Katie is the only tiger that Tigers for Tomorrow has purchased (the group always has to raise money for the transport and care of each animal, but usually doesn't pay a fee for the animals). Katie was bound for an exotic animal auction, and some of the bidders were rumored to be buying animals for canned exotic animal hunts.
Several months after I moved to Huntsville, I cut out a picture of a woman holding a tiger cub and secured it to my refrigerator. The accompanying newspaper article described a relatively new exotic animal preserve called Tigers for Tomorrow, which rescued animals from private owners, carnivals and canned hunts.
Five years later, I finally got around to visiting the rescue preserve, located in Attalla, Ala. — a mere two-hour drive from Huntsville. The husband and I spotted an announcement about special spring break educational tours and planned a quick day trip.
Wilbur McCauley, Director Of Animal Care and Operations, led a couple dozen visitors around the preserve the day we arrived, sharing information on the characteristics, instincts and natural habitats (or, more likely, the shrinking natural habitats) of several animals.
Tigers for Tomorrow houses more than just tigers — you’ll find lions, bears, cougars and wolves in addition to smaller animals such as goats, miniature horses, emus and even a zebra.
McCauley explained that each animal has its own unique personality, and none of them illustrated this better than Yonah, a grizzly bear that arrived at the rescue when he was 6 months old. When Yonah realized that McCauley wouldn’t be coming into the enclosure with him, the young grizzly started making a growling/purring noise that McCauley identified as a self-comforting behavior. A self-comforting behavior that sounded like a two-stroke engine.
Yonah was used for promotions in North Carolina until he got too big (he'll eventually weigh up to 800 pounds). Yonah, which is Cherokee for "bear," doesn't know how to socialize with other grizzlies because he was raised alone as a pet before he was rescued.
Make no mistake: This is an educational tour, not a zoo visit. You’re going to learn about the histories of several of the rescued animals. These are not happy stories, but they have happy endings.
A friend asked me if Tigers for Tomorrow was sad. My reply was that it’s sad that a place like this has to exist, but the preserve itself isn’t sad at all. The animals enjoy large enclosures, an appropriate diet and loving caretakers. There’s no evidence that the animals are uncomfortable or unhappy; one black wolf circled the perimeter of its enclosure almost obsessively while we were nearby, but McCauley assured me that this behavior was the temporary result of encountering such a large crowd of people.
Tigers for Tomorrow is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a board of directors that guides the rescue’s decisions. This rescue is not in danger of becoming what I would call a “hoarding” or “collecting” rescue; the group only adopts a new animal after sufficient funds are raised for the transport, housing and care of that animal.
Kazuma was the group's most expensive rescue. He was part of a circus near Antigua, Guatemala, when CONAP (the same as our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) informed the owner he had to improve the lion's conditions (he was living in a small cage). The owner ran away with the lion, but CONAP eventually found him and moved Kazuma to La Aurora Zoo to await rescue.
One of the factors that prompted me to take advantage of the spring break tour promotion was the knowledge that I would be able to take photographs. McCauley explained that visitors on regular “walkabout” tours of the reserve are no longer allowed to take photographs because some people were tossing items at the fences to get the animals’ attention for better pictures.
Seriously? People visit a wildlife preserve and aggravate the wildlife? I’m not shocked, but I am disappointed.
Spring break tours are running through April 12 (I know, short notice). Gates open at 1 p.m., and the tour begins at 2. Children can feed the animals in the animal contact area (goats, calves, emus, etc.) before the tour. Tour admission is $10 for ages 3-11 and $15 for ages 12 and older. (Tours are usually $25 a person).
Head to the Tigers for Tomorrow website for the most up-to-date information on hours, tours and prices (hours are limited, and the preserve isn’t open every day). And GO. You won’t be disappointed.
Tigers for Tomorrow raised the money to fly Kazuma from Guatemala to Atlanta, then drove him to the rescue facility. He's still working to develop his leg muscles, which had atrophied after living in a small cage when he was part of the circus in Guatemala.
At some point, the husband started calling the organization Tigers from Tomorrow, as in tigers from the future. Because who wouldn’t want to meet tigers from the future? That would mean that there are tigers IN the future, after all.
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