Animal Care

The mission of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR) is to provide lifetime sanctuary for the survivors of the exotic pet trade. With the care, safety, and welfare of animals being the number one priority at the Refuge, it is important to all of us at TCWR that each animal is treated with the dignity and compassion they desperately need and deserve. Because of this mission, TCWR has developed a reputation for compassionate care across the country; specifically with law enforcement, universities, and others who share a commitment to the welfare of animals –both big and small.

Rescuing Cats

To date, hundreds of big cats and bears have been rescued by Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge from across the country, including from states:  Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, New York, Kansas, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Montana, Tennessee, and Colorado. TCWR’s  reputation for diligent care and compassion for animals, along with the staggering number of exotic animals being kept as pets in American homes (estimated between 10,000 to 15,000), has meant that a place at the Refuge is constantly in high demand. In order to avoid endangering the critical care of existing TCWR animals, the rescue of a big cat cannot always be done, and therefore a waiting list has become a necessity.

When it is possible to rescue a cat, each situation will present its own unique set of circumstances that help us to determine the best course of action for animal care: What is the medical condition of the animal? How will we travel with them? Where will we put them once they arrive at the Refuge? Will the animal load onto the rescue trailer willingly, or will we need to use a sedative?

Prior to being transported to Turpentine Creek, the animals are first examined by a veterinarian at their original location. When it is determined that the animal is healthy enough to travel, the process of loading them onto a rescue trailer takes place. Loading a cat could take 30 minutes or it could take several hours, depending primarily on the location of the cat, and the cat’s temperament. Once having arrived at TCWR, the rescued cat is then evaluated by our own veterinarian. At this time, they will be provided with any additional medical attention determined necessary and then quarantined for four to six weeks before being integrated into the existing population. The Integrations of new habitat mates are undertaken over a period of weeks and sometimes months before the animals are allowed to be housed with one another. Often, there will be a need to re-arrange the living spaces of existing animals, and the construction of additional housing becomes a necessity as well.

Each of these circumstances needed to be addressed in order to ensure optimal animal care comes with its own financial strain. Because of the financial magnitude involved in rescuing and housing exotic animals, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge depends heavily on donor support.

Spay and Neuter Policy

To date, there are more big cats in captivity than there are in the wild. According to an article published by the World Wildlife Fund, “one of the world’s largest populations of tigers exists not in the wild –but in captivity in the United States. With an estimated 7,000 – 10,000 tigers, the U.S. captive tiger population exceeds the approximately 3,890 tigers in the wild” (“More Tigers in American Backyards than in the Wild,” 2014). Because of the astonishing number of captive-bred big cats, and because of the need to allow space for big cats in need of sanctuary, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge does not permit breeding of any kind. Captive breeding, in part, is the problem, and therefore we make it a point to spay or neuter whenever necessary. All males are either neutered immediately upon arrival, placed alone, or placed with other males. If any of the cats are rescued with a mate, they are placed with one another after the male cat has been neutered. If a female cat arrives at the Refuge pregnant, the pregnancy is permitted to come to full term, and at the appropriate age, male cubs are also neutered.

Veterinary Care and Procedures

In August of 2016, after endless amounts of hard work and with the tremendous support of our donors, TCWR opened its first onsite veterinary clinic. We especially would like to thank the following donors who gave above and beyond to ensure the success of this great endeavor:

David R. Rodgers, Scott and Vicki James, Bill and Nancy Silvers, Fred and Sherry Sieber, Jim and Candy Trogolo, In Memory of Margarite Borchardt, Terry J. and Janeen McGuire, Martha L. Foster, James and Barbara Goldsmith, Beverly Staedke, Mass Medical Storage, Maggie Whitt, K. Vasudevan, The Farrell Foundation, Mari and Arnold Fagin, Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, Amy Patterson, Idexx Laboratories, Oak View Animal Clinic – Dr. Karen Sherman, In Memory of Dianna Powers, In Honor of Joann and Gus Ortiz, and Holloway Construction, Inc.,

The Jackson Memorial Veterinary Hospital is a fully equipped clinic, that allows us to perform all necessary medical procedures, including testing blood samples, performing x-rays, surgical procedures, and a recovery station furnished with camera monitoring to enable 24-hour-care, and heated floors.

All animals at TCWR are tranquilized for routine onsite veterinary visits. These visits involve an array of medical procedures, including but not limited to: neutering, tooth extraction, and ingrown claw removal. Periodically, more extensive care or life-saving medical procedures are deemed necessary, requiring transport to the Jackson Memorial Veterinary Hospital.

Behavioral Management Program

In January of 2016, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge hosted a Behavioral Management and Operant Conditioning Workshop in which seven professional from five different zoos shared their unique knowledge and expertise with TCWR Animal Care Staff. During the weekend training event, we discussed and conducted multiple, species-specific, operant conditioning techniques in an effort to ultimately develop an internal behavioral management program at TCWR.

TCWR uses a bridge and reward training method. The desired behavior is coupled with a reward (food) using a high-pitched whistle called a “bridge.” It is called a bridge because it connects the behavior with the treat –whenever the whistle is heard the animal anticipates the reward, creating a sense of excitement and reinforcing the desired behavior.

Animal Husbandry involves the tasks performed in order to ensure the emotional and physical health of animals in captivity and is an incredibly important aspect of sanctuary life. Therefore, the purpose behind the behavioral management program is two-fold. First, this form of animal husbandry allows TCWR’s animal care staff to encourage the animals to partake in enrichment activities –helping to prevent boredom and stress. And secondly, it allows for animal care staff to address health issues or perform routine medical check-ups without the use of sedatives.

For example, in the past, if we noticed a tiger limping we would need to sedate them in order to find out what the issue was. Now, however, we are able to give verbal cues instructing the tiger to press their paw up against the habitat wall so we can do a check for injury. It also helps when familiarizing our smaller animals with syringes.

As this operant conditioning is used to decrease stress levels, we never force animals to participate in the training, and only positive reinforcement is used.

The process is proving to have an encouraging effect on our animal residents and we hope to introduce many more to the program in the future. We encourage visitors and supporters to experience this highly educational opportunity. Training with participating animals can currently be seen every day after the 4:00 pm Guided Habitat Tour in the Discovery Tour section of the Refuge.

Extreme Weather Conditions

In order to combat the detrimental effects of extreme weather, each habitat is equipped with tools necessary to help regulate the temperatures of the animals living in them. During the hot summer months, a combination of swimming pools, mist systems, and water baths are provided for the animals. Additionally, each animal at the Refuge has access to shaded areas at all times –shade can be provided through actual shade clothes, trees, large habitat benches, and cement dens. These cement dens provide not only insulation from the weather but also a safe, secluded place for privacy.

During extremely cold weather, the animals that require extra insulation are provided straw and blankets in their dens. For those animals who cannot tolerate the extreme cold, namely caracals and servals, space heaters are strategically placed outside of their dens to create more warmth. Our leopard habitat, opened in July of 2010, includes a heated building for the comfort of the animals living.

In 2010, TCWR with the University of Arkansas’ engineering department came up with a prototype of a heating pad that would be placed on the floor of each den. We placed one in the den of an arthritic lion, and it helped her immensely. The cost of adding a heating pad to each den would be an estimated  $750.00 and would ultimately help save on our electric bill. If you are interested in funding a heating pad, please see our “Support Us” page for further details.

Daily Care

No matter the weather,

  • All cages and habitat areas are cleaned daily. Animals are fed daily according to their dietary needs.
  • Water dishes are cleaned and filled three times daily.
  • Animals are routinely checked for indications of impending health problems, i.e. lethargy, lack of appetite, change in stool consistency, or changes in behavior.

General Safety

Because safety for the animals, staff, and visitors is paramount, stringent policies and procedures have been developed and are enforced every day. Some of these policies include:

  • Staff members do not physically enter habitats of cats unless the animal in question is sedated.
  • Guests are not permitted to physically engage with the animals.
  • There is no smoking.
  • Pets are not permitted in the habitat area.
  • Children must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
  • Keys to habitats are limited to a few individuals.
  • Prior to entering a habitat, a minimum of two separate checks to verify that the animal is safely locked in its night house occur.
  • When leaving a habitat there are procedures to ensure that each habitat is properly secured.
  • All animals are fed, medicated, cleaned, and attended to from the outside of their habitats.
  • At all times, guests are separated by a barrier fence that is approximately 5 feet away from the habitat wall.
  • There is a 1:20 ratio of staff to guests at all times.
  • During inclement weather and in the evenings, animals are placed in a roofed night house that is cemented into the ground.
  • Protocols are in place in cases of emergency. Drills to review these protocols take place once every quarter to guarantee appropriate response time.
  • All members of staff carry radios to allow for the most efficient and timely communication.

Enrichment Play

Taking place on a 5-day rotation and on birthdays, enrichment activities at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge are used to help improve the quality of life of all of the animal residents. Providing a diversity of activity not only helps to prevent boredom, it also enables Turpentine Creek’s 100+ animals to partake in behaviors that they would experience in the wild. From swimming in their pools, stalking and tearing up cardboard creations, chewing on and scratching donated Christmas trees and pumpkins, to exploring the scents of Calvin Klein, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, and other donated perfumes –enrichment play is fun for everyone at the Refuge. If you would like to donate toward this initiative, these are some of the hotter items:

  • Boomer Balls
  • Pumpkins
  • Retired Christmas Trees
  • Bowling Balls
  • Perfume
  • Boxes