IFAW Rescues 6 Abandoned Big Cats in Ohio
This past weekend IFAW rescued six abandoned big cats from an unlicensed facility in Ohio. Months ago, IFAW heard that an unlicensed owner of six big cats had been evicted by her landlord and that Ohio's Knox County Animal Control officials had seized the big cats. Together with the help of the landlord of the property, Knox County Animal Control, Big Cat Rescue, and Animal Sanctuary of the United States (ASUS)/Wild Animal Orphanage (WAO), the IFAW team landed in Gambier, Ohio in the wee hours of morning on the October 19th. This was a covert operation. We did not want to alert the unlicensed owner to this move who has a history of causing trouble. So we had to keep even the alert news media at bay.
When we arrived at the property in Ohio the six big cats, which included 2 lions and 4 tigers, were already in their lock-out cages and had fasted for more than 8 hours to enable them to travel comfortably. The Rescue team had a climate-controlled truck, six spacious crates which meet IATA regulations, and ample people to move and lift crates. The veterinary team waited in the wings should the lions & tigers had to be knocked down. But, that did not prove necessary as the animals were "trained". The presence of the former animal care givers to cajole them with their favorite treats into their transport crates was blessing in disguise. The whole operation took just 90 minutes. With the six animals safely in their transport crates and loaded onto the state-of-the-art climate-controlled truck to begin their 1,000 mile journey to Tampa and another 1,200 miles to San Antonio.
Well, it was the big college football game night in Columbus; but that did not deter the driver to blitz through the interstate traffic in just 18 hours; the caravan barely stopped except for few periodic vet checks and occasional bio-breaks; food aplenty was in store for both the cats and people traveling with the caravan. A veterinary team accompanied the cats as well. The caravan with the animal cargo reached Big Cat Rescue, a USDA licensed sanctuary in Tampa, on Sunday morning at 6 AM. Within minutes the experienced animal carers at BCR and WAO staff unloaded four of the animals - two tigers (Nikita and Sasha) and two lions (Simba and Joseph) - into their new homes.
We made sure to carry some of the enclosure furnishings which the landlord parted with to ensure the big cats feel at home when they reach their permanent sanctuary. After unloading the four animals and making sure the two tigers (Ekaterina and Sierra) were okay and after catching a whiff of sleep, the animal transport truck rolled off to San Antonio. The 1,200 mile journey is the leg last of the quadrilateral trip for the driver and animal keeper duo from WAO who had to make it in the last four days. IFAW is pleased to step in and be part of this extraordinary attempt which took the combined efforts of federal agencies, local county animal control and animal protection groups to rescue these declawed big cats and shut down the illegal tiger trainer camp in Gambier, OH. Not only this move of the big cats to permanent sanctuaries will lead them to receive much better care, it also brings attention to the abuse of big cats as photo props and to horrific situations created by unlicensed exotic animal facilities. Hopefully, when the IFAW supported federal bill - Haley's Act, becomes law, it will enable federal, state and local agencies to join hands with animal protection groups to shut down illegal and unlicensed exotic animal facilities.