Category Archives: Education

Endangered Species Day

Raising Awareness

May 18, 2018

The problem with endangered species is how they become endangered in the first place. There are many, but two main reasons animals are disappearing from the Earth: loss of habitat and loss of genetic variation. But why do endangered species matter to us? Extinction is a natural process, and history has shown “normal” rates to be between 1-2 species per year. Currently, the rate of extinction is estimated to be 1000-10,000 times this rate. This is due to human causes, and we are entering a new epoch in time: The Anthropocene: where our geological footprint will forever be engrained in the history and geological records of our planet.

Endangered species are defined as a group of organisms that are at risk of becoming extinct due to habitat loss, alteration of ecological roles, or too few remaining individuals to sustain breeding of the species. Habitat loss due to human activity, cutting down forests for agriculture, draining coastal marshlands, as well as pesticides and chemical alterations to our landscapes have destroyed both the habitat and food supply for life on Earth. Pollution, overexploitation, population growth, and commercialized farming are also culprits to the rapid endangerment of our wildlife.

We are all dependent on the health of the natural world to survive by its provisions such as clean air, water, and food. Many species today are in extreme danger of disappearing forever due to our choices. We must protect the fragile Earth by making better decisions about what we choose to consume. By purchasing sustainably made products and lessening our personal impacts on the environment, we can each individually make a difference.

List of Endangered Big Cats

Critically Endangered

  • West African Lion
  • South China Tiger
  • Sumatran Tiger Amur Leopard
  • Javan Leopard
  • South Arabian Leopard
  • Asiatic Cheetah

Endangered

  • Central Asian Leopard
  • North Persian Leopard
  • Persian Leopard
  • West Asian Leopard
  • Sri Lankan Leopard
  • Asiatic Lion
  • Snow Leopard
  • Tiger
  • Amur Tiger
  • Indochinese Tiger
  • Malayan Tiger
  • Bengal Tiger

Critically Endangered

  • Iberian Lynx
  • Iriomote Cat

Endangered

  • Fishing Cat
  • Flat-headed Cat
  • Scottish Wildcat

Trophy Hunting

The Reality of Canned Hunting

April 30, 2018

In the early 1900’s, around 200,000 African lions roamed the entire country, the king of the savannah and of beasts. In 2015, it was estimated that only roughly 20,000 wild lions were left in fragmented subpopulations, losing 43% of this population in only two decades (21 years). (Panthera Beyond Cecil: Africa’s Lions in Crisis 1). It is also estimated that 60% of the lion populations in West, Central, and East Africa have declined by 60%. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, lion populations are declared vulnerable, although with fragmented populations, the subspecies Panthera leo leo is critically endangered in West Africa, and Endangered in India.

With the consistent decline of wild lions in Africa, why is there still an ever-pressing desire and demand for game hunts of this vulnerable species?

A canned hunt refers to the shooting of an exotic animal on a game farm or hunting ranch for a guaranteed kill. The animals are sourced from breeding farms that raise cubs from birth, that are typically used in a pay-to-play or cub petting scheme when they are young for extra profit. Once they are big enough to be considered a trophy, they are sold to hunters and shot within the confines of the ranch. These animals have been hand raised by humans, only to be killed where they were raised for a plaque on a wall.

Hunters prefer hand raised animals because they are not afraid of humans and are much easier to shoot. They are also more aesthetically pleasing because they have not had to fend for themselves in the wild. Canned hunted animals come from roadside zoos, backyard breeders, and were once considered someone’s pet. The hunt is conducted in a small enclosure coining the term “canned”, because it is just as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. There is a guaranteed kill, and breeders hand rear animals to ensure they are not afraid of people.

Facilities that raise big cats and other exotic animals for canned hunting usually claim that they are raising the cubs for conservation purposes, and will help wild populations thrive. They will tell stories of orphaned cubs, and coax volunteers and patrons into donating their time and money to help raise the animals. The general public is easily convinced that what they are doing is truly helping the animals have a better life. But the reality is that captive-bred animals cannot be released into the wild due to their negligent breeding, habituation to people, and lack of natural skills to survive on their own. Once they are born into a captive setting, their fate is sealed and can never live wild and free. Babies are almost always prematurely taken from their mothers so they can continue to reproduce. Breeding wild animals in captivity does not help sustain wild populations.

