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

You can also learn about these zoonotic diseases and more on the CDC website at

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!

DJ and T Grant

DJ & T Foundation Awards Grant

$100,000 Grant for Animal Medical Needs

April 30, 2019

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR) has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the DJ & T Foundation. The funds will be used for the sanctuary’s veterinary care program.

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge will celebrate their 27th year in existence May 1. The organization’s mission focuses on providing a lifetime home for abused and neglected big cats, though they frequently take in bears.

In 2016, at the height of the TCWR’s largest rescue to-date, “The Colorado Project,” construction continued on an on-site veterinary hospital to reduce the risks associated with anesthetizing and transporting animals 48 miles round-trip for medical treatment. In 2018, the refuge hired its first on-site veterinarian to provide an even higher standard of care to their 95 animal residents.

The DJ & T Foundation, established in 1995, focuses on animal welfare. They played a vital role in TCWR’s aforementioned Colorado Project through grant funding. Their support allowed TCWR to purchase the Colorado property, which was required for the sanctuary to begin facilitating the removal of 115 animals residing in deplorable conditions at the facility. The 2016 grant also funded staffing to carry out the 6-month undertaking of rescuing, rehoming and transporting animals from the Colorado property to reputable sanctuaries nation-wide.

TCWR would like to publically thank the DJ & T Foundation for their past and current support.

“So many of these animals have very specific needs from their years of abuse and neglect before their rescue. To be able to stock our veterinary hospital with medication and equipment that will allow them to live longer, pain-free lives is a blessing for them and for all of us who care for them. We can’t thank the DJ & T Foundation enough,” said TCWR President, Tanya Smith.

Cats At The Castle 2019

8th Annual Event Recap

April 30, 2019

This year we celebrated Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge’s 27th Anniversary while hosting our 8th Annual Cats at the Castle Fundraiser. We set a goal of $27,000 to commemorate our 27 years of rescuing animals in need and thanks to our amazing supporters we surpassed it raising $34,822 in a single night! Our guests arrived at Castle Rogue’s Manor to the theme of “Hakuna Matata” for a fun-filled evening of fine dining, cocktails, music and giving for the animals!

Guests enjoyed live entertainment by Eureka Music Revival, delicious food catered by Victor Smith’s Catered Creations, silent and live auctions, a raffle, and presentations about our future endeavors. Guests were able to bid on one-of-a-kind pieces of art, thanks to the Artists and Biologists Unite for Nature Group (ABUN). This group consists of over 800 artists from around the world that want to make a difference for nonprofits in need, and they created breathtaking art of our animal residents.

We had an overabundance of amazing artwork, so much so that we couldn’t fit it all in the limited space available at Castle Rogues Manor. Because of this, we have decided to offer an online auction with some of the remaining pieces of artwork! On May 10, 2019, we invite all our supporters to join us for a fun online event that will allow you to own your own little bit of beautiful TCWR inspired artwork donated from ABUN and other local artists!

This is an extension of our Cats at the Castle event and has been requested by many supporters for years. We are excited to offer our online Cats at the Castle auction and hope many of our supporters will be able to join us. hWe will be posting further details about the event and items over the next few days on our social media. Please visit our Facebook event page for updates.

Exotic Pet Trade

And The Internet

April 25, 2019

“I want a pet (insert exotic animal here).” This statement commonly comes along with a video of an animal doing something cute or unusual. Even though the person sharing will probably not act on the desire to own one, there are people who will and with the internet it is very easily done. 

The term exotic can refer to a wild animal or one that is more unusual than a standard dog or cat. The Internet has given mediums the ability to communicate and create connections around the globe.  Due to the popularity of e-commerce and social media websites, unique animals have increased in demand. Millions of people visit social media every day and many posts can become viral, especially ones with tigers, primates, and other wild animals as the main characters. These websites not only give owners a platform to share and show off, but it provides an easy way to advertise the sale of live animals with little or no concern about getting in trouble. Because there is weak enforcement, the trade of these animals is not buried in the “dark web.”

A study in 2016 found over 3,706 exotic animals listed for sale online in a span of three months. The animal species listed consisted of primates, exotic cats, canids, snakes, and many others. Some of the exotic animals sold as pets are bred in captivity but there are countless taken from the wild.  Once the animals are captured they may be used in breeding operations, sold locally, smuggle out of the country, or intentionally mislabeled as captive bred and exported legally. Some of the trade is legal, but many of the animals are captured illegally to supply the demand for exotic pets. Exotic pet breeders will produce babies for profit as juvenile animals are the most popular. The sale of live animals adds to a major part of the illegal wildlife trade, a multibillion-dollar black market. This trade is the 4th largest illegal trade globally worth around $20 billion USD annually. 

Exotic pets often suffer abuse and neglect including removal from mother at a young age, inadequate food, housing, and socialization, as well as other forms of neglect. The exotic pet trade is causing wild animal populations to decline at a devastating rate. The next time you see a video of a wild animal as a pet, think twice before clicking share to help protect and save wildlife.  

Written By Education Intern Abby Hickam

Things That Climb

Temperatures, Bears, and Calorie Intakes

Similar to many of us after we awaken from a nap that was longer than we intended, our bear residents have risen from their winter slumbers and have one thing on their mind: FOOD!

Aside from preferring all of their meat uncooked, their diets aren’t that different than ours. They share our cravings for salty popcorn, cereal, a nice slice of bread and especially peanut butter! And yes, the old cliché is true- bears love honey! Don’t worry, it’s not all carbs and sugar in their food dishes; they also get healthy servings of oats, fruits and veggies.

How we feed our bear residents and the amount they consume varies by season and activity level. In the Winter, they spend most of their time snoozing and their movements are lethargic. Since they are doing less, their bodies don’t require as much fuel. They are also uninterested in any type of fun food enrichment, but when the weather changes, so does everything else!

Once Spring hits, our bear residents’ calorie intakes begin to climb and peaks during the Summer. They are up, they are moving, they are hungry, and they are also very bored! Bears are the toddlers of the Refuge world; they are curious and require constant and ever-changing amusement lest they get destructive or worse, come down with a case of the “blahs.” Thankfully, we can sneak extra enrichment into mealtimes by changing up the way they are fed.

When possible, we skip the boring dinner trays for options that require a bit more thinking and activity. Scatter-feeding is a Turpentine Creek bear favorite; before their morning release, we will literally scatter fruits and veggies throughout their habitats. Our animal care team gets creative by erecting crazy toy-and-food towers. Hiding breakfast underneath and on top of objects in the enclosure encourages the natural bear behavior of foraging, which provides positive physical and mental stimulation.  Other forms of food enrichment include peanut-butter covered sticks and fruitcicles, which are literally blocks of ice with various fruits frozen inside.

Our bear residents require wild amounts of food during the warmer months. In the Summer, they can devour up to 15 pounds of chicken and 20 pounds of produce a day! Thankfully, our friends at Tyson Foods provide our animal residents with plenty of meat, but finding enough good-quality produce to fill the sometimes 1,000 pounds we feed a week is a bit trickier and highly costly. A donation of $14.25 to our Food Fund would provide a day’s worth produce for one of our 12 bear residents and leave you deserving of a giant bear hug (delivered via human) on your next visit to the Refuge.

NWA Gives Countdown

One Week To Go!

March 28, 2019

Northwest Arkansas Gives Day is only one week away! Thursday, April 4, from 8 AM – 8 PM will be a day full of felines and online “FUN”draising for our animal residents.

Floyd has become our spokes-cat for this campaign, partially because he takes a dashing picture but mainly because of his story. He was part of a six-tiger rescue we conducted in early January. All were suffering from obesity and genetic health issues; one tiger, Diesel, was diagnosed with a pre-existing case of feline infectious anemia and could not be saved despite the best efforts of our team.

Floyd and his friends were survivors of the cub petting industry. Once they surpassed the legal age to be handled, they were set to be destroyed, but the facility we obtained them from took them in before their fate was sealed. When that facility was set to close, we were contacted to provide a home for the displaced tigers.

Floyd was previously diagnosed with Metabolic Bone Disease and physical deformities in his limbs. The first several weeks of his time at the Refuge, he sought solace in his den and only emerged to provide hissy admonishment to those who were caring for him. He was scared. He was in pain. He was lost.

Aside from the quick implementation of pain management for Floyd, the process of making him comfortable largely consisted of giving him space and allowing him to ease into Refuge life at his own pace. For the first time, he had no job duties or expectations- he was simply allowed to be a tiger, and it made a world of difference.

Floyd’s personality has since blossomed and allowed us to truly get to know him. He enjoys sunning himself in the grass, napping under his log, and is especially fond of cedar tree enrichment. When he lets out one of his deep, “electronic” sounding chuffs, his eyes get huge and his forehead skyrockets upward. He has even been spotted rolling on his back- the ultimate sign of trust and peace for a large carnivore whose bellies are a vulnerable spot.

