at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge are now experiencing — and what many more will soon enjoy with new expansions and projects at the Refuge this year.

Alex the CougarNot that life hasn’t improved for these animals. These wild creatures are all rescue animals — surrendered by owners who couldn’t care for them, captured during criminal acts, or relocated after the closure of other facilities. Some of them, like cougar K.C., were actually kept in apartments as pets at one point or another. Others were undernourished or abused.

At the Refuge, they’re all given food, accommodations, and the respect these magnificent beasts should receive.

I toured the Eureka Springs-area facility with Scott Smith this May. I’ve visited other refuges and parks that have claimed a similar mission before, but I was surprised what I found here.

Scott’s been with Turpentine Creek for most of its 15 years. He’s seen the refuge grow from the original visitors center and a smattering of caged enclosures to the expansive compound it is today.

Scott Smith and HeatherOur first stop along the tour was Heather. Her story is different from most of the creatures at TCWR. Heather was born to Pretzel and Siam, two other Bengal tigers at the Refuge. When Pretzel was surrendered, her owners said she had been spayed. Apparently that wasn’t the case — because in 2000 Heather and a sister were born. Unfortunately, the sister didn’t survive.

Heather had a hole in her stomach from where Pretzel had bitten off the umbilical cord. She survived that, and a round of pelvic cancer in 2002. Scott told me that one of the other workers at the Refuge had asked if she could try homeopathic remedies on Heather when her prognosis from the cancer looked grim. They allowed her to try, and today Heather is the picture of health.

Heather was expected to be the last animal to be born at the refuge. “Since then, we’ve made sure that every animal that comes into the Refuge is spayed or neutered,” Scott said. “If we breed more animals, there’s less space for the rescued ones.”

Tiger Sprawls in New EnclosureAnd that could become a problem in the future. Many states have passed laws about the private ownership of wild cats and bears, and some of the animals surrendered to the Refuge have come from individuals in those states who are now considered to be breaking the law by owning one of these animals. “We pick up animals from all over the country,” Scott continued. “So far, we have animals from 26 states.”

Those animals have to be fed, and they are — through generous donations from Wal-Mart and Tyson. “Throughout the week, we have people pick up meat from Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets, and from Tyson Foods,” said Scott. “All the meat is donated. We don’t feed the animals any processed products.”

Tubby in a tubThat’s a lot of meat. In the wintertime, when the animals need a lot of protein to keep warm, the Refuge can go through as much as 1800 pounds a day. During the summer, when the animals slow down to keep from overheating, it’s more like 800 pounds. All of the donated meat is kept in huge refrigerated facilities in another part of the compound.

Coco the BearEven with good nutrition and top notch veterinary care, these animals are still not quite in what would be considered a natural environment. Certain accommodations have long since been made — such as misting devices to keep them cool in the hottest part of the day, and lots of shade and secluded dens. But TCWR is doing more to make these animals comfortable.

Over the past several years, large areas of the land on the hillside has been segmented out by tall sturdy fencing to become “runs” for lions and cougars. These enclosures of ¼ to 1 ½ acres give Lion in cover grassthe animals a chance to live in nature and feel the grass beneath their feet.

This Independence Day, many more of these animals will have the chance. On July 4th, a new section of the Refuge opens, with dozens more of the big cats able to prowl on large stretches of land.

“The idea was, why New Enclosure Being Builtdon’t we put the people in cages and let the animals roam free?” Scott joked on our tour. And indeed, that’s what’s happening. Along a corridor between the separate enclosures, a long outdoor hallway has been constructed. Tour groups will be able to walk the long stretch and see the animals in a more natural habitat. They’ll be safe — with several feet of space between the people enclosure and the fencing around each of the runs.

Of course, the Refuge is for the animals — but it’s the people that keep the Refuge going. Turpentine Creek is almost entirely run on sponsorships and donations. There are several levels of sponsorship available — from sponsoring an animal by yourself each year to joining 19 other donors for the privilege. The organization is non-profit, and sponsorships and donations are tax-deductible.

