Turpentine Creek marks 30th anniversary

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge will celebrate its 30th anniversary May 1 and will host a celebration at the end of this month.

The animal sanctuary and tourist attraction will have a two-day celebration beginning the evening of Friday, April 29 and all day Saturday, April 30, and will host vendors, magic, music, live band, food trucks, educational programs, and more.

Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry will give a special presentation at noon on April 30.

Tanya and Scott Smith, president and vice president of Turpentine Creek, will be on hand to meet and greet and share the story of the facility.  

“Things have changed … but then again, we still face the same challenges we did 30 years ago,” Tanya Smith said in a news release regarding past and current challenges the facility has faced. “We had hoped to see an end to big cat exploitation within our lifetime and we still believe that is possible. It’s just been amazing how big the need is.

“We had no idea when we started that there were so many animals out there in such extreme need. We started from humble beginnings and are so grateful for the outpouring of support from our local community.” 

Founded in 1992, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge sits on 450 acres seven miles south of Eureka Springs and is a nonprofit organization and rescue operation protecting survivors of the exotic animal trade.

According to the release announcing the anniversary, Don, and Hilda Jackson, along with daughter Tanya, established Turpentine Creek Foundation, Inc., “whose mission is to provide lifetime refuge for abandoned, abused, and neglected big cats with an emphasis on tigers, lions, leopards and cougars.”

“The story really began a little more than a decade earlier when Don and Hilda were given an eight-month-old lion in exchange for five motorcycles and a trailer,” according to the release. “The young lion, Bum, was showing signs of suffering from the inadequate diet he was being fed and the Jacksons began the lifetime task of rehabilitation and care. It wasn’t long before word of their success with Bum began to spread. In March of 1982, they took on the care of another lion. This was a five-month-old female named Sheila.”

In late January of 1992 the Jacksons were connected with Catherine Gordon Twiss, who had 42 lions and tigers in a variety of cattle and horse trailers in a farmer’s pasture nearby and was needing help.

The Jacksons knew of a property near Eureka Springs they had planned on moving to that could be turned into a refuge for these animals. 

“The story didn’t end that happily, though,” according to the release. “The Jacksons learned through this experience that there was little they could do to protect the cats thatTwiss so desperately wanted help with.

“After giving up everything to establish the refuge to provide a home for them, relations with Twiss collapsed and she once again took her menagerie on the road. The Jacksons tried to stop her, but the law was on Twiss’ side and there was nothing the Jacksons could do to stop her or keep her from taking the cats. It would be another four years before 11 of those cats found their way back to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge when Twiss was arrested in Boone County, Arkansas on 11 counts of animal cruelty.”

Bum was the first big cat the Jacksons had experience with. He lived until 1995, three years after the official opening of Turpentine Creek, and he weighed 850 pounds.

In 1997 Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge began its internship program where graduates with a background in zoology, biology, animal psychology, veterinary sciences and other animal related fields spend a six-month tenure caring for the animals. To date, more than 400 interns have graduated from the program and are employed in zoos and other establishments throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Turpentine Creek has provided sanctuary to more than 450 animals through the years. There are currently a little less than 100 animals housed in large natural habitats on the 459-acre property.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: