Lions, Tigers and Bears... OH MY!

A close up of Liberty, a Black Bear!

Animal sanctuaries - what role do they play in conservation?  Are they the best solution or the last ray of hope for an exotic animal like a lion, tiger or other big cat?
Zac and I recently had the opportunity to visit Lions, Tigers & Bears, an animal sanctuary in Alpine, San Diego, California.  After a 45 minute tour, we learned more about what a good animal sanctuary does for the animals within its care.
Cherry Bomb, a Grizzly Bear, being fed.

First, it's important to understand why animal sanctuaries exist in the first place.  While I am fascinated by the beauty and grace of exotic cats like tigers and jaguars, I have no desire to keep one as a pet.  However, there are others who do for reasons of status or an inflated sense of macho dominance.  Whatever the reason, there are black market suppliers who are bringing in wild animals or raising them just below the radar of government officials and selling them to the highest bidder.  From there, owners eventually discover that an exotic cat can become a handful, either because of its size as it matures or its nutritional requirements or temperament.  Eventually the animal ends up in an abusive situation because of a cramped and confined living space or malnutrition or physical abuse from a sadistic owner.  Sometimes these animals are given over freely to an animal sanctuary and sometimes they are offered by law enforcement who have confiscated them but have no means to care for them.  
In either case, the choices left when such a point is reached are two: animal sanctuary or euthanasia.  Because of the length of time having been out of the wild (or raised entirely in captivity) and the amount of human interaction these animals have had, reintroducing them back into the wild is out of the question.
Somewhat surprisingly, zoos can also be another source of animals bound for a sanctuary. Zoos can find themselves with excess animals through animals naturally mating.  If other zoos are not in the market for that particular cat species, then a zoo may have one extra mouth to feed that it can ill afford.  Also, there are smaller zoos and circuses that can find themselves economically hard pressed to care for large, exotic animals.
Maverick, a mama Tiger, cleaning herself after a meal.

Sometimes, in the case of bears or mountain lions in Southern California, man's encroachment into their territory can produce a situation where an animal is no longer afraid of humans or urban environments.  When an animal wanders into a neighborhood, is caught by local officials and released back into the wild but, because of its lack of fear or its growing need to find food, it keeps returning - wildlife officials are often faced with having to put the animal down (yes, I know - ridiculous!).  Unless there is an animal sanctuary available to take it in.
In many ways, sanctuary owners would like nothing more than to be put out of business because of a lack of animals who need protection. But, unfortunately, as long as the profit motive is high and the egos of some people are great, combined with the economic realities that zoos and circuses can face like any other business, there will always be a need for the animal sanctuary as a place where these special animals can live out their lives comfortably. 

Lioness getting her tan.

At Lions, Tigers & Bears they provide large, comfortable cages for eating and sleeping with much larger fenced areas for exercising.  To provide stimulus, the cages are interlinked so that the cats' access to the larger exercise areas can change every couple of days. Having suitable space is important. 
While Bobbi, founder and owner of Lions, Tigers & Bears, has a full veterinary facility and a staff of volunteers who prepare and feed the animals a balanced and nutritious diet, contact with the animals is kept to a minimum.  No one on the staff, including Bobbi herself, ever attempt to engage in physical contact with the animals.  The animals may recognize members of the staff and approach them within their enclosures, but you won't see Bobbi or her staff throwing their arms around a tiger and giving it a belly rub.  Most sanctuaries frown on that kind of human contact.
Bakari, the only male Lion on the property.

Visitors are limited at Lions, Tigers & Bears to small, supervised groups that must be arranged in advance and people are normally kept at a distance, outside the tall perimeter fence.  This still affords visitors the opportunity to see these animals in a more relaxed and comfortable setting, different from what one sees at many zoos or commercial animal parks.
Properly run animals sanctuaries like Lions, Tigers & Bears (the sanctuary is accredited by two leading national and international animal sanctuary organizations) provide animals, who have been unfortunately stripped of their connection with the wild, with the opportunity to live out their lives in dignity, good health, and peace.  Passionately committed people like Bobbi Brinks wish it didn't have to be so, but the alternative would be abuse or a premature death for an innocent and magnificent animal.
I was a little excited :D

Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches .... yum!

If you would like to learn more about Lions, Tigers and Bears, click HERE! :)