Texas has a lucrative canned hunting industry, with the state being home to approximately 4,000 tigers, more than the 3,820 that are declining in the wild. There are 500 hunting ranches in the state that allow “exotic animal hunts”, and is substantially growing into a multi-billion-dollar industry. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are over 1,000 exotic hunting ranches in approximately 23 states (“Spreading Like a Disease”).

South Africa is also famously known for their canned hunting opportunities, which legally allow the commercial farming and hunting of captive lions. With roughly 160 lion farms within the country, the industry continues to thrive. There are 2,000 lions that roam wild and free in South Africa, but over 5,000 that are held on hunting ranches for this booming hunting business.

Many ranch owners claim to not allow canned hunts on their property but continue to breed lions to fuel canned hunting. They simply sell their lions to other places that perform canned hunts, so they cannot be held responsible for what happens to their lions once they leave the property. They breed for specific traits such as dark manes or white lions because they are more desirable. This causes extreme inbreeding due to the selection of specific traits.

There is a lot of money to be made in this industry, and the animals are treated as a commodity, not a living being. A canned hunt for a trophy lion can make upwards of $50,000. Around 1,000 lions are shot and killed each year in South Africa. Because of the riches that can be made off of lions in captivity, and lack of strict regulation of the trade, the business continues to grow every year.

Unfortunately, other ecotourism opportunities such as lion or cheetah walks are hurting the animals’ conservation efforts as well. Many tourists pay very little to go on a leisure stroll with an exotic cat. Captive bred big cats are heavily exploited for this industry and are never allowed to live a normal life. Some animal welfare activists argue that a live animal is better than a dead one, although public interactions with big cats continues to fuel the captive breeding industry. A dark reality for such a glorified and sought after personal experience. Being able to walk around with and touch a lion is not worth its entire life being trapped in captivity, and prohibiting it from being wild and free.

Due to the declining number of tigers to fuel the Asiatic industry of tiger bone wine, the illegal wildlife industry is turning to the heavy populations of lions to create this pseudo-medicine. Lions that are sold off into the black market are not well taken care of because they are being slaughtered for their bones. Lions that are sold to the canned hunting trade have to maintain a certain level of animal welfare so they are aesthetically pleasing. Lions are worth more dead than alive, whether they are being shot and killed by wealthy hunters or slaughtered for their body parts.

To ensure a bright future for Panthera leo, education and awareness is key in order to take action against the canned hunting and captive breeding industry. The value of a dollar has to be less important than an animal’s life, and there should be no reason why an apex predator should be shot and killed for sport. By supporting the ban on canned hunting and speaking up against the sport, a true difference can be made for these animals. Speak up and be a voice for animals that do not have one. The more people that reach out to the government and do not accept the industry, the more pressure they will have to stop it. Demand a nationwide ban on canned hunting. Do not support places that breed wild animals in captivity for exploitation. Share what you have learned! Together a difference can be made, and it will not happen without a fight.

Resources for How You Can Help:

Videos:

Sources:

  1. Barkham, Patrick. “Canned Hunting: the lions bred for slaughter” 3 June 2013. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jun/03/canned-hunting-lions-bred-slaughter
  2. “Canned Hunting”. Four Paws.  http://www.four-paws.us/campaigns/wild-animals-/canned-hunting/
  3. “Canned Hunting”. Big Cat Rescuehttps://bigcatrescue.org/abuse-issues/issues/canned-hunting/
  4. Nowak, Katarzyna. “The End of ‘Canned’ Lion Hunting May Be in Sight” 11 March 2016. National Geographic. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/140311-trophy-hunting-blood-lions-south-africa-conservation-captive-breeding/
  5. “CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting) is a global NGO dedicated to eradicating the practice of canned lion hunting, and its spin-offs”. Campaign Against Canned Huntinghttp://www.cannedlion.org/
  6. “Canned Hunting”. Peta.  https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/cruel-sports/hunting/canned-hunting/
  7. “Spreading Like a Disease”. Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation. http://wildlife-rescue.org/services/advocacy/canned-hunts/
  8. “Captive Hunts”. Humane Society of the United Stateshttp://www.humanesociety.org/issues/captive_hunts/?credit=web_id65489429

Blog Written By Education Intern Hannah Wherry

Summer Kids Day Camp

Inspiring The Next Generation of Keepers

April 23, 2018

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge would like to invite our younger supporters to join us this summer for a few fun-filled days at our first ever Summer Day Camps! We will be offering four summer day camps in the months of June and July. Two camps will be for kids between the ages of 6-8 and two camps will be for kids between the ages of 9-12.

Our day camp cubs will be participating in 3 days of educational fun at the refuge. They will get the chance to explore their wild side, learn about wildlife, participate in games, activities, crafts, and more! Kids can participate in both of their age group day camps because each day camp is different!

Cubs ages 6-8 years old can join us June 6-8 for our Exploring Your Wild Side Day Camp or July 11-13 for our Wildlife Adventure Day Camp. Cubs ages 9-12 can join us June 27-29 for our Wildlife Adventure Day Camp or July 25-27 for our Explore Your Wild Side Day Camp. Space is limited for all day camps. Only 12 campers can participate in each camp, so make sure you sign your cub up today while there is still space!

You can learn more about each of our day camps, how many spots are still available in our education section of the website or by clicking the link here. 

Our new educational department, headed by Beckie Moore our own Education Coordinator and Wildlife Interpreter, has been working hard to make our visitor experience more robust and educational. Day camps are just one of the many ways that the Education Department is working to bring more fun and educational activities to our supporters.

Sign your child up today, while there is still space available!

Wild About Earth Day

Celebrating Earth Day With TCWR

April 13, 2018

Come join the TCWR staff and animals this Sunday, April 22 as people around the world celebrate Earth Day!  Take part in our free Wild About Earth Day educational sessions offered throughout the day.  What better way to honor the preservation of our planet and all living things than by helping the majestic animals at our sanctuary with your visit?

Earth Day has become the largest non-religious observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people each year; a day of action that changes the behavior of people and organizations and brings about changes in policy.  The fight for a clean environment has become even more urgent as the ravages of climate change become more apparent daily with diminishing forests, air pollution, water pollution, and shrinking critical wildlife habitats.

Champions of wildlife like world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall stress how important it is to inspire our children to become environmentalists and urge them to find a cause, join with friends to create a stir, no matter how big or small—together we can make a difference!

Here at Turpentine Creek, our education program offers classes throughout the day on April 22 to encourage people young and old to become environmentalists and explain how easy it can be to adopt sustainable behavior with our Wild About Earth Day programs:

  • Plastic in the food chain –  11:30a.m.

Everything in an ecosystem is interconnected and the ocean plays a vital role in the food web. When an ecosystem is polluted with plastic, the system becomes imbalanced and can cause extreme consequences for the entire world, not just the ocean. By learning about the problems associated with plastic pollution, we can come up with solutions to protect ourselves and the environment.

  • How long does it take? – 12:40p.m.

Wildlife everywhere are in danger due to trash in our environment. Whether it is something small like a straw or something larger such as a tire, trash is hurting our wildlife. Join Wildlife Interpreter Beckie as we discover how long certain items stay in the environment and how you can help wildlife by reducing, reusing, and recycling.

  • Saving the richest places on Earth –  2:20

The most wildlife abundant places on Earth are also the most threatened. Humans depend on this biodiversity to survive. Join us at TCWR to learn about the richest places on the planet, and why we need to protect them. 

  • Pollution Solution – 3:40

Earth provides everything that we need to survive, so it is our duty as humans to make sure we help and protect our planet for ourselves and every living species that we share Earth with. Join Wildlife Interpreter Beckie as we discover how we can help Earth and its residents every day in this family fun activity.

Note:   All programs will be held behind the gift shop except Saving the Richest Places on Earth, which will be located at the bobcat habitat.

Check out our website for full calendar and details of each presentation under our Education tab for one which can help you reach your own goals in becoming an environmentalist!  Learn more about these magnificent big cats, bears and other exotic species, how you can make a difference in their lives and join other advocates to preserve these species in the wild as well as sustain our environment for future generations.

