Wild and Beautiful: Turpentine Creek Refuge

Joella inviting us to brunch.

Before you arrive at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge empty your mind of petting zoos and circus expectations. TCWR is a true rescue and sanctuary for neglected and/or abused animals whose owners fell for the wild-animals-as-pets mystique and then couldn’t or wouldn’t care for them. The animals, while charming to look at, are forever wild and deadly.

TCWR is one of the largest facilities of its kind open to the public anywhere in the world. Located 7 miles south of Eureka Springs, Ark. along State Highway 23, the 459-acre facility is home to approximately 100 big wild cats, as well as bears and even a monkey. They all reside here under the watchful eye of expert veterinarians, wildlife handlers, biologists and zoologists. It’s quite a sight.

The refuge offers an amazing behind-the-scenes tour where we viewed many more rescued animals at “I-could-eat-you” distance on Rescue Ridge (added in 2013) including two beautiful white tigers: Joella and George. The level, secluded area houses new arrivals and more introverted or senior animals.

Little known fact: Inbreeding efforts produce up to 30 white tiger cubs to obtain 1 “marketable” cub. Any “throw away” cubs – if they survive – often suffer a life of pervasive genetic defects and disorders. (http://bigcatrescue.org/abuse-issues/issues/white-tigers/)

We also toured TCWR’s new, onsite 4,800-square-foot veterinary hospital, which will also function as a live-streaming teaching/training facility with viewing rooms and international video conferencing capabilities.

You have not seen it all, my friends, until you have seen a tiger in a tub.

The tigers love to jump and splash in their water tubs. Rain-barrels make hefty scratching posts and these kitties also play ball, bowling-ball style.

One tiger has lost his privileges, however, after he kept cracking the orbs into pieces with his powerful jaws. Sorry, no more bowling for you, Tony.

While here, you’ll also want to take the guided walking or trolley tour, as well as spend time in the huge self-guided area. Lisa Brinker, a TCWR spokesperson, told us great times to visit are early morning when it’s a bit cooler or around 4-5 pm when several friendly rescues opt-in for rewards-based, behavioral management training. The voluntary program has already succeeded in adding safe, no-sedation visual post-op checkups for one rescue. At mid-day, most of the big cats retreat to their dens to escape the heat and take big-cat naps.

The refuge is home to dozens of big and small cat species: lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, bobcats, servals, most of which were rescued after being unscrupulously over-bred for greed and profit. It’s a wild, crazy, interesting journey through one of the nation’s most secretive and illegal trades: the breeding and sale of large, exotic animals as pets.

“The exotic pet trade is currently known to be the fourth most lucrative black market industry in the world”, said Ike Wever, TCWR promotions coordinator. (http://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/shocking-facts-about-how-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-drives-species-extinction/) The sale and possession of wild cats as pets is illegal in most states. Arkansas made it illegal to privately own or possess large, dangerous carnivores – including lions, tigers, and bears – in 2005.

Dedicated staff and interns deliver daily meals, which are greatly assisted by approx. 300,000 pounds of chicken donated yearly by Tyson Foods, Inc. In addition to a healthy diet, medication (as needed), exercise, and spacious grassy accommodations, the refuge even cultivates and harvests natural herb enrichment – basil, rosemary, catnip, etc. – that the rescues enjoy, enhancing their quality of life by keeping their minds and bodies healthy, active and alert.

Amazingly, the non-profit refuge offers a one-of-a-kind lodging and views which includes safari-styled lodges and suites, a tree house accommodation, as well as RV and tent campsites for guests. The lodging dollars help the rescues and guests are in for a remarkable experience after the sun goes down, for that’s when the big cats start caroling.


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