Big cat rescue efforts in Ohio come full circle this weekend

If you’ve been following the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s animal rescue work, you may remember a story about a white tiger named Nikita and a cougar named Tasha.

These two big cats were rescued in March of this year from an owner, Denise Flores, in Ohio who was concerned about her ability to meet the new standards set forth by the (then proposed) Ohio Dangerous Animal Act.

With grants from IFAW, both Nikita and Tasha found new forever homes at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota. During that time, IFAW produced a short video depicting the confessions of a big cat owner, highlighting the intrinsic struggles of bringing wild animals into private lives.

Since then, four other tigers from this owner have been relocated to qualified sanctuaries in Oregon and Indiana. Only two tigers remain: 14-year-old Taz and 13-year-old Ticha. Taz was born in Texas at a wild animal safari park where Denise, his current owner, worked many years ago.

As a young cub, he was auctioned off to the highest bidder when owners of the safari park decided to retire. The woman who bought Taz and two adult tigers turned around and placed them directly in the possession of Denise.

About a year later, while working at another safari park, Denise was contacted by a local veterinarian who had two female tiger cubs, only about two weeks old, which were brought into the clinic after being attacked by the owner’s rottweiler.

Denise responded quickly to retrieve the cubs, which is when Ticha entered their lives.

Rescuing big cats, even when your heart is in the right place, is an impossible task for individuals. While Denise never considered the tigers as pets, she made a promise to provide them with the ultimate care for their natural lives, a promise that even the best-willed person cannot keep.

As Ohio cracks down on private ownership of dangerous animals, many current owners will find the new standards near impossible to comply with, thus resulting in a likely increase in displaced animals.

An unfortunate side-effect of much needed regulation, this will put more pressure on wildlife sanctuaries in the short-term, but hopefully send a message that it is inherently unachievable to provide proper care to these animals in backyards or private homes.   

This final rescue will occur only days after the one year anniversary of the Zanesville tragedy, representing a positive conclusion to this individual story which was a direct result of a series of reactions ignited by that horrific incident. It has been said that with disaster comes change.

While this example proves that to be true, IFAW will continue to work proactively to inspire change without the necessity of disasters such as the one that occurred on that rainy night in rural Ohio.

Tomorrow, IFAW’s Wildlife Rescue Team will head to Ohio to assist in the move of Taz and Ticha from their current owner to their new forever home at the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Indiana.

The two adult tigers also purchased at the auction with Taz, Sammie and Delilah, have already been relocated to this sanctuary and are adjusting well.

We commend Denise for keeping her promise to these animals for as long as she has, but we praise her even more for making the difficult yet responsible decision to relinquish them to an appropriate facility.

By ensuring that they will have large space to roam and quality care for the remainder of their lives, we feel this big cat owner can rest easy that her promise has been fulfilled.

Stay tuned this weekend as I will keep you updated on the last journey these tigers will ever have to make. 

--KD

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Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
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Dr. Ian Robinson, Vice President, Programs & Int'l Operations
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Gail A'Brunzo, IFAW Wildlife Rescue Manager
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Katie Moore, Program Director, Animal Rescue
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Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia