Sunday, July 31, 2011
Great Cause: Exotic Feline Rescue Center
This post is not about art. I still really hope that you will read it.
Ever since arriving in Bloomington, I had heard about this alleged sanctuary for large cats. When I say large cats, I mean lions, tigers, and cougars (Oh my!). White tigers have been my favorite animal since middle school when I got to do a paper on their genetics for a biology class. For this reason, I was really jazzed about going. And yet, for 11 months I did not, for whatever reason.
Finally, on a rather spur-of-the-moment split decision, I rounded up my brother and my friend Alice and we went. It was about an hour drive West from Bloomington, but there are two national parks AND a Wendy's on the way, so you could certainly make a day of the experience.
And oh, was it an experience.
Truth be told, I did NOT know what to expect when we turned onto the gravel drive leading up to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center. "Off roading" in a sedan is always exciting and we parked on the side of the road. We walked up to a humble little ticket booth that doubled as their gift shop and paid $10 for the tour.
Turned around to start the tour and came face-to-face with a leopard. With three leopards. Within five feet of us. I think all three of us jumped. It was incredible. Yes, you can sometimes get that close to wild cats at zoos, usually through glass, but all there was here was a chain link (albeit strong chain link) fence. Unlike at zoos, these cats will actually get right up against the fence you are walking next to...and not in a malicious way, but in a way that suggests they a genuinely comfortable and happy here (though do NOT try to touch them - They are predators, they are dangerous). Hearing a lion roar (it was lunch time) and a cougar scream (it literally sounds like screaming) was an unparalleled experience.
The Exotic Feline Rescue Center, founded in 1991, is a 108 acre, 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to "provide permanent homes for exotic felines that have been abused, abandoned, or for some reason have nowhere to live out there lives, while educating the public about these beautiful cats." Unfortunately, a great deal of these incredible creatures were rescued from very dire circumstances, making the blessed work of the EFRC all the more apparent. Though you only see roughly 100 cats on the tour, the EFRC is the home for over 230 cats of 9 different species. Half of these cats are tigers.
For the last five years, they have taken in an average of 2 cats a month (from around 24 states). They do not buy, sell, or breed these cats. They provide them with a home for life, with stable social groups, with natural living environments and the best veterinary care available. In their 20 years of operation, a cat has only gotten out once - And that was due to a storm that caused a tree to fall, which the cat climbed out.
Besides the usual tour, EFRC will do special events to raise money for their sanctuary. The most popular, bringing in about 300 people each year, is the Pumpkin Party, the day after Halloween. Visitors bring in their pumpkins for the staff fill with meat and then they give the pumpkins to the cats to play with. The pictures look hilarious! There are also Adults only nights where for $50, you can see almost ALL of the cats on the grounds, tour the veterinary facilities, and you get hors d'oeuvres, desserts, and drinks of the bar. You can also stay overnight at a little cabin on the grounds.
Hello, Mr. Super Large Lion, right there within a few feet.
On our tour, we got to meet...
- Coo, a very sleepy male puma/cougar/mountain lion/catamount.
- Tobette, their newest Canadian Lynx, who was a little shy and still nervous about her new home.
- Autumn, a female cougar that would be a lap kitten if she could. She PURRED and stayed very close to the fence for visitors.
- Raja, a more fiesty male tiger that growled at me when I took his picture. He will spray you if he's standing up, so step away!
- Nala, a sweet, sweet, sweet tigress that "chuffed" (a tiger greeting) and nuzzled the fence as we were nearby.
- India (pictured above), a white tigress that has unfortunately gone blind. Because white fur in tigers in a genetic mutation, inbreeding is the only way to continue the coloration. This causes a lot of health issues for white tigers.
- King, a HUGE male lion that was rescued at 14 months because he had gotten too big for his owner to keep feeding. The owner had made an appointment to have King shot and then stuffed, but thankfully his sister intervened. King and the lioness Jasmine had a daughter, Lauren, and all three live in a sanctuary together, as a family.
- Sahib (pictured below), the golden tiger (GORGEOUS). Only 35 golden tigers reportedly exist in the US today.
- Kisa (lioness) and Max (tiger), fast friends that live together. Kisa has some developmental issues from having been fed cat food before she was rescued (large cats like this need actual meat...anything else isn't enough). She may be facing you, but her eyes will not focus on you.
- Cleo, a little cerval female that lives with a bobcat who was out for the day. Apparently that was the first day the staff had seen her outside on her own when the bobcat was not there.
- Romulus, a male tiger...He does NOT like men. So gentlemen, stay back. Only female staff feed/take care of him.
- Jafar, another would-be lap kitty...though he is also one of three at the center that has actually killed a person.
And so many others!
There are only a few facilities like this in U.S., and like so many non-profit organizations, they rely almost entirely on funds gathered from their tour visits and donations. Many of their staff are actually volunteers. Our tour guide drives an hour from Indy every weekend to give tours and help out. He had been volunteering with them since 2007. It's kind of like once you've been here, you will not be able to get it out of your head. I can attest to that!
The EFRC feeds their cats 3,500 pounds of meat every single day. It was interesting to hear that they will actually work with the local Amish communities in this way...if a cow or horse on an Amish farm dies, the EFRC will go get it, free of charge, helping the farmers clean up and simultaneously getting free food for their cats. They'll even pick up dead deer they find on the side of the road - One deer will feed 9 (I believe) of their cougars for a day!
Ivomec, the medicine given to the cats monthly to combat parasites like heartworms costs $3,000 per year. The average cost of a permanent enclosure for a lion or tiger is $25,000. They have a Wish List for ladders, ply wood, telephone poles, building supplies, cement, gravel, lumber, cedar bedding chips, scaffolding, horsefly traps and boomer balls.
So no, this is not a post about art. But it is a post about something I think anyone that has an opportunity should investigate. On minimal, the EFRC is working constantly to ensure large cats like Sahib and India and King have a good, safe and happy home to live out their lives. They survive almost entirely on visits at only $10 a tour, donations, and special events. It was an amazing thing to do for just an afternoon so far away from typical weekend festivities.
So, I encourage you to visit. I encourage you to donate, if you can. I encourage you to think about it...I did not realize that people would give a leopard to their wife for Christmas (Navi) or that someone would keep a cougar, declaw her, and feed her cat food like a house cat (Achia). I did not think someone would think it was a good idea to keep tigers in a tattoo parlor (Pearl and Storm) or that people would keep a lion tied to their tool shed and beat her (Rappie). This taps into a much larger problem of people abusing animals which is just NOT okay. We should defend them and support those people whose life mission is to do the same.
If you are going to get a pet, adopt from a shelter. If you want to see a lion or a tiger close up without the zoo glass, visit the EFRC. It is worth the trip.