Monthly Archives: May 2019

Infectious Diseases

The Dangers of Human Contact with Big Cats

May 21, 2019People participating in cub petting. Two cougar cubs lay listlessly while humans of all ages play with them.

Big cats can potentially carry many diseases that can be transmitted by animals to humans through various forms of contact; these are known as Zoonotic diseases. Many businesses that allow hands-on interaction with cubs for photos or pay-to-play schemes will not inform the public that a cub is ill, even when it is sick with a zoonotic disease. This is done because the time that cubs can legally be handled is limited to a two-month period. When a cub can potentially make $5,000 – $10,000 a day, any downtime is very costly in the eyes of these businesses, and they’d rather not lose out on money, though patrons may contract these diseases.

Some of the more common zoonotic diseases that big cats can carry and transmit to humans are:

  1. Ringworm – a highly contagious skin infection caused by a fungus that can be transmitted through contact.
  2. Roundworms & Hookworms – intestinal parasitic worms. Roundworms, also known as ascarids, can be caught through accidentally ingesting infective worm eggs. Hookworms can be passed one of two ways, either through accidental ingestion of infective larvae or through larval migrans, which is where the infective worms penetrate and burrow through the skin. Once larvae are in the body, they can move about freely, infecting and damaging different organs including the gut, liver, and lungs.
  3. Giardia & Cryptosporidium – intestinal protozoans that cause malodorous diarrhea. Transmission is through accidental ingestion usually after contact with a fomite or infective water source. A fomite is any object, such as a door handle or the bottom of a shoe, that can spread disease. Both parasites can survive weeks to months in the environment.
  4. Young cubs suffering from Metabolic Bone Disease, unable to walk due to broken bones. These cubs suffer because of human's wanted to play with a cub.Toxoplasma – another protozoan that is contracted by accidentally ingesting the parasite after contact with feline feces. It is believed that there are already a large number of people infected with this parasite in the United States who may not even know it. A healthy immune system can keep the parasite at bay, though it can persist for long periods of time in the human body. The greatest concern comes for pregnant women or those who are immunocompromised from illness. Serious disease can occur for them including miscarriage, stillbirth, a child born with severe birth defects, ocular (eye) disease, and other symptoms such as fever, seizures, nausea, and poor coordination.
  5. Leptospira – a bacteria spread through contact with the urine of infected animals. The bacteria can penetrate through skin or mucous membranes. It can cause a wide range of symptoms that are easily mistaken as other diseases. If left untreated, it can cause severe kidney damage, liver damage, meningitis, respiratory problems, and death.
  6. Rabies virus – a deadly virus that causes inflammation of the brain, spread through the saliva of an infected individual. Transmission is most commonly through a bite. An animal can be protected from this virus through routine vaccination and proper administration. Unfortunately, many of the cubs in these businesses do not receive routine veterinary care.
  7. Bovine tuberculosis – A relative of the bacterium that causes human tuberculosis. Both bacteria affect the lungs most commonly but can occur anywhere in the body, and can cause deadly disease. Transmission is spread through the air. Most recently, in 2014, two women in the United Kingdom were diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis. It was discovered that these women caught the disease from their cat that became infective after consuming a prey animal that was infected with the bacterium. It has also been found that nearly half of the lion population in Kruger National Park are infected with bovine tuberculosis. Though at this moment, there is likely a low risk for zoonotic potential through cub-petting, as bovine tuberculosis cases continue to spread, more animals are likely to become infected, especially those animals that are consuming meat obtained in an unscrupulous fashion.

A cub is shaken and bobbled around in an attempt to make them more active for a child to play with. These are just some of the diseases that can be spread when the public comes into contact with big cats. Since no laws restrict the handling of sickly cubs, the pay-to-play cub petting schemes get away with putting the public in danger so that they can continue to make money at the risk of human health. Changing the law to put an end to cub-petting doesn’t just protect animals; it protects humans too.

Reach out to your representative today and tell them you want them to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act. Learn more about this bill and how it will help big cats across the US at www.tcwr.org/advocacy

You can also learn about these zoonotic diseases and more on the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html

Several Servals Celebrate Construction Completion

And YOU are invited!

May 15, 2019

This is your purr-sonal invitation to join us Wednesday, June 12, at 9:45 AM for the grand opening of our new serval habitat. The project was made possible by the Roop family. The Refuge opens at 9 AM, and we encourage you to arrive no later than 9:30 AM. Standard admission rates apply.

