Monthly Archives: September 2019

Fair Game

Fairs, Circuses, and Traveling Shows Profit at the Expense of Animal Welfare

September 25, 2019

Let’s get real: If you can attend a show and see an animal being forced to engage in unnatural behaviors (especially by being poked, prodded, or whipped) and walk away feeling good, then you aren’t actually thinking about what you are seeing. We understand; it’s cool to see a “wild animal” doing all kinds of kooky, amazing feats, and it’s zero percent fun to think about what you’re actually watching: abuse.

Yes, traveling shows are legal, but that doesn’t change what you are seeing. The tigers or lions you see responding to the commands of the trainer are doing so out of fear. When a trainer uses a whip or a prod to control them during the act, they respond because they know the pain that tool can inflict. A tiger trainer named Wade Burck who worked for the Ringling Bros. was once quoted describing the “aggressive” methods he had to use during training because when it comes to tigers, “they aren’t capable of thinking like I do.” A tiger is a wild, dangerous animal, no matter if it was taken from its natural habitat or raised in captivity. In order to get the animal to perform the awesome stunts audiences get to observe, it has to be put in its place by a person who is more frightening than it is.

For the people who make a living off the suffering of these poor animals, there are other modifications that can bend them to their will. Thurston, a white tiger who lives at the Refuge, was used in a magic show and has been struggling with lasting psychological trauma, as well as physical pain from being declawed and having his teeth filed down to make him “safer” to work with. Drugging animals is another common tactic used to make them more compliant.

We were recently alerted to this type of abuse taking place in our own backyard. The Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair made the decision to use “Nergers Tigers” (also known as “Nerger’s Splendid Tigers”) to draw attention to their event. The Nerger’s tiger show has been taking place multiple times a day since Friday, September 20, and will continue through Saturday, September 28.

We shared information on social media regarding the Nerger’s history and reached out to fair officials, as well as local media. It was disheartening and left us sick when we found that fair officials showed no interest in reconsidering their decision and the media seemed more interested in the cheeky comments of those profiting from the show than the actual education we were attempting to provide.

Even worse, our friends at Jen’s Kitty Rehab planned to hand out information advocating for all cats, big and small. They were told by fair officials that they could not discuss anything “tiger-related” or have any “tiger-related” literature at their booth.

We received painful video footage of a September 21st performance at the Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair that shows the tigers being prompted to perform through the use of whips. The trainers used prods to the face and body with the whip or handle to ‘encourage’ the animals to complete each trick upon command. At one point, they were forced to jump through a flaming hoop, something we would even be scared to do. One tiger tried to resist, but of course, had no choice, which resulted in him slipping and falling onto the platform he was being forced to leap to.

As heartbreaking as the situation is and for as much resistance as we have encountered, we have also had a positive outpouring of action from our wonderful supporters, who are rallying to do the right thing for the animals. Multiple people outside of our organization have sent emails, letters, and made phone calls to fair officials, state legislators, and even the Humane Society of the United States has reached out to the fair without any prompting from us. One supporter has organized a peaceful protest outside the fairgrounds for Saturday, September 28. People who can’t attend are writing letters, contacting others, and even donating to provide snacks and drinks for the event! We have received messages from people who are now advocating for bills to protect big cats in captivity and who are contacting fair boards in their own areas ahead of time to request that they make ethical choices regarding the type of entertainment they use!

It all goes to remind us that we (“we” as in not just TCWR, but YOU!) are making a difference! We are winning! The animals are winning! For every hateful collective who unabashedly cares about profit over protection, there are hundreds more who are willing to come together and move towards a positive future that will be life-changing for tigers, lions, bears, and all others trapped in the entertainment industry.

It’s 2019, it’s time to stop using wild animals for props and playthings. You can take action today by asking your state representatives to support the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act (TEAPSPA, H.R. 2863), which will prohibit the use of exotic and wild animals in traveling performances.

