The USDA licensed refuge, located seven miles south of Eureka Springs, has been asked by the sheriff of Crawford County to rescue 34 tigers, leopards, and cougars from a facility near Mountainburg, Ark. The animals' current owner is in failing health and the caging/containment for the big cats has fallen into disrepair over the past several years.
This project is a herculean task -- with over 100 big cats already living at Turpentine Creek, the need for additional housing/cages for the new rescues is vital.
According to Turpentine Creek President and Co-Founder Tanya Smith, Betty Young, the owner of Riverglen Tiger Sanctuary, which has housed the cats until now, is 72 years old with failing health.
"The youngest tiger is 14-15 years old, and the owner was hoping to be able to care for all 34 of them until they succumb to a natural death," said Smith. "Most of the cats are healthy and should live to be 18-25 years old. The owner's health is not going to hold up and be able to see the plan through, and so Turpentine Creek has been asked to help by both the owner and the local sheriff."
Smith said the property was in a severe state of decline, compounding the difficulties of moving the animals. "Dens had been allowed to collapse without repair," she said. "Grounds maintenance and road upkeep had stopped some time ago, and no truck/trailer can access the animals. Equipment and tools are almost all in nonworking order. There is no running water to the animals so most all of it must be hauled up and down the mountain on horrible paths accessible by foot, four wheeler, and tractor only. The cage construction is unsafe. It is amazing that no big cats were running loose. Safety by the gun of a sheriff is calming on one hand, yet unnerving to need such a presence on the other."
The land the animals live on is not secure, Smith said, and if the owner were to die, the animals would be in deep trouble. "I have been in contact with many reputable facilities and has received a definite 'we have no cage space' from all but one," Smith said. "This one facility is actively assessing their ability to help. TCWR does have room for eight big cats at this time."
Riverglen Tiger Sanctuary is located deep in the Boston Mountains, and Smith said the cats there had not received visitors nor experienced much activity or stimulation. "For the most part, the 34 big cats at Riverglen are doing well, considering," Smith said. "A visual inspection of the animals revealed that a female tiger needed immediate veterinary care. The other 33 appeared fat and healthy. Although the living conditions of the animals have diminished, their health has not."
At this point in the mission, Smith says, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge has relocated six tigers to the refuge: Chopper, India, Duke, Austin, Duckie and Princess. "Two of the six had to be anesthetized to move them, two went really easy, and two were highly aggravated, but loaded without drugs," said Smith. "These are not bad numbers or percentages. Actually they are about par for moving big cats safely."
Smith said there are 28 cats at Riverglen Tiger Sanctuary needing homes soon -- 24 tigers, two cougars and two leopards.
There are two plan of actions at work currently, she said -- raise the money to keep rescuing animals and moving them to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, while at the same time try to find homes for the cats in other reputable facilities around the country.
"Currently at Turpentine Creek we are doing our best to accomplish both objectives," Smith said. "The final outcome may be a blend of both plans. At this point we have raised enough money to begin dozer work on the site location for new enclosures. This must be done first to make building quicker and more efficient. Simultaneously, we continue to talk to other facilities about animal placement."
As is so often the case, the main barrier to saving these big cats from death is money. "We calculate it will take over $200,000 to relocate the cats here and/or to other facilities," Smith said. "Yesterday, while on the mountaintop staring into the eyes of all these great cats, I could not help but fix my mind on the real answer to this epic problem: Donations. Money is literally the only obstacle these cats need to overcome. They cannot raise the money themselves. They need us to do that for them to insure they live out their lives with dignity and comfort."
Turpentine Creek is asking for monetary donations and/or donations of appropriate caging materials to facilitate their efforts in this undertaking. "If you are a person who can afford to make a large donation, now is the time," Smith said. "If you cannot go large, any amount will help. Time is of the essence, so please donate today."