Visitors in compoundThe Refuge has several employees — but a large portion of its workforce comes from volunteers and interns. Interns come from all over the United States and spend six months learning how to care for the big cats and bears. This knowledge will help them in endeavors in other parts of the world, where preservation efforts are going strong.

As I mentioned earlier, Heather was supposed to have been the last tiger born at Turpentine Creek. But you never know when a true surprise is going to happen.

6a00d83453843969e200e552b79d4f8834Back in April, a pair of tigers were rescued from Missouri. Ziggy, the male, was neutered on arrival. But a tiger’s gestational period last from 93 to 111 days. On May 30th, Ziggy’s mate Tigger G gave birth to triplets. One of the three didn’t survive, but the other two are being cared for by TCWR staff. They’re not on display at this time, but once they’re old enough they’ll be treated with the same love and respect as the rest of the creatures at the Refuge.

Seven 142Of course, raising two tiger cubs can be expensive. Unfortunately, Tigger G hasn’t taken to motherhood, so the cubs are being fed formula by hand. The cubs will also need names, so the Refuge is asking for sponsorships. For $2000, a donor can give one of the cubs a name.

The Refuge does have a few other animals besides the tigers, lions, cougars and bears. There are a few resident parrots, a Rhesus monkey, a serval, and a bobcat. And there’s a badger. No kidding.

TCWR entranceThe Refuge is open every day of the year except Christmas for visits. The money from admissions goes right back into caring for the animals and running the facility. Admission for an adult is $15, $10 for kids between 3 and 12, seniors and veterans. It’s open from 9am to 6pm during the summer and 9am to 5pm in the winter. The best time to go is in the early morning, when the animals are still somewhat active from their nocturnal pursuits — or between 4-5 p.m., when they are fed.

Zulu Safari LodgeOf course, you can stay at the Refuge all night, if you want. Lodging choices allow visitors to spend more time there, and to listen to the animals at night. Accommodations range from bed and breakfast style suites to a five cabin Zulu Safari Guest Lodge to a real Tree House. There are also RV hookups and camping sites available. Future plans include a reunion style pavilion and fountain pool.

For more information about the Refuge, check out or call (479) 253-5841.

Big cats leaving Ohio for new home

Big cats leaving Ohio for new home

By Alan Johnson

big-cat-rescue-art-gnugil2t-1big-cat-rescue-b-jpgThe Columbus DispatchFriday March 23, 2012 7:48 AM

Nikita and Tasha are leaving Ohio because of a proposed state law regulating ownership of exotic animals.

Nikita, a 7-year-old white Bengal tiger, and Tasha, an 11-year-old cougar, are moving to the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn., next week. Their owner, an undisclosed Ohio woman, made a “tearful call” to the sanctuary asking them to take her animals because she feared the “future looks uncertain” for them.

The two cats could be the first of a wave of exotic animals leaving Ohio. However, some authorities are worried that future departures won’t be as clean. If unlicensed animal owners refuse to get rid of them by 2014, local humane societies have the job to enforce the law – with the fate of the exotic animals unknown. Local zoo officials already have made it clear they cannot take any.

When an exotic-animals law took effect in Minnesota in 2005, 33 lions and tigers were removed from private homes in just one summer, said Tammy Thies, director of the nonprofit sanctuary between Duluth and Minneapolis in eastern Minnesota.

The big cats will be picked up Monday for the trip north to the sanctuary, which boasts “free-roaming, natural habitats complete with pools, perches, hammocks and a climate-controlled shelter.” The Ohio cats are expected to arrive there on Tuesday.

Thies said the owner does not wish to be identified. “We’re doing what’s best and safest for the animals,” she said.

“I’ve been talking to this person for a long time, and I have the highest respect for her. She cares about her animals and wants to choose where her animals go.”

