What are your current COVID-19 policies?


  1. We will be offering hourly – 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm & 4pm.
    • Ticket sales are limited for each hourly tour.
    • Due to COVID and the heat we have moved all our tours to open-air tram tours instead of walking at no additional cost.
    • The Discovery Area is an independent walkthrough. The tram portion of our tour lasts 45 minutes to an hour. Make sure to allow time to explore our Discovery Area.
    • Since tour sizes are limited we recommend you pre-purchase tickets before you come to the Refuge.
    • Members should call in advance to reserve their spot on a tour.
    • Walk-ins are welcome, but if the tour is full you will have to wait until the next one or return another day.
  2. Guests can independently tour themselves throughout our Discovery Area to meet the animals, hear their stories, and learn from educational experiences.  Each hour, our guided tram tours depart from the Discovery Area to take guests on an extended experience to additional animal habitats on the property.
  3. Our tours are completely guided from start to finish. Guests will walk down the main part of the discovery area with a guide (minus the Bear tunnel since we cannot social distance in that area) and then load onto the tram to take the rest of the tour.
  4. Masks are highly recommended, but not required. Big Cats can catch COVID so this safety requirement is to protect not only our visitors and team but our animal residents.
  5. We are offering gift shop ‘pickup’ so you can purchase your souvenirs before coming to visit and then pick them up before you leave.
  6. Lodging is available with some restrictions.
  7. You will not be allowed to explore the discovery area on your own
  8. Please listen to your tour guide and stay 12 feet away from our animals – this is to protect them since they can catch COVID from humans. (at this time there is no evidence that you humans can catch COVID from the animals)
  9. We will be monitoring guests for signs of COVID, if you are displaying any symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, etc.) we will ask you to leave. We will be taking temperatures of individuals upon arrival and checking you for symptoms.


When is the best time of year to visit?

Any time of year can be a fun time to visit. The animals are typically the most active in the spring and fall, although some animals like the winter best while others like the summer. In the peak of the summer or the coldest part of winter many animals will opt to stay out of sight, so just keep in mind, if you don’t want to be out they probably won’t be either.

How much time should I plan to spend at the Refuge?

The tram portion of your tour will take 45–60 minutes. We also have a Discovery Area for our visitors to explore to learn about and meet some of our animals.

What does my regular admission cover?

Admission covers entry into the Refuge for the day. This includes your guided tour (approximately 1 hours), leisure time in the Discovery Area, and any additional Educational Activities you wish to participate in.

What does admission go to?

Admission cost helps us care for the animals that call TCWR home. With approximately 100 animals that need daily care, it costs a lot of money to provide them with what they need. Your admissions help us feed, care for, house, and provide medical care for our animals.

Can I bring my pet?

We do not allow pets around the animals. Please do not bring your pets with you to the refuge. Please do not leave your pet in your car during the summer, the temperature in your car can be twice as hot as the outside air. Please leave your pets at home or at your hotel if you come to visit.

Do you still offer Feeding time tours?

No, we no longer do a single feeding time. Now that all our animals are in big, spacious, habitats it is difficult to do it all at once. Also, it can be stressful for the animals and as a rescue it is our duty to minimize stressful situations for our animal residents.

Why do we need to go on a guided tour?

Approximately half of our animals live in the guided tour area. If you do not take a guided tour, you reduce the likelihood of seeing more animals. Guided tours allow us to help educate our visitors about the histories of our animals and the plight of big cats in captivity.

TCWR is accredited by The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). As part of that accreditation and to be considered a true sanctuary, we only allow for guided tours to protect the mental health of the animals in our care.

Can we see all of your animals?

Although the majority of our animals live in our Discovery Area or our guided-tour path we do have some animals that live at Rescue Ridge, which can only be viewed during one of our behind-the-scenes exclusive tours. The animals that live at Rescue Ridge are older or do not like large crowds, this is why we limit access to this area.

What happens if I show up after the last tour leaves?

Our last tour leaves at 4pm in the summer and 3pm in the winter. There is no admittance into the Refuge after the final tour leaves.

Is there any place to eat at Turpentine Creek?

We have a small selection of snacks in the gift shops, and our concession stand (serving chips, hot dogs, nachos, ice cream, etc.) is open seasonally. You are welcome to bring your own snacks and non-alcoholic beverages into the Refuge if you prefer.

Are your facilities ADA Accessible?

We are not ADA accredited as much of our property includes dirt/gravel roads due to our location in the Ozark Mountains and a property designed to house wild animals. We do have walkways that are either concrete, compacted dirt, grass, or asphalt. The Gift Shop, Discovery Area, and path to our Tram Tour are paved for wheelchair and stroller accessibility. Our Bear Tunnel and Lodging areas are not. ADA service animals are allowed at the Refuge but not emotional support animals, comfort animals, or house pets.


