Nature of the Beast

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Imagine you are a lioness, sleek, proud, and fearsome. Imagine you are the queen of the African veldt, grand dame of the savannah. This is who you were meant to be... but the bleak reality is this: You exist in a warehouse, blind, starving, suffering from severe physical ailments as a result of inbreeding, every step an effort to remain upright...wondering what had happened, wondering what was to come...

This was the reality for a lioness found lodged in a storage shed near Branson, Mo. She was brought to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR) by an animal control officer who was kind enough to rescue her from the deplorable conditions under which she survived.

She was only eight months old then, and the officer named her "Lucky," as in "Lucky to be alive."

Lucky lived at Turpentine Creek from July 2001 until her recent death. She was a poster child for the dangers of inbreeding, and for the cruelties of the exotic pet industry. This poor lioness struggled to live with valor despite her numerous disabilities.

Her life was a relatively short one: eleven years instead of the twenty-plus that many of the big cats at TCWR celebrate. Her very existence was a stark lesson to all who would visit her at the refuge: big cats are not meant to be adopted as pets, and when they are, terrible cruelties often come to pass.

The abnormal fears that Lucky exhibited when she first arrived were indicative of an animal that had been abused. Initially, she would only interact with Hilda Jackson, one of the originators of the refuge.

After several months, she was able to be moved from a cage into a compound. Her blindness became evident, although it was thought that she could see shadows. She had significant neurological problems that impacted her ability to walk. She could, and did, respond to the voices of her "favorite humans."

Eventually, Lucky would enjoy her own habitat; she came to love the feel of grass under her paws -- so much so that she often refused to come into her compound at night to eat. Just this past August, Lucky's condition declined dramatically, and she had to be humanely euthanized. The staff and interns at TCWR lost one of their "special ones," one of those truly lucky enough to find a permanent, loving home at the refuge. Rest in peace, Lucky.

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Darlene Simmons is a transplant from California, landing in Eureka Springs in 2008. She comes to journalism after a long career as a R.N., public health nurse, and nursing professor. She holds a Master's Degree in Nursing and has been published twice in professional journals.

She regularly contributes to Currents Magazine. A life-long animal lover, she is an active supporter of both Turpentine Creek and The Good Shepherd Humane Society. Please send comments and/or ideas to:

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