The tiger and cougar have been well cared for but are living in 10-by-15-foot cages.

The animals’ owner is coming to grips with what many Ohioans may have to eventually deal with as state officials work on a law to ban the sale and regulate ownership of lions, tigers, bears and other exotic animals. Senate Bill 310, sponsored by Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, had its second public hearing this week.

The bill would prohibit sales of specified exotic animals beginning Jan. 1, 2014. While existing owners of exotics would be able to keep their animals, they would have to carry liability insurance, pay registration fees and implant microchips in the animals for identification.

Some private owners who object to the proposed regulations have said they will go “underground”with their animals or move out of state.

Thies said the sanctuary gets many calls from owners who find they cannot care for their animals.

“People think of them as pets, but they don’t think 20 years down the road with everything that can happen,” she said. “When we get animals, we’re not the second stop. We’re the fifth or sixth stop for these animals.”

The sanctuary, which has 113 animals and a $550,000 annual budget, all from donations, got help from the International Fund for Animal Welfare to raise $30,000 to pay for the rescue of the big Ohio cats. The facility is not open to the public.

Balderson’s proposal responds to the incident near Zanesville on Oct. 18 when law-enforcement officers were forced to kill 48 animals, including bears, lions, tigers and wolves, after their owner set them free. Terry W. Thompson, 62, committed suicide after releasing the animals he had collected for years.

In related news, a statewide survey conducted by Saperstein Associates of Columbus showed Ohioans strongly support the exotic-animals legislation, plus proposals to regulate commercial dog breeders and make cockfighting a felony. The survey was commissioned by the Humane Society of the U.S.

The Saperstein survey found that 75 percent support Balderson’s exotic-animals proposal. Eighty percent support legislation to regulate so-called puppy mills, and seventy percent approve making cockfighting a felony.

The telephone survey of 804 voters was conducted March 13-18; the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Rasha and Nia

New Turpentine Creek Family Members – Rasha and Nia

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge staff members picked up two cougars about an hour south of St. Louis, Missouri, on March 29. This was at least the second place Nia and Rasha called home. The current owners got the two cougars from a couple of guys who were going to have them euthanised for being cougars. The current owners wanted to “save” them so they brought them home. After keeping Nia and Rasha for years, the Man said,” I just do not have the time to care for them any longer. My girlfriend has heart problems and is very ill.” Tanya Smith, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge President, has been in contact with the private owners for several weeks after receiving an email plea for help. Nia (male cougar) and Rasha (female cougar) were still in tact. A visit from the vet took care of neuterung Nia and spaying Rasha since we are not a breeding facility.

Coffeeville Rescue

5 Big Cats From Coffeeville, Kansas

Within the past few weeks there have been several calls for rescues, one of those from a gentleman in Coffeeville, Kansas. He has five big cats that need a new home; four tigers named Ty, Crysta, Little Tony, and Crystal; and a Ti-liger named Noah (a Ti-liger is a cross between a male tiger and a female liger). He has been working with exotic cats for 18 years with dreams of starting his own exotic cat refuge. He mentioned that just days before signing his non-profit paper work a high school student got mauled to death, at a different facility by a 550lb tiger she was posing with for her senior pictures. The offer was pulled off the table and, just as he was beginning to live out his dream, he had to start all over again. However, as time passed the extraordinary cost of food and vet care has taken its toll and he had to give up his dream. After 18 years of working with cats he had to make a call to Turpentine Creek. Although it was a painful call he wanted his cats to go to a good home, and he knew that one day his five cats would get the experience of freedom in a habitat at Turpentine Creek.

Eureka blog

Eureka. Inspiration from the Strangest Places.

Written by Cezar Dubois

07 Mar

A good friend of mine was recently picking my brain about vacation destinations for his adventuresome family during the upcoming spring break. My answer for him was ‘Eureka Springs, Arkansas.’