Work on the project began this winter, almost immediately after the grand opening of the updated bear habitats. Our animal care and maintenance teams battled unpredictable weather, from ice and snow to torrential downpours of rain, as well as delays on materials and unplanned instances that required a shift in priorities. With just a few finishing touches remaining, we are excited to release our five serval residents into their new space!

The enclosure spans 6,500 square feet. Much like tigers, servals are a species of water-loving felines so we’ve provided them with a pool to keep them splish-splashing all summer long. When it’s time for the chilly winter weather that African cats disfavor, they can cuddle up and keep warm in their spacious heated building. We incorporated natural rock and wood features in order to fabricate benches for rest and hollows for privacy.

As we continue to use our resources to fight back against the Exotic Pet Trade epidemic, we live day to day knowing that at any second, the phone could ring with a call that will lead us to an animal or multiple animals who need our help. We keep this in mind as we erect our enclosures; they need to be specific enough to meet the needs of the animal residents currently residing in them but versatile enough to accommodate someone else. This habitat could safely and comfortably house multiple small cats, such as leopards or cougars, or a single large animal, such as a lion or tiger. If the day comes when the servals need to be relocated, perhaps to Rescue Ridge many years down the line when they’ve aged, then we will have no problem adapting their former enclosure for a different species.

We can’t wait to watch our serval residents take the first steps with their tiny paws into their forever home and are elated to share this special day with you. Please visit our website if you have any questions regarding your visit to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. Explore this page to learn more about our serval residents.

It Takes A Village

Mothering Survivors of the Exotic Pet Trade

May 9, 2019

Aurora – Born May 30, 2015

This Mother’s Day, we reflect on what it means to be a mother. A quick Google search of the word “mother,” will reveal it’s meaning in verb form is to “bring up with care and affection” or “look after someone kindly and protectively, sometimes excessively so.” If you can relate to that in any way, we believe you deserve a Happy Mother’s Day!

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is full of mothers yet lacking in typical children. We have a diverse team of male and female counterparts affectionately caring for a whole passel of large carnivores, looking after them “kindly and protectively,” and yes… “sometimes excessively so.” We have interns who make sure our animal residents are fed and comfortable, animal care staff to keep an eye out for any “boo-boos” or “ouchies,” and supporters like you who spoil them to no end with their favorite treats and enrichment.

Snowball – Born September 27, 2015

Ironically, a large part of mothering these big cats involves passing legislation that limits their reproduction. The Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 1380, focuses on illegalizing cub petting. The cub petting industry is a ruthless business that relies on brutal breeding practices to supply a steady flow of cute and cuddly cubs that are drugged, starved, and then inhumanely disposed of when they are no longer of use, all in the name of making a buck. 

Shakira II is affectionately known as “Mama Shakira” at the Refuge. Although she birthed at least 13 cubs, she never truly got to be a mama. Her babies were ripped from her as soon as they were born so she could get right back to breeding. Her offspring includes Tanya and Kizmin, “The Trio” (Rocklyn, Blackfire and Peyton), Snowball, and Aurora who were all rescued with her.

Blackfire, Peyton, & Rocklyn – Born May 10, 2016

The close ages of these four different litters demonstrates just how quickly Shakira II was reproducing. In the wild, a normal female tiger gives birth to 2-4 cubs every two years. Aurora was born in May of 2015, Snowball was born in September of 2015, the Trio was born May of 2016, and Tanya and Kizmin were born in September of 2016. All have health conditions that could have been prevented had they gotten proper nutrition from their mother early on.

Giving birth with no period of rest is very taxing on the mother, it takes a lot of energy and nutrients to create life. Usually, the mother has 2 years to let her body replenish her energy and nutrients, but with the rapid over breeding, they cannot, which can cause health issues for the mom.

Kizmin & Tanya – Born September 18, 2016

Shakira II and her babies now live among the other survivors of the Exotic Pet Trade at Turpentine Creek and have all of their needs met with love and respect. Receiving love, support, and protection is vital for all creatures- the two-legged and four-legged alike. To those who mother, whether your “children” are animals or humans, we want to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day! Your importance deserves recognition each and every day.

Please consider helping the other “Mamas” still trapped in the Exotic Pet Trade by emailing your representative about H.R. 1380 today.

For PAWESOME Mother’s Day presents, consider symbolically adopting a TCWR animal resident, shopping our online store, or getting a membership for the entire family.  

Shakira 2 “Mama Shakira” is the mother of Aurora, Snowball, Rocklyn, Blackfire, Peyton, Kizmin, and Tanya. Happy Mother’s Day to Mama Shakira and all other Mothers no matter who your “kids” are!