Can we play with a cub?

No! Per our GFAS Accreditation, we do not allow interaction with any of our animals, no matter their age. It is not good to handle the animals.; they are large, wild animals and could injure someone. We strongly discourage cub petting and handling because it is detrimental to the health of the young cub, and it just perpetuates the exotic pet trade and the mistreatment of big cats in captivity. To make them ‘tame’ enough to be handled they have to be removed from their mother immediately after birth… which gives them weak immune systems and then they are passed around. Most of them get very ill due to this. Baby animals belong with their parents, just like human babies.

Learn more about the reality of cub petting here.

Can we pet the animals?

No, we are a hands-off facility. Neither our guests nor our staff are permitted to have contact with any of our animals, unless necessary during a medical procedure while the animals are sedated.

Do you have photo opportunities with animals?

No, as a hands-off facility we do not allow the handling of any age animal. We do not encourage hands-on interaction with wild animals. We do allow people to take photos of our animals, but there will always be at least one fence between the camera and our animals.

Do you breed your animals?

No. As an accredited sanctuary, oyour mission is to help animals in need and not to contribute to the overpopulation of captive big cats.

What kind of animals do you rescue?

Our focus is rescuing big cats, which include tigers, lions, leopards, and jaguars. Typically, there are many other species that need rescuing and TCWR provides refuge to cougar, bobcat, African servals, hybrids, black bear, brown bear, and hyena.

Why can't they be released back into the wild?

Big cats born in captivity are not eligible for release into the wild. Inbreeding, hand-rearing, health issues, and other factors make it impossible for our rescued animals to survive in the wild. Some of our animals are native (bobcats, bears, cougars) but lack the survival skills necessary to be released into the wild.  The few rescues we have that were wild-born cannot be released into the wild due to state laws and regulations, along with the danger the present to the general public because they were raised around humans.

When are the animals most active?

Different animals are active at different times. Big cats tend to be most active first thing in the morning and towards the end of the day. This is especially true during the hot seasons. We recommend that during the summer visitors try to come early in the morning or towards the end of the day. Bears are active throughout the day during the warmer months but might not be active at all during the cooler months. We NEVER force our animals to be active, we provide them plenty of shade to enjoy when it is warm, and warm spaces when it is cold. We respect their choice to enjoy the sunny spots or enjoy their dens.

Can we purchase Whiskers? Teeth? Claws?

No, it is illegal to sell any part of a big cat, even if it is naturally lost/shed. Our goal is to protect these animals and the exotic animal part trade is a large factor in why big cats, like tigers, are being poached in the wild.

Do you have any cubs?

No, we are a non-breeding facility. On occasion, we will rescue younger animals but most of the time we aren’t called in to rescue young animals.

Do you declaw/defang your animals?

No, declawing/defanging of animals is cruel and can be detrimental to the health of our animals. We do have some animals that were declawed/defanged by their previous owners and we keep a close eye on their health but we do not support declawing or defanging of big cats or bears.

What do you do with the animals when it is really cold?

We ensure all the animals have warm dens and plenty of warm bedding during the cooler months. Big cats and bears are built to live outside, so they have thick fur to keep them warm. The more exotic species native to warmer environments, the bears, and all of the elderly animals in our care have heated dens or heated indoor housing to keep them extra warmer throughout the winter.

What do you do with the animals when it is really hot?

We provide all of our animals with plenty of shade and water to help them keep cool during the summer months, which the USDA’s APHIS Division also regulates. Each Spring, the water-loving resident animals get access to their own pools to keep cool. Our newest enrichment project is replacing our old tank pools with inground pools in all our habitats that offer easy access. We keep a close eye on our cats to ensure they do not overheat.

Can we stay overnight?

Yes, we have lodging options at the refuge. You can find more information about our rooms, pricing, and availability on our Lodging website.

The Refuge

In the past TCWR used to do some things differently, why did you change?

As a true sanctuary, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is ALWAYS working to continually improve how we care for our animals so that they can live the best lives possible. The scientific community is continually researching the best practices to care for captive animals. Turpentine Creek is leading the ‘pride’ to make sure our animals get the best care possible. YES, we did things differently in the past, but as soon as we are aware of different and better ways to care for our animals we adjust our practices. We continue to learn and change, making sure the animals that call Turpentine Creek home can enjoy the rest of their lives with us.

What is a true sanctuary?

A true sanctuary is a rescue facility that does not buy, sell, breed, or trade any animal. Sanctuaries are a “place of refuge or safety”, providing lifetime care for all the animals rescued. Sanctuaries should also not have any direct contact with the animals unless the animal is sedated for medical procedures.

Find out about some of the female leaders. the Tiger Queens, working to take care of this animals.

What is Behavioral Training?