Blog Written By Stewardship Intern Sandra Ames

The Reality Of White Tigers

Genetic Mutations

April 3, 2018

White tigers are not albino, a different subspecies of tiger such as a snow, arctic, or Royal Bengal white tiger. There are currently no white tigers in the wild. Color morphs are typically associated with rarity and separate endangered species, which is not the case for white tigers. They possess a double recessive gene that expresses a white coat, and roughly 1/10,000 tigers have this rare allele. With only 3,820 tigers currently in the wild, it is extremely unlikely one will be born. If so, white color is a disadvantage since they do not have their camouflage, and would not survive.

In the 1950’s a Bengal white tiger cub was found in India and taken out of the wild to breed in zoos within the United States. They found that only if they bred this tiger back to his daughter, more white tigers would be born.

In order to isolate this gene, exploiters have to inbreed white tigers, meaning brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, as well as mothers and sons are bred to create white coats. By breeding together relatives, there is a greater chance that tigers will be born white and maximize profits. People pay top dollar to view white tigers and use them for entertainment, so breeders do not care about the massive amounts of health issues caused by inbreeding. Inbreeding causes extreme health issues in any breed of animal, and white tigers are no exception.

Severe inbreeding causes dangerous deleterious health issues in tigers such as abnormal external and internal conditions and characteristics. These health issues often compromise the welfare and health of the animal and result in death. It is estimated that only 1/30 white tigers that are born are aesthetically pleasing enough to survive. 29/30 cubs are born with such severe health defects that they are euthanized since they cannot be sold for profit. 80% of tigers born due to inbreeding die due to debilitating health defects.

The white tiger gene is associated with the optic nerve wiring to the opposite side of the brain, causing them to be cross eyed and have terrible vision. This disability creates a more desired animal since they become more dependent on humans to see. They suffer from clubfeet, spinal deformities, defective organs, and cleft palates. The majority of white tigers also have mental impairments, making them easier to manipulate and exploit.

White tiger mothers do not always give birth to white cubs, they can also be born orange. Only ¼ of tiger cubs are actually born white. They are considered “throw away tigers” in the trade and are killed because they are not white. The orange babies still suffer all of the health defects but are not worth any money due to the color of their coat.

The reason why white tigers are continued to be carelessly bred is that the general public will pay money to view white tigers, hold their babies, and keep them as pets. They serve no conservation value and only exist because humans think they are beautiful and are exploited for economic gain.

By choosing to not patronize facilities that breed white tigers, allow cub petting, use them for entertainment, or keep them for personal pets is the best way to protect them.

Any credible facility will not endorse the breeding of white tigers, and work to educate the world on why they exist. The American Zoological Association (AZA) banned the breeding of white tigers in 2008, and explain that intentional inbreeding causes “…abnormal, debilitating, and at times, lethal, external and internal conditions and characteristics”, outlined it the paper Welfare and Conservation Implications of Intentional Breeding for the Expression of Rare Recessive Alleles.

Please “Help Us, Help Them!” by not patronizing any entertainment or breeding facility, and speak up against big cat abuse!

Click here to support H.R. 1818 The Big Cat Public Safety Act, to create a federal law against exploiting big cats in captivity.

Blog Written By Education Intern Hannah Wherry

Education Update

Educational Program Launch

March 28, 2018

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge kicked off their new educational programming this month with a variety of hands-on learning activities that focused on an assortment of animal topics. March is always a very busy month for us as the weather warms up and the kids are out for Spring Break. The education department was prepared to provide fun learning activities for guests of all ages. Activities started with World Wildlife Day where visitors discovered the importance of wildlife and how they can help no matter where they live. With programs focused on Biodiversity Hotspots, adaptations, recycling, and much more; visitors were able to have a deeper understanding of how all living things are connected and that we all play a part.

Spring Break was a week full of fun activities every day centered around the wildlife that calls the refuge home. One of the programs; guests discovered animal strength by handling large enrichment toys and experienced how heavy they are for us compared to how easy it is for Tigers to pick them up.  Throughout the month, our education programming allowed guests to discover the refuge in a new way and how to be the voice for all wildlife.

