A Walk on the Wild Side
News of road rage, murder, child abuse etc. seem to fill our lives, so much so that we sometimes forget how good and generous people and companies can be. The 459-acre Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge outside of Eureka Springs, Ark., is a compassionate foundation dedicated to providing a home for large, unwanted captive predator animals while providing an educational experience for the public including why these animals should not be pets. Further, without the help of Tyson Foods, which provides approximately 300,000 pounds of meat per year and other generous contributors, both corporate and individual, such a venture would be impossible.
The story begins in the 1970s when Don and Hilda Jackson had their first rescue predatory cat. They kept Bum, the lion, as a pet but soon changed their viewpoint. They discovered that wild animals bred in captivity cannot be returned to the wild, but do not make good pets either and need as natural an environment as possible.
Consequently, in the early 1990s, when they and their daughter Tanya met a woman who had a large number of feline predators, the family saw a larger need and started a foundation to help meet that need. The foundation has no owner, though Tanya is now president, and both her children Victor and Miranda are making their careers there as managers, with Victor managing maintenance and construction, and Miranda in hospitality. In addition to a six-member, paid full-time animal care staff as well as lodging, guest services, maintenance and marketing staff, the foundation provides internships for 14-16 college graduates at a time.
Laurie Vanderwal, a 19-year staff member with a degree in zoology from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, explained interns are volunteers with food and board provided during the six-month stint.
“While we do hire from within as the occasional need arises, our name has come to mean something in the industry,” she said. “When a zoo or similar facility sees our name on a resume, the applicant is known to have good skills, a strong work ethic and therefore a good hire.”
While everyone works towards caring for the animals, staff members have different specialties that consume much of their time. In Laurie’s case, that responsibility includes construction, especially animal enclosures, and managing the refuge gift shop while her favorite responsibility is being with and caring for the animals. “I especially love when the cats come up and greet me chuffing – their way of saying hello,” Laurie said.
A recently completed project is a new, on-site veterinary facility. Currently veterinarians drive from the St. Francis Veterinary Clinic in Green Forest, Ark., when they are needed. The foundation is hoping to add a veterinary staff with additional veterinary continuing education and internship positions to help better meet foundation needs.
The refuge also offers overnight accommodations where guests are treated to lions caroling during the night, as well as being able to experience the animals throughout the entire day. Accommodations include suites, a treehouse bungalow, glamping tents, and safari lodges as well as RV spaces.
In the offing is an expanded education program supported by new construction of a visitor education building which will include admissions, a gift shop, café, multi-purpose room/theater and interactive educational displays.
The facility is hoping to eventually introduce on-site educational programs and classes for all ages as well as potentially using technology to stream video and programs directly into classrooms.
Every animal’s story is unique. One example is three white tiger cubs that arrived when they were six months. They were severely nutritionally deprived, with many small fractures and bone deformities. They couldn’t walk and had serious digestive issues. The trio was first bottle-fed with extra supplements and required months of ongoing veterinary care including x-rays and blood work to determine their progress and improvement. They went through several diet adjustments as they grew to both help improve bone density as well as make sure they were able to properly digest everything. Now they consume a special, expensive meat mixture which they may have to consume for life. Ongoing close monitoring will continue throughout their lives as well to ensure the highest quality of life possible. There are also signs of genetic issues resulting in one having crossed eyes, a common inbreeding issue. These playful cubs have thrived beyond expectations at Turpentine Creek and at one year are frolicking, frequently all night long.
Styx is an additional example of the individualized care needed and provided by the foundation. Styx is a male tiger diagnosed with pancreatic insufficiency. He needs enzymes to the tune of $300 a week. The tiger arrived when he was 9 years old and is enjoying a long, healthy life, but most amazing of all is a guest who worked for an enzyme company and visited the refuge. That guest was able to make arrangements for her company, the National Enzyme Company from Forsyth, Mo., to donate those enzymes, which they have done since 2009.
The most common health issues amongst the bears, tigers, lions other big cats are geriatric in nature, usually among animals 12 to 15 years of age. The oldest resident is 21, much older than what would occur in the wild because of the specialized care. Predator geriatric issues are not all that different from humans and include arthritis and an inability to move around easily. Consequently, an area has been set aside for geriatric animals which is secluded, level and close to the new veterinary center.
All monies raised through fundraising, admissions, lodging, souvenirs, sponsorships and donations go directly back into the facility. Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge has several annual activities that include a Kite Fest in March, an art auction and dinner in April, and a Halloween Spooktacula which includes games and hayrides. The facility is open year round and admission includes access to the self-guided discovery area as well as tours.