Carolina Tiger Rescue is a 501(c)3 nonprofit wildlife sanctuary whose mission is saving and protecting wild cats in captivity and in the wild.
Having a big rescue isn’t necessarily unexpected – it’s going to happen at some point.
For Carolina Tiger Rescue, it happened last year.
On Sept. 30, 2016, the organization got the call about a facility in Colorado that was shutting down. As a result, 100 wild animals needed homes. Additionally, the Colorado facility also asked for assistance with daily animal care until they were cleared out.
By Oct. 4 that year, Carolina Tiger had a crew on the ground out west.
Carolina Tiger, along with 14 other sanctuaries across the country, stepped in. The organization wound up with its largest rescue to date after taking 16 of the animals.
“It was an important rescue for a couple of reasons,” said Kathryn Bertok, Carolina Tiger’s curator of animals and assistant director. “The first reason is because we were able to provide a home for animals in need. Their enclosures were smaller, so there’s some benefit for the animals in that sense. This was also another opportunity for us to work within the sanctuary network throughout the United States on a very large rescue.”
Coordinated by Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, the 15 participating sanctuaries took 30 trips between them to rescue the animals. Carolina Tiger took five trips and got the second-largest number of new residents; Turpentine Creek had the most with 34 in six trips.
Half of Carolina Tiger’s new animals were tigers, and the rescue lasted from early October to mid-December.
Carolina Tiger Rescue staff unloads Caprichio Tiger upon his arrival last year
Kitwanna and Zari Caracals, Savannah Serval and Lily and Macano Coatimundis were the first to arrive, introducing a new species to the rescue; Carolina Tiger had coatis for the first time. Saber and Shenandoah Tigers came next, followed by a group that included Mila and Riley Tigers.
The sanctuary’s popular Three Tigers – Caprichio, India and Carolina – came next.
Toby and Talon Bobcats’ transport was slightly delayed. Since the species is native to North Carolina, the cats required permits from the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission before they could enter the state in Carolina Tiger’s care. They were the only wild animals from the rescue that needed permits.
Anthony Leopard was the final cat to arrive.
“The staff and our surrounding community were all incredibly excited to be part of a rescue of this size,” Bertok said. “We’re always incredibly excited to meet new animals and have that opportunity to get to know them and be able to offer them a home for the rest of their lives.”
It’s been a year since the historic rescue. The staff and community have gotten to know the new animals, who have settled into their homes and made their marks on the hearts of many.
Anthony Leopard moves into his new enclosure
Reflecting on the past year
You never know when a rescue call will ring. When the time comes, it could be one animal or it could be 20.
Carolina Tiger worked closely with Turpentine Creek and acted within days during the Colorado Rescue.
“We didn’t know who we’d be getting,” Bertok said. “We told them we had three big cat enclosures ready for up to three cats in each one and that we were finishing a leopard enclosure. We had plenty of small animal enclosures.”
All new Carolina Tiger rescues start their life here in the quarantine building. There, they receive a physical exam by Carolina Tiger veterinarian Dr. Angela Lassiter. Some of the Colorado animals needed additional procedures; Saber Tiger, a white tiger who was housed with a female, had to be neutered, and Mila and Riley Tigers had partial eyelids that required surgical repair.
The animal care team was strategic in scheduling arrivals, because there was limited room in quarantine. When one group of animals vacated the building, the staff had to disinfect the area before the next set arrived.
“We had minimal knowledge of the general condition of the of the animals,” Lassiter said. “We knew there were animals with their teeth filed down. We knew there were animals that were declawed, and we knew some of the animals had eye issues. The biggest thing was to make sure that we didn’t take anybody that we were not capable of caring for, that didn’t have special needs beyond what we could meet.”
Lassister said to medically prepare for the large rescue, she had to make sure there were enough drugs and equipment in stock before the animals arrived.
It also took strenuous effort to coordinate the moving pieces of the rescue.
“Orchestration of a rescue this size requires a lot of time and dedication, particularly from the animal care staff,” Bertok said, noting that only animal care staff can handle quarantine animals, not volunteers. “New animals always take extra time. To have a rescue stretch over multiple months meant that there was no break from that. Usually, we have animals come in one fell swoop. This was staggered. For us, their arrival here is just kind of the first step in our journey with them. Once they’re here, then we start to get to know them, their personalities, their likes and dislikes. We get to watch them get to know us.”
Mila and Riley Tigers
One by one, after their 30-day period in quarantine, the animals made their way out to their forever homes.
Mila and Riley Tigers, Lily and Macano Coatimundis, Toby Bobcat and Savannah Serval live off the tour path. Everyone else has a place on tour. The Three Tigers punctuate the center of Oak Hill, and they are typically the first tigers to greet tour guests. Caprichio loves to boss the girls around.
Talon is an inquisitive bobcat, who watches tours from afar unless there’s food near! Kitwana and Zari Caracals are social cats. Saber and Shenandoah are very playful with one other and are typically the last tigers guests see on tour. Anthony Leopard is energetic, and will run and destroy enrichment the moment you look away.
The significance of the Colorado Rescue was two-fold for Carolina Tiger.
“It was a great example of what numerous sanctuaries across the United States can accomplish in essentially what was a very short period of time,” Bertok said. “Then, there’s the joy of having new animals in our care. Each one of them is their own distinct animal. They have their own personality. It’s like having a whole new group of friends arrive at your doorstep.
“It’s been an adventure all year long.”