TCWR’s work not only centers around providing a lifetime, high-quality sanctuary for survivors of the Exotic Pet Trade, but also educating the public so they can help us advocate for laws to promote a safer, healthier future for big cats in captivity and eventually end the Trade. Your donation on NWA Gives Day will allow us to care for our current animal residents, the majority of whom mimic Floyd’s need for specialized care (medications, diets, and routine exams), while working towards a tomorrow where others are not abused and exploited in the name of profit.

We are asking all of our supporters to donate at least $1 between the hours of 8 AM and 8 PM on Thursday, April 4, to help us reach our goal of $21,000. We will be doing giveaways and fun live videos on our social media pages as we celebrate saving lives.

For more information about NWA Gives Day please visit:

ON April 4th you can donate on the NWA Gives page – to count towards the bonus dollars that are available – or you can donate through our Facebook page, Donation Page, over the phone, or in the mail.

First Day Of Spring

Un‘bear‘able Fun At TCWR

March 20, 2019

Today marks the first official day of Spring in the Ozarks, and our bear residents are slowly awakening from their winter sleep! While cold weather made them drowsy, we haven’t been seeing much of them on warm days because they still have their winter coats, which means they get hot easily. Large bears, like our grizzly, Bam Bam, and Russian Brown Bear, Huggy, have been hiding out from the “heat” while smaller black bears, Holli, Lolli, Xena, and Koda G., have been more tolerant of it.

The creation of our new bear habitats, which officially opened in late October, has given us the exciting opportunity to see how our bear residents might behave in a more natural environment. Bears born in captivity, like those mentioned above, have been in or out based on their size and coat thickness. Popper, a black bear who grew up in the wild, has been behaving a bit differently, as predicted.

Unlike the other bears who were introduced to the new habitat, Popper quickly set to work crafting a nest for the winter, where she has spent most of her time. She has emerged on nice days to sun herself or relax in the shade but later retreated to her nest. Though her behavior almost completely mirrors that of an independent wild bear, she is not too good to occasionally accept goodies from our animal care team.

As winter departs and the greenery that comes with spring returns, we are excited to observe how the bears who reside in this habitat behave, especially Popper! She has already demonstrated an ability to forage for food, and we are curious to see if her habitat mates catch on (though we will continue to provide everyone with food whether they do or not).

You can visit our new bear enclosures by taking an exclusive tour. We can’t wait for you to enjoy this beautiful weather with us!

Spring Break

Feline Fun at Turpentine Creek

March 12, 2018

Planning your pre-summer vacation can be stressful, but including TCWR in your travel plans is a choice that won’t “Spring Break” your heart! As an ethical tourism destination, you can feel good knowing that your visit to the Refuge is making a difference in the lives of Exotic Pet Trade survivors…while being just plain fun! In addition to normal tours (our trolley is also up and running again!), we have plenty of other feline-fantastic ways to spend a day or two getting to know our animal residents while taking in quality time with the humans you love:

  • March 23rd, attend our 29th Annual “Art With An Altitude” Kite Festival! This event is free, family-friendly and full of “high-flying fun.”
  • Consider spending part of your spring break volunteering to help at the refuge, it is a great way to give back and have fun!
  • Our Education Department is offering age-inclusive programs and activities! Click here to see the full schedule and descriptions.
  • Even if you miss out in March, it’s never too early to book your Summer/Fall stay in one of our lodging accommodations.
  • Stay after the 4 PM tour to see our Behavioral Management Program, which provides extra enrichment for our animal residents by engaging them in an activity that is physically and mentally enticing while also allowing us to do routine medical check-ups and address certain health issues from outside the fence without having to use sedation.

Our big cats love the springtime! New scents, warmer weather, and plenty of puddles to play in. Spring also means that our bears are starting to come out of their ‘long winter’s nap’ and get more active. This is the ‘purrfect’ season to plan a visit to Turpentine Creek.

Remember: most of our animal residents feel frisky in the Springtime, but on hot days, it’s usually best to visit first thing in the morning or later in the evening when the weather is cooler. Since they can’t ditch their fur coats, heat can make them lethargic and seek the cool comfort of their dens.

We hope your visit to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge leaves you with some wonderful memories and a little spring in your step! Spending a day at Turpentine Creek is a fun way to help the animal residents. Plan your spring break visit to TCWR today! And if you cannot make it for a visit this year, please consider donating the cost of entry to help the animals. 

University of Texas students opted to spend their spring break at TCWR volunteering. This is called ‘alternative spring break’ and a great way to give back while having fun!