“Arkansas?”, I see the eyebrows arch. Most of the people reading this blog will know me and find that my answer to be unexpected and curious. For those of you coming to this blog cold, I spend a fair bit of time gallivanting all over the globe in places like Reykjavik, Shanghai and Buenos Aires. Additionally, I am a recently relocated 18-year veteran of New York City. For all the worldliness of my former home, many New Yorkers are quick to slather the parts of the country from the west of the Hudson River to the left coast with the same sloppy stereotyped brush they themselves take umbrage with when the Heartlanders insist on seeing their city through the crime-riddled glasses of the 70s. To them, New York is still home to Snake Plissken and Charles Bronson. Or perhaps worse, still home to Jerry Seinfeld, Rachel & Ross and Carrie Bradshaw. The Northeast book on Arkansas is similarly unkind and mostly inaccurate.

To be fair, I think many Southerners are complicit in perpetuating and fomenting these unkind Northern-held beliefs about their genteel destinations: It keeps the Yankees out. I first stumbled on this ruse in the summer of 2000 when the Screen Actors Guild strike forced me to take a short gig in Charleston, South Carolina. Until this interruption in my regularly scheduled life occurred, I had no idea just how amazing Charleston is. A well-preserved/restored community with a variety of excellent restaurants, a robust live music scene, a full calendar of cultural offerings, great weather and all served with a bottomless glass of sweet tea, Charleston was simply a revelation.

And I got the feeling they intended to keep this gem hidden from us Northerners, as if it were the directions to their favorite fishing hole. Even the Northerners who were in on the secret kept to the code of Southern ‘omerta’. One night while we were out having a cocktail we struck up a conversation with a retired NYPD detective who had relocated to Charleston. He regaled us with tales of his colorful and very successful dating life in Charleston and threatened to shoot us in the face if we let the cat out of the bag about Charleston back home. Given this conversation took place over ten years ago, I’m hoping the statute of limitations on that face-shooting has expired. But who knows – they take preservation in Charleston that seriously.

Enough about Charleston and being shot in the face. This is about Eureka Springs. I had come to read about this curious corner of the Ozarks in the mid-90’s for a book that never came to pass. The book was a pre-cursor to the myriad of shows now available on Travel Channel, Food Network, TLC and similar televised ilk featuring unusual festivals held around the United States. I had planned to attend events like the Testicle Festival at Rock Creek Lodge, Montana or the Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa. In doing my legwork on such obscure festivals one town kept coming up: Eureka Springs. At least in the 90s, Eureka Springs played host to UFO festivals, a divining conference, a frog festival, gatherings of VW enthusiasts and is home to the largest Passion Play in the world. Eureka Springs looked like my kind of town and I hoped it to be the cornerstone of my book.

Life quickly got in the way, and the adventure never happened. But I kept all the research and Eureka was never far from my domestic travel thoughts. It would be almost ten years before I would actually set foot in Eureka Springs. In 2005, my friend and business partner Pat Gallo and I were on our way to assignment to film a group of Micronesian school kids in Baxter Springs, Kansas. (Betcha didn’t know there is a significant population of Micronesians in that corner of the world. There is an extended family from the island of Truk picking mushrooms there. Oddly, enough I had just returned from the Micronesian island of Yap, but that is another story.)

When I looked at the map when we were making our plans to head to Baxter Springs via Joplin, MO, I noticed it was a relatively short 90-mile detour to Eureka Springs and Pat humored me.

kite1Our first stop in Eureka Springs was one of my favorite and one I would return to again in 2007: Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. By happenstance, both visits coincided with the annual Kite Festival that is held there in March. The Kite Festival is a relatively low key, but endearing affair. The kite enthusiasts run the gamut from the obsessed ‘kite nerd’ to kids who have built their crafts that day out of used shopping bags. It is a delightful event hosted by one of the more intriguing families I’ve met in my travels.