For more information regarding what truly goes on behind the scenes of traveling shows, feel free to read this blog post:

You, Us, and Them

How True Sanctuaries Are Working Together To End The Big Cat Trade

September 17, 2019

2018 BCSA Conference At TCWR

Several Turpentine Creek team members have been attending the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance (BCSA) Conference this week. All members of the BCSA are working towards a unified goal: a future where sanctuaries (like Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge) are no longer needed because private ownership and the commercial exploitation of big cats have been ended. Though “true” sanctuaries and ethical establishments upholding the highest standards of care for big cats are outnumbered by the population of roadside zoos, traveling shows, and inhumane breeding facilities, we are not discouraged. By working together, we know we can build a brighter future for big cats.

The sheer number of shoddy facilities operating under the guise of “pay-to-play” establishments or even falsely using the word “sanctuary” in their name despite being nothing but tiger mills is one of many reasons why the need for an organization like the BCSA is more crucial now than ever before. For decades, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge has networked and created connections with a number of ethical animal welfare organizations. Those connections truly came through in 2016 when we were tasked with rescuing and rehoming 115 animals from an animal exhibitor park in Colorado. The animals were living in squalor, many were sick and injured, and all were under immense psychological strife. We had to save them, but how? We simply did not have room for over 100 new animal residents. Enter more True Sanctuary All-Stars.

Over the course of 6 months, all animals were rehomed to reputable refuges, with 34 coming to our own. What would have happened to the other animals if we absolutely could not take them and there were no other true sanctuaries in existence? Thankfully, we didn’t have to find out. However, as the Exotic Pet Trade’s network continues to grow, the issue of space is always in our thoughts. Right now, we are confident we can work with members of the BCSA and other true sanctuaries should another large undertaking like the Colorado Rescue occur, but we hope we never see the day when the supply of sanctuary and it’s demand become unbalanced. The only way to ensure that day never comes is by ending the Trade, which is just another thing true sanctuaries are working together to do.

In a joint effort, we are educating the public about the many challenges big cats are facing at the hands of the Trade, both in captivity and in the wild. By combining forces, we are able to reach more people than ever and build a team of passionate citizens to advocate for big cats. From supporting the Big Cat Public Safety Act to spreading awareness about the difference between a real sanctuary and a “scam-suary,” we rely on people like you as our allies.  Here are some ways you can team up with Turpentine Creek and the BCSA to make an impact:

Do you have any other tips on working together to spark change for big cats? If so, feel free to add to the conversation on Twitter (@turpentinecreek) or in our Facebook Group (@TurpentineCreekWildlifeRefugeGroup).

Feline Fall Fun

As Temps Cool Big Cats Grow More Active

September 10, 2019

Summers at TCWR are always busy with our daily visitors, day camps, private group tours, and many other events. Visitors enjoy observing the animals splashing around in their pools and enjoying their cool summer treats such as meatcicles. As the Summer season comes to an end and we prepare for the cool crisp air of Fall, we will continue to offer additional educational opportunities to everyone that visits TCWR. Whether it is our daily tours, special educational activities, keeper talks, or workshops there is something for everyone at the refuge.

The Fall is a special time of year for us here at the refuge for multiple reasons, such as the kick-off of our school group season. We love helping the youth of today discover how they can help animals now and in the future. TCWR hosts school groups not only from the Northwest Arkansas area, but from districts in other regions of Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. We also conduct classroom visits via Skype to schools in further areas of the United States and around the world that cannot make it out to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. So when visiting the Refuge, you might see groups of bright-eyed children discovering how to become young wildlife advocates.

Fall not only brings cool crisp air for our animal residents and visitors to enjoy, it also brings the season for pumpkins. All of our animals love to play with their pumpkin enrichment, the cats love smashing them while others such as our bears enjoy eating them. While visiting TCWR this Fall, if you have any pumpkins that you would like to donate, our animals would love to have them as a new seasonal toy. The Fall season also means that our Annual Spooktacular family-friendly event is just around the corner. This is the one night a year that visitors can come out and enjoy seeing the cats at night as we take you on a hayride around our tour loop. We invite you to join us on Oct. 25th for this year’s Spooktacular and to visit our website for more details on the event and how you can get involved.

