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Right In Your Own Backyard

Right In Your Own Backyard: A Wildlife Refuge


Story by: Jim G. Miller  Photo: Courtesy of Turpentine Creek

On scenic highway 23 about seven miles outside of Eureka Springs, there rests one of the largest wildlife preserves for big cats in the country. That refuge is called Turpentine Creek, and it has been a refuge for tigers, lions, leopards, cougars, and other endangered wildlife since 1992. “It’s right in your own backyard,” says Scott Smith Vice- President of TCWR. Smith began as a volunteer who devoted his services as a carpenter and welder to the refuge back in 1994 and has never looked back since.
“We invite everyone who has not been here to come see these magnificent cats. The spring season is the best time to visit.” Turpentine Creek originated when Tanya Jackson Smith’s family acquired a lion named “Bum” while they lived in Northeast Texas in 1978. Smith, who currently serves as president, was only 11 at the time but remembers the second lion they got in 1982 that was named “Shelia.” The family was successful at taking care of these two lions in their backyard up until 1992 when they moved to Eureka Springs to establish the Refuge.
The Jackson’s soon acquired many more big cats for their refuge when a breeder and black market dealer on the run showed up with forty two cats stuffed in cattle trailers. The Jacksons put a great deal of work into preparing the 500-acre refuge where TCWR now rests. Over time people from all over the country began contacting the Jacksons, seeking to relieve themselves of the burden of their big cats. TCWR is UDSA regulated and now rescues cats that have been abandoned, abused or neglected by their licensed or unlicensed owners.
“The cats go through about 1500 pounds of raw meat everyday,” says Smith. Eighty-five percent of it is donated as poultry by Tyson Foods. The remainder is donated by individuals or purchased using donations. If you are interested in volunteering or donating your time or money to this one of a kind refuge located right here in Arkansas, visit their website at or visit them and their amazing big cats while it is still cool outside.
Cost for admission is $20 for adults, $15 for teenagers, and $10 for Senior Citizens. Children three and younger get in free. During the summer months, the refuge is open from 9am to 6pm. The park is open everyday of the year except for Christmas. Feeding time is a major highlight not to be missed which is usually around 5 p.m. during the summer. TCWR also offers habitat tours and educational talks given by refuge zoologists and biologists.
TCWR houses 130 big cats and other endangered wildlife. All of the cats are spayed or neutered and are given the best care possible. The refuge also offers photography opportunities as well as lodging. Some people have even been married there. Definitely worth the drive, this is a must see destination for every Arkansan and an opportunity to help support a place of safety for these animals in need.

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