Tanya Jackson Smith has been caring for “big cats” since she was an eight-year old girl. In the early 90s, the Jackson family would take on it’s life mission as a refuge for unwanted exotic cats when a former breeder and black market dealer on the run from the law showed up with 38 big cats that no longer had a home. With access to a 500-acre ranch just outside of Eureka Springs, the refuge was established and has since grown to care for scores of lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats, puma and grizzly bear. As you discover in visiting Turpentine Creek is quite easy for the average American civilian to acquire a big cat. It’s a whole other matter to care for one and more often than not, the cats that become too much to handle for their inexperienced owners (or for a number of unscrupulous breeders) they end up with Tanya and her family. There are a number of these refuges in the United States and Turpentine is among the best of them.

Location does play a factor in their ability to care for the animals. A significant portion of the animals’ diet is provided by a neighboring Tyson Foods processing plant that donates chickens and chicken parts unfit for human consumption by FDA standards. The rest of the blanks are filled in by volunteers and people like you who donate money & materials to Turpentine Creek. (Hint, hint: Click here to donate)

A more intriguing way to support Turpentine Creek is to stay there! They have built five cabins proximal to the habitat as well as having an RV & Camping Site. When I took my wife there for a vacation to celebrate our engagement, we stayed in the Treehouse and it was one of the more unique places I have stayed. It was right up there with the monastery in Transylvania, the lighthouse on Kangaroo Island and the caboose in Landrum, SC. We woke up to the sound of tigers ‘chuffing’ which I don’t imagine you can experience anywhere in the world outside of India and doubtful there is anywhere safer to do it.

tigersHeading into town from Turpentine Creek, you quickly get sucked into Eureka Springs itself. As I had hoped from my original research, it is an island of weirdness in the sea of Middle American milquetoast. Carved out of stone by natural springs and good-natured freaks, Eureka Springs welcomes a collision of cultures from bikers to healers, artists to hillbillies, Holy Rollers to the plain old curious. It is the site of a 7-story, two million pound concrete Jesus and several haunted hotels. Spring water runs in stone conduits along the sidewalks and it bubbles from the walls. The whole town seems to be built on a 60-degree grade and I’d be willing to bet that it holds the record for most number of stairs per capita in the world. (I think it does actually hold the record for most number of B&B’s per capita and another distinction is that there are no perpendicular streets in town due to the grade of the mountain.) There are little statues of pixies, gargoyles and mythical creatures scattered about town, crammed into nooks and tucked into crannies. It once was the playground of gangsters and gamblers. Eureka Springs has tapas and BBQ, diversity and bluegrass, Harleys and shiatsu. It is a paradise of paradox.

Both times I have visited, we’ve stayed at the Basin Park Hotel. It’s definitely a ‘vintage’ hotel with a great balcony restaurant that overlooks the main street of Eureka Springs as well as a funky bar on the top floor with a cool billiards set-up. This particular hotel holds the distinction of being the only hotel in the world with eight ‘ground’ floors. That is each floor has an exit at the rear which leads out to the cliff behind it at level with the floor. I don’t have any personal confirmation but I suspect like the 1886 Crescent Hotel up the hill, the Basin Park is haunted.

Most of the folks reading this blog know I like my beverages. For that I have two recommendations. For the morning coffee and breakfast, go underground and check out the Mud Street Café. It’s a beautiful space carved out of the stone and their coffee is excellent.

For adult beverages, I have to tell you that the Chelsea Corner Café is one of my favorite watering holes on earth. In keeping with the Mos Eisley Spaceport vibe, it resembles the Cantina where Luke and Obi Wan engage Han Solo. Hopefully, you won’t have to dispatch any bounty hunters while you are there but you never know. There is a sign at the front door expressly forbidding firearms so let’s hope if you run into Greedo he heeded the sign. All I know is that the first time I went into this cozy cavern, we heard an unexpectedly good jazz trio singing to a gaggle of disgruntled Corvette owners who were washing down their speeding tickets with mason jars of Guinness.

My kind of place.