First Snow Of The Season:

A White Tiger Paradise

January 15, 2018

The residents at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge got a special treat this week, the first major snowfall this year. Big cats, especially tigers, absolutely love the snow, it is a new scent, texture, and mental enrichment item that only nature can provide for them. And they are more than prepared to enjoy it. Tigers get an extra thick coat and an extra layer of fat during the winter to keep them nice and warm even during the cool, wet snow season.

Our white and pure white tigers especially seem to enjoy the snow, since this is the only time during the year that they are truly camouflage and can try to sneak up on team members without them noticing (although we do notice them… we just act extra surprised during the snow storms).

White tigers do not often occur in the wild. The last documented wild white tiger was in the 1950’s, and since then all remaining captive white tigers have come from a very small family tree. Officially, all white tigers in American descend from one of two sources. The most well-known line is Mohan, a white tiger captured in the wild in 1951, who was bred with his daughter, Rewa, to produce white cubs. Another American bred white tiger line that may or may not have a relation to Mohani is the Kubla/Susie line which produced Tony and Tony’s cousins Bagheera & Frosty (Susie’s sister’s cub). Kubla’s parents were wild tigers who were brother and sister, and Susie’s parents are not known publicly, so there is no way to know if she is any relation to Mohan.

With only possibly two sources of white tiger blood in the U.S., that means all white tigers are extremely inbred. This inbreeding has lead to many genetic defects such as being cross-eyed, have shortened tendons of the forelegs (Clubfoot), kidney problems, higher rates of cancer, arched or crooked spines, twisted necks, snub/pug nose (like Kenny), cleft pallet, stunted growth, malformed jaws bones, deformed teeth, and many more birth defects. White tigers are extremely unhealthy and should never be bred.

Beyond the white and black color combination, white tigers can also produce ‘pure’ white tigers (white tigers with no or very faint stripes) and strawberry/golden tabby tigers. These color variants come from the white tiger line and are even more recessive than the white coloration.

Although Turpentine Creek is against breeding tigers, especially white tigers, and other big cats in captivity we are home to eleven white tigers, two pure white tigers, and one Golden Tabby tiger, all who were acquired from other facilities through rescues or rehoming efforts. We will not turn an animal away due to their coloration or health issues.

It is only with your help that we can continue to care for the many cats and bears that call our refuge home and fight for the protection of big cats in captivity. Click here to donate now and help us, help them. 

 

Declawing and Defanging

The Painful Lives of “Safe” Big Cats

September 5, 2017

An X-Ray of a declawed cougar’s paw. The joints in their toes fused into a curled position due to arthritis. They also developed a bone growth on their ‘wrist’ from shifting their weight and walking on their wrists instead of their toes.

No big cat is ever safe, even if they have been declawed and defanged. Declawing and defanging are two painful attempts at making a wild animal safe enough to be handled by humans, but nothing can make a dangerous wild animal safe enough to be a pet.

The declawing process removes the last bone at the knuckle on each toe. Cats walk with most of their weight on their toes when you remove the toe it forces them to shift their weight further back on bones and muscles not naturally made for this purpose.

In house cats, declawing increases the likelihood of poor behaviors like not using the litter box correctly, spraying, biting, aggression and later in life arthritis. Big cats have similar behavior problems, but they are garunteed to get arthritist since they are larger and put more weight on their feet.

Another painful risk with declawing is that if they don’t get every little bit of the bone, the claw will attempt to grow back, but not like a normal claw. These claw cunks are deformed and cannot exit the paw. This causes pain and discomfort for the animals. Over all it is a very painful life for any cat, big or small, that is declawed.

Thurston was part of a magic show. The magician declawed and defanged him so that he was ‘safer’ around the public. He will need dental work.

Defanging is another painful process done to many wild animals to try to make them ‘safer.’ Defanging is when the canine teeth are removed. Although big cats chew their food with their back teeth, they still need their front teeth to grip the meat so that they can chew it properly.

Defanging can be done one of two ways, either the teeth could be ground down, leaving the nerves exposed and pockets for rot to happen, or the canines can be pulled out. Most of the time defanging is done by a veterinarian, but in some cases, owners will attempt this process on their own. Teeth that were not removed decay faster making it ever harder for the animal to eat. Most defanged cats have to be put on boneless meat, and then extra calcium supplemented to make up for the lack of bones in their diet.