Whether you are visiting with your family or your child is on a field trip to TCWR, the Fall offers many different ways to see our cats enjoying the cooler weather and provides unique opportunities for you to get involved.  Fall is the perfect time to spend a day at the Refuge, plan your next visit today!

What About The Animals?

When A Facility Closes, Where Do The Animals Go?

September 4, 2019

With multiple facilities shutting down in recent weeks, we have gotten a lot of questions about why this might happen. As we prepare for the possibility of being called into action for our next rescue effort, we have been looking back at our past rescues and why we were called to help. There is a laundry list of things that can cause an animal establishment to close. Natural disasters, such as fires and storms, financial difficulties, illness of the owner, and court-ordered seizures of animals due to allegations of cruelty are just a few. We discussed some of these reasons in a previous blog post.  Once a facility ceases operations, the fate of its animals is left hanging in the air. There is always the hope that they will end up in an ethical location, but that is not always the case.

A legal shutdown typically involves state and local authorities. They may conduct a court-ordered seizure of the animals or, such as in the case of Wildlife Waystation in California, may act on the request of the organization to assist with rehoming the creatures. Sometimes another wildlife entity, such as our friends at Tigers in America, are also involved in coordinating rescue efforts and sending displaced animals to proper homes. We have worked with Tigers in America on a number of rescues, including the Colorado Project, during which 115 animals were sent to credible sanctuaries after a pseudo-sanctuary/cub petting operation closed its doors.

Authorities may reach out directly to a sanctuary, such was the case with our 2012 Mountainburg Rescue when the failing health of a breeding facility’s owner was creating a mounting inability to care for her nearly 30 big cats. The situation was dire, but TCWR did not have readily-available habitats at the time. Thankfully, we had a team of supporters who gave us the ability to construct 20 habitats in 128 days to accommodate the flood of new animal residents in need. This, however, brings to light a heart-sinking though: What happens if all the “good places” are full?

With lax laws and little governing, the Exotic Pet Trade only continues to grow. The number of roadside zoos, pay-to-play schemes, and breeding operations far outweighs the number of true sanctuaries. Sometimes, when one of these places quietly closes its doors without legal intervention, the animals are simply sold or shipped off to another shoddy operation to be exploited. In other cases, the animals may be illegally euthanized. During the Quitman Rescue, we were able to step in before a 56-cat-breeding-population was killed by their owner when financial difficulty and escapes spurred him to give up his enterprise. Once again, this was a large number of big cats that needed a home. We were able to reach out to Tiger Haven in Tennessee, who took in the ones we could not accommodate.

It is our goal to never turn away an animal in need, but sometimes, we rely on our network of true sanctuaries to provide refuge for those we are unable to take. We hope to never see the day where we don’t have the means to grasp an outstretched paw asking for help; we fear a day when the Trade has grown so massive that true sanctuaries simply cannot keep up with the demand for space for its displaced survivors. There are ways you can make sure that day never comes:

First, work with us to end the Exotic Pet Trade. H.R. 1380, The Big Cat Public Safety Act, will outlaw cub petting. We hope the loss of the high demand for readily available cubs will be the first step towards its demise. Visit to gather information that you can use to educate yourself and others about this vital legislation; you can also enter your information to generate an email to your local congressman asking for their support.

Second, support true sanctuaries. We need your help today to facilitate the many rescues we are involved in every year. Also, when the Trade finally ends, it will leave a multitude of big cats searching for sanctuary. We have to be prepared for whatever comes next. Please consider becoming a monthly donor or yearly member today. Your sustainable support means we will have a steady flow of funds to rely on when we hear the next unexpected cry for help.