Four more elderly residents of Riverglen Tiger Shelter near Mountainburg have been relocated to new enclosures at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge south of Eureka Springs.
On Friday, Scott and Tanya Smith, who head TCWR, and three staff members drove to Riverglen, three miles west of Interstate 540 near Mountainburg, and came back with Andrew and Tenille. On Saturday, they returned and got Daisy and Turbo.
Turbo, the largest of the Riverglen tigers, was the only one who didn't have to "take a nap," i.e. be tranquilized and carried by stretcher to the trailer. But the Smiths, who have moved more than 300 big cats, have it down to science.
"Easy trip and easy unload as far as relocating tigers," Tanya Smith reported Saturday night.
The preferred method of tiger transfer: put a rolling cage up to the pen, open the gates, and lure the cat in. But like a house cat when its sees the cat carrier, the rolling pen puts the tigers on their guard. Riverglen owner Betty Young, who watched the proceedings from a lawn chair, said the tigers also recognize TCWR's long white trailer, and start to get keyed up when they hear vehicles hit the cattle guard at the entrance to the road leading up to her property.
"Tigers are extremely territorial," Young said. "They don't like to move."
On Friday, TCWR curator Emily McCormack and assistant curator Laurie Vanderwal first tried to lure Andrew, who had not been fed that morning, into the rolling cage with pieces of meat. But after trying for a half an hour, they conceded defeat, and Scott Smith tranquilized the cat, using a needle on the tip of a six-foot pole put through the bars of Andrew's enclosure. CCN photographer David Bell lent a hand carrying Andrew, who weighed between 400 and 500 pounds, out of the perimeter fence to the trailer.
"He was very heavy," said Bell, who had one of the front handholds on the eight-handled stretcher.
Andrew, who is 18 years old, was in good shape and starting to be responsive after the transfer, completed in a tense 10 minutes. Working from outside the trailer through the metal grid, McCormack and TCWF zoologist Kyle Jorgensen attached IVs with fluids to help flush the sedative out his system.
"He's starting to blink," said Cheryl Swartout, a Riverglen volunteer.
Swartout drives from Elm Creek to help Young, who also has a helper named Martin who drives the tractor-trailer carrying meat to feed the big cats. There are four compounds on the acreage, two next to Young's house on top of the ridge, and two "downstairs," as she calls it.
Young, herself a senior, needs a hip replacement and is no longer able to lift the meat, but helps with basic chores. Cleaning enclosures and giving the tigers any attention they need have become a challenge, Swartout said.
"We get them fed and watered," Swartout said, "but there's not enough to us to go around."
The situation prompted intervention by the Crawford County Sheriff in November, when Turpentine Creek took six Riverglen tigers and a cougar, having seven empty enclosures available.
Since making a public appeal to help provide new homes for the animals, TCWR has raised enough money to build 10 new tiger enclosures, each with 1,000 square feet of living space, in a secluded area of their property. The plan to build 10 more enclosures, which cost $5,000 each to build, plus the cost of perimeter fencing, a water line and other infrastructure.
"We are halfway there," Tanya Smith said of the fundraising effort. "If everyone who gave gave the first time gave that much again, we'd have it made."
Two of Riverglen's white tigers, Sissy and Ariel, were adopted by Cedar Cove refuge in Lewisburg, Kansas, along with two panthers. But Young prefers Turpentine Creek because it's less stressful for the elderly animals because they don't have to travel far, Swartout said.
Of the 20 tigers left, Young is hoping to keep two eldery females, Joella and Jennifer. Joella is too ornery to move, Young said, and Jennifer goes nuts when she hears vehicles and thinks they are coming for her. Young, who lives in spartan conditions in one half of her small, cinderblock house, formerly a milking shed, won't leave the property to get medical help until the situation is under control. She has had most of the tigers since they were cubs six to eight weeks old and became too strong for their owners to handle.
"I thought I'd live long enough to take care of these," she said.