Our Behavioral Training Program utilizes reward-based operant conditioning to encourage certain basic behaviors in our animals that we can use to perform visual health inspections without causing unnecessary stress on them. The zoo and sanctuary communities have been integrating reward-based training programs into their daily care routines to help make their animals’ lives as stress free as possible. Our ultimate goal is to be able to care for our animals without having to sedate them unless absolutely necessary. Our Behavioral Training Program is not a requirement, our animals can decide if they wish to participate or not, we never force our animals to participate. Behavioral training might not happen every day. If the weather is bad or if other projects/training takes priority, behavioral training might be canceled for the day.

Why do the animals have cement sections of their enclosures?

These night house areas are built for the safety of our animals and staff. These areas are specifically designed to protect our animals from dangerous weather situations, allow for easy sanitation for their eating area, and allow us to secure the animals when we need to enter their habitats to clean them. These areas are only temporary holding areas, all of our animals have access to habitats, where they spend the majority of their time.

Why don't all the animals have in ground pools?

As of May 2021, we are working to put in-ground pools in all habitats! Each pool costs $5,000 to build. You can help us with this project by sponsoring an entire pool (please email sandy@tcwr.org) or by making a partial donation. For partial donations, please go to turpentinecreek.org/support/ & specify “pool fund” in the notes so we know where to designate your contribution. Thank you in advance!

Do you have a veterinarian on staff?

Yes! We have a Veterinarian on staff. Dr. Kellyn Sweeley works part-time at the refuge.

Do you support the breeding of hybrid animals?

No, we do not support the breeding of hybrid wild cats both big and small. Wild animals belong in the wild and hybrid species have no conservation value. Hybrids are solely made to entertain humans. We do, however, rescue hybrids because we believe that they deserve to live their lives without abuse.

Can I Volunteer?

Yes! We have a volunteer program at the refuge. You can apply and find out more information about this program on our Volunteer page. Our volunteers do NOT work with the big cats, we have a full staff of trained animal care that work with our cats and all have degrees in Zoology or Biology.


Do you ever close because of bad weather?

Yes, for the safety of our team and animals we will close during certain weather situations. If it is just rainy or windy we will most likely NOT be closed, but during lightning storms, severe weather warnings, and violent acts of nature we will close to keep our team, animals, and visitors safe.

Some weather conditions that might constitute suspending tours at the Refuge are lightning, tornados, fires, extreme temperatures, blizzards, freezing rain, icy road conditions, and other violent acts of nature. If any of these situations are predicted please check for tour information on our social media accounts or call the refuge at (479) 253-5841 to double-check.

View our Emergency Protocols for more information.

Do you allow pets?

We do not allow pets on our tours or around our animals. ADA service animals are allowed but not support animals, comfort animals, or house pets. Please do NOT leave your pet in your car or ask our team to watch your animal. We cannot watch your pet in our gift shop for liability reasons and if you leave an animal in a hot car we will inform the authorities. If you bring your pet we will not allow you on the tour and request that you take your pet back to your home or hotel before returning. 

There are 2 rooms that pets can stay in overnight (with a pet fee), but the pets cannot be taken on tours, should be kept on a leash at all times, and cannot be taken in the Discovery Area.

Do you allow service animals in the tour areas?

Service animals are allowed in the tour areas as long as they are not acting in a disruptive manner, are kept under control at all times, and are accompanied by their handler at all times. We do not allow Comfort, Therapy, Emotional Support, or Companion animals in the tour area. We honor the ADA rules about service animals. Comfort, Therapy, Emotional Support, and Companion animals are not protected under ADA regulations. For the safety of our animals and your animals we request that Comfort, Therapy, Emotional Support, and Companion animals be left at home or at your hotel. We reserve the right to ask any individual to leave if their animal is being disruptive or upsetting our animals.

Do you allow smoking?

Smoking is prohibited in the Self-Discovery area, on the tour loop, or within 5 feet of any animal enclosure.


What kind of meat donations do you accept?

Our main source of meat is chicken and beef. We do not accept deer, pig, horse, or goat meat.

Can I donate a deer?

No, we are not currently taking any deer meat donations. Our veterinarian advised against it due to the current outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease and Bob Cat Fever. For the health and safety of our animals, we cannot accept donated deer meat at this time.

A deer was hit by a car, can it be donated?

No, our veterinarian has approved our animals’ diets. We do not give our animals any type of road kill.

I want to help but I don't have a lot of money, is there any other way I can help?

Yes! Even if you cannot donate money there are other things you can do to help.

Some other things you can do are: tell your friends/family about TCWR and what we do, share our posts on social media, donate items like old perfume, cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes or non-salt spices, become an animal advocate, create online fundraisers, ask friends/family to donate to TCWR instead of giving you birthday/holiday gifts, continue to educate yourself and your friends about the plight of big cats in captivity.

See all the ways to Support TCWR on our Support page.