Lions and Tigers and Bears!

he Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is a big draw in Northwest Arkansas not only because it has dozens of wild animals, but also because visitors who stop by the sanctuary know they’re helping to support efforts to take in abused, abandoned, and neglected wildlife and give them a home.

The refuge sits on almost 500 acres and is home to more than 100 animals, mostly big cats, and a few bears. The rescue center takes in large cats such as lions, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, and cougars, and gives them lifetime refuge on the sanctuary.

These animals are without places to stay due mostly to the burgeoning exotic pet trade. Most of the 50 states have individual laws regarding exotic pet ownership, but not all states do. Big cats are often abandoned outdoors in wilds they are not accustomed to, and they can become a danger to themselves and surrounding communities when foraging for food and shelter. The Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is trying to end ownership of exotic animals through education, advocacy, and outreach, and the sanctuary is one way it accomplishes this.
 

It’s not an easy or inexpensive task to rehome these wild animals who have been rendered homeless through no fault of their own. The COVID-19 virus has taken its toll on many nonprofits and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is no exception.

Last year was particularly rough. One of the refuge’s snow leopards died of COVID-19 (yes, the virus can jump between species) and the sanctuary is currently waiting on vaccine doses for its animals. Donations to the refuge can help defray the cost of vaccines.

Due to the pandemic, the refuge was forced to temporarily close its popular Bear Tunnel, but it has since reopened, said Tanya Smith, the refuge’s president. The tram is also operational, but it is limited to 70 people, so the public is encouraged to visit during the slower times to ensure seeing as much of the sanctuary as possible.

“The winter months are our slow period,” Smith said. “We usually sell out our tours during Spring Break, which straddles several weeks as Arkansas, Texas and other neighboring states take their springtime vacations. We encourage folks to visit our website and make a reservation during Spring Break and the summer.” Peak times at the refuge can get busy so anyone looking to come for a visit is encouraged
to plan ahead.

The staff is well versed in each rescued animal’s story and shares this information with visitors daily.

Overnight camps, memberships and lodging are another way the sanctuary raises money to help with the animals’ care and to teach children and adults about the need for protections
for these animals, some of whom are closing in on extinction status.

There is a hotel on the property so people with a penchant for pumas (the largest of the big cats which goes by multiple names such as cougar, panther, and mountain lion), can stay overnight and be near enough to hear the cats chat or caroling, as their vocal conversations are sometimes called. Additionally, there is a tree house, RV and tent camping spaces, and even safari tents for overnight stays.

The sanctuary appreciates the public’s support, Smith said, and will continue to educate the public and advocate on the animals’ behalf.

Seeing the big cats up close and knowing how they’re cared for is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and also a unique way to let the public help the refuge house the animals, give them a proper diet, and the veterinary care they need. For more information visit turpentinecreek.org.

 

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