This was is the case with Vada, a black leopard, whose owner used pliers to remove his teeth so that he could continue to play with him. Vada came to TCWR in a lot of pain. He had to have multiple procedures to fix the damage, but he spent the remainder of his life living an uncomfortable life due to his owner’s desire to make him ‘safe.’

The USDA’s Animal Welfare Act addresses the issue of declawing and defanging big cats and non-human primates, but these procedures are not yet illegal. Until it is made illegal road side zoos, magicians, and pseudo-sanctuaries will continue to inhumanely declaw and defang big cats so that the public can interact with them.

A photo of Vada’s defanged mouth. Vada passed away in 2011.

“Declawing or the removal of the canine teeth (fangs) in wild or exotic carnivores or nonhuman primates are no longer considered to be appropriate veterinary care unless prescribed by the attending veterinarian for treatment of individual medical problems of the paws or teeth. These procedures are no longer deemed to be acceptable when performed solely for handling or husbandry purposes since they can cause considerable pain and discomfort to the animal and may result in chronic health problems. These procedures are no longer allowed under the Animal Welfare Act. This notice is consistent with the current position statement issued by the American Veterinary Medical Association.” – USDA Animal Welfare Act

In the past, declawing was seen as a standard practice, but as more research has been done, the animal care field has found out the poor consequences of these actions. Good rescue facilities are willing to adapt and learn about new standards of animal husbandry. Their goal is to do whatever is in the best interest of the animals in their care. They are willing to change policies and procedures for the betterment of the animals.

Over the 25 years that Turpentine Creek has been open, our policies and procedures have changed. We’ve learned better ways to build habitats, feed, and care for our animals. We’ve evolved and adapted as needed over the years. We do not declaw, defang, or allow hands-on interaction with our animals. For our declawed and defanged animals, we have them in a pain management program to help them live as normal lives as possible. We will continue to learn and grow as long as we are needed making sure what we do is in the best interest of the animals in our care.

Tiger Day

Can We Stop The Countdown?

July 24, 2017

International Tiger Day is this Saturday. Tiger Day, which is celebrated on July 29th every year, is a day set aside to help raise public awareness about the threats that are dwindling the world’s wild tiger population. These magnificent animals are on the brink of extinction and without action, they could be completely extinct in the wild by the time our children are grown.

Below is a timeline of the wild tiger population, where they were in the 1900’s to where they are today:

  • In the 1900’s, wild tiger populations were well over 100,000 but through poaching, habitat loss, trophy hunting, bone wine, “medicinal” use, and other various factors the population had been nearly decimated.
  • By the 1970’s, the population dropped to less than 4,000.
  • In 2010, populations hit an all time low at approximately 3,200 total left in the wild. Through conservation efforts in 2016, we witnessed a slight population increase up to 3,890.

Conservation efforts need to start in the wild. Captive breeding is only a small part of conservation and there are regulated captive breeding programs, such as the Species Survival Plan (SSP), that monitor breeding programs to ensure that the animals involved are of the same subspecies, are not inbred (a common issue with captively bred big cats in the exotic pet trade), and have no major genetic defects.

These efforts in captivity, however, are only secondary measures to guarantee that there will be a viable population of tigers who could be potentially introduced into the wild. But before we can even consider introducing these captive bred populations, we have to first stop the issues that have brought them to near extinction in the first place.

There are a few ways that you and your community can help end the decline of wild tiger populations:

  1. No Palm Oil – Palm oil comes from Sumatra, the destruction of the Palm forest is decreasing habitat for the Sumatran tiger along with other species like the Orangutan. The Cheyenne Zoo has created a phone app you can download to help you identify products that have Palm Oil in them. The app is called Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping.
  2. Speak Up – Let your state and Congressional Representatives know that this is an issue that you are passionate about. Poaching, hunting, and selling these beautiful animals is still a major concern. Remember, they work for you!
  3. Be a Responsible Tourist – Avoid places that breed cubs and pay-to-play schemes.
  4. Spread the Word – Don’t be quiet about your concern. Talk about the issue and help educate everyone about the plight of tigers in the wild and in captivity.