Spring Break, But With Tigers – Texas students arrive to build habitats at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Last year, Santiago Aguirre spent his spring break building houses for Katrina victims in New Orleans. The neatest part:
“We got meeting the person who was going to live in the house,” he said.
Last week, Aguirre, a sophomore at the University of North Texas, helped create homes for homeless refugees with the help of six other UNT students. And they got to see one of the occupants step into her new home for the first time — all four paws.
The new occupant was named O.D., and she was one of 30 tigers that Turpentine Creek adopted last year when Riverglen Tiger Refuge was closed. The North Texas students painted O.D.’s den and picked up rocks from her new backyard, a 20-by 40 foot space where the tiger can stretch her legs. The students also installed all the wire fencing around a habitat being built for Grumpet. Each new habitat will provide 1,000 square feet of space, more than two and half times that required by regulations.
The students arrived on Sunday, March 9 for the week, staying at the Retreat at Sky Ridge. They worked at Turpentine Creek from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and a half-day on Thursday, but also had time to sight-see. They visited Eureka Springs and Thorncrown Chapel, went fishing on the White River and horse-back riding at Bear Mountain. They hoped to get in some canoeing or kayaking on Lake Leatherwood before driving back to Texas on Friday.
“It’s like vacation and a working holiday,” Aguirre said.
UNT offers alternative spring breaks to raise students’ awareness of social issues and injustice through volunteer service. Last year, senior Brittny Nguyen, an education major from St. Paul, Minn., chose to work at a food bank in downtown Memphis in order to enlarge her knowledge of how people live. This year, she wanted to do something completely different, and be in the countryside, so chose Turpentine Creek as first choice. While none of the students plan careers in animal science, it was the love of animals that led them to choose Turpentine Creek, they said. But it wasn’t the tigers that drew Ruben Molina.
“I love lions,” he said. “Me and lions, we get each other. The first thing I did when I got here was run up to Thor.”
Thor lives in an enclosure in the old compound, but Turpentine Creek president Tanya Smith, vice-president Scott Smith and their staff of professionals and interns have been focusing on getting all the animals into larger habitats on the refuge’s acreage. Habitats for the tigers from Riverglen Tiger Sanctuary, most of whom are elderly, are being built on Rescue Ridge, a remote section of the refuge where they can quietly live out their lives.
UNT students on alternative spring break trips also rebuilt homes in Joplin, Mo., Moore, Okla., and New Orleans for tornado and hurricane victimes; worked with children at the Cherokee Nation’s Head Start Program in Tahlequah, Okla.; created care packages for the homeless in San Antonio, picked up trash on Galveston beaches and worked at facilities serving neglected children and homeless teens in St. Louis.
The Turpentine Creek contingent were accompanied by Laura Pasquini, a university staff member who is working on a Ph.D. in learning technologies with an emphasis on social justice. The group included three high school students who attend UNT: Maddie Drake of Paris, Texas; Catherine Deblois of Melissa, Texas, and Ruben Molina, of Mission, Texas.
Drake said the opportunity to work at Turpentine Creek was very rewarding.
“We got to start a project and finish it, and then watch the tigers released into the habitat,” she said. “We got to see the difference we made in a tiger’s life.”
Students pay a small fee to participate in alternative spring breaks, and those who go on one of the trips tend to sign up again, university coordinators said. The University of North Texas is located in Denton. (unt.edu). For more information about Turpentine Creek, click here.