FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs is one of three institutions that came together to help facilitate the rescue and transfer of four big cats from an Oklahoma facility forced to close years ago.

According to a press release, the AZA-accredited Oakland Zoo in Oakland, CA, Lions Tigers & Bears in Alpine, CA and Turpentine Creek collaborated to rescue two tigers, a lion, and a tiger hybrid from an Oklahoma facility that was once opened to the public and offered cub petting and photo opportunities.

The animals were rescued from the defunct roadside zoo in northeast Oklahoma on June 10. The facility was cited and shut down by the USDA in 2008 after “multiple safety and welfare violations.”

The four big cats rescued were the sole remaining animals at the abandoned facility. The roadside zoo and its owner were reported to have ties to “Joe Exotic” from the well-known Netflix series “Tiger King.”

The rescued animals, all female and declawed—a standard practice in the cub-petting industry—include:

  • Two tigers housed in separate enclosures, both energetic but lean, one going to Oakland Zoo and one going to Lions Tigers & Bears.
  • An elderly, arthritic lion that required immediate medical attention and care, going to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.
  • A tiger hybrid in poor condition with a facial wound and bowed legs, going to Oakland Zoo.

Oakland Zoo and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge conducted on-site animal evaluations for all four big cats and Lions Tigers & Bears used its “state-of-the-art, self-contained animal rescue hauler” to transport three of the big cats to California.

For the past thirty years, we’ve fully committed Oakland Zoo’s tiger habitat as a sanctuary for tigers victimized by the circus, roadside zoo, private ownership, and cub-petting industries. Those tigers need help, and we can provide that help while educating the public about the dangers of animal exploitation practiced in those industries. When a concerned Oklahoma resident called us to help these big cats, who have endured so much suffering, there was no question that we would step in and give them the homes and care they deserve, at Oakland Zoo and our partnering sanctuaries, for the remainder of their lives.

Nik Dehejia, CEO, Oakland Zoo.

Each facility will provide these big cats with “a proper habitat enclosure, species-specific diets, veterinary care, and more,” utilizing the highest standards of care as required by the American Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), a certification held by only the top sanctuaries in the nation that provide lifetime care for rescued animals, including Lions Tigers & Bears and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

“These big cats were living in small, filthy enclosures. Shelter was provided but was terribly weathered and rotten,” said Tanya Smith, President and Founder of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. “Aside from some good Samaritans, they were left alone, fed inconsistently, and needed veterinary care. We’re so relieved to provide new homes to these animals and help them thrive.”

Emily McCormack, Animal Curator at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge adds, “We are always ready and willing to collaborate with other accredited facilities when the need for rescue arises. We must fight together to resolve the big cat crisis we are facing here in the United States. No animals should suffer or live in the deplorable conditions these animals had to endure. The lioness was subjected to solitude 24×7 for 7 years that we know of. It was simply inhumane.”

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, Lions Tigers & Bears and the Oakland Zoo encourage support for reputable animal sanctuaries and facilities and advocacy for the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 263), which places “much-needed restrictions on big cat private ownership and contact with the public.”