Massive tiger rescue in Arkansas enters final stage

Lilly, a moderately petite orange tigress.This past weekend, as a powerful blizzard pounded the Northeast with snow and ice, I hunkered down in my cold, powerless home, warmed only by my two dogs and cat, and I read a book about Amur tigers in the wilderness of Russia’s Far East.

As the fog of my breath was illuminated by the flashlight’s glow, I considered how drastically our species has altered the balance of nature.

On one side of the world, we continue to struggle to protect an ever-dwindling number of wild tigers and their habitats.

Today, however, I stood on a mountaintop in Arkansas, on the other side of the world, faced with another formidable, yet almost opposite crisis: the staggering overpopulation of captive tigers (and other big cats) in the U.S.

We are fighting different battles, on completely different fields.

These daunting endeavors must often be addressed in bite-size pieces (as long as the tiger isn’t the one doing the biting!). Therefore, I left Russia behind in my mind for now, and focused my vision on a quiet patch of land in rural Arkansas.

The task at hand: two beautiful tigresses named Lilly and Joella.

At a facility closing due to health complications of the owner, we were greeted with friendly, albeit nervous, chuffs from the tigers. Still, their apprehension to loading into a transport crate resulted in the need to sedate them first, and then safely transfer them into the trailer.

While immobilizing a tiger adds a level of complexity to a transfer, it did give us the opportunity to give the animals a quick physical exam. Lilly, a moderately petite orange tigress, had been completely declawed in the past, and we discovered one of her canines would require veterinary care after she was safely relocated to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR).

On the contrary, Joella is a significantly larger white tiger with piercing blue eyes and completely equipped with her lethal claws. Along with the staff from TCWR, both girls made the two hour trip to their new home safe and sound (with a few expected growls and grumbles).

Left behind are seven tigers and a cougar. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is currently supporting TCWR in this rescue effort, which began last November with an original census of 34 big cats.

TCWR has committed to providing life-time care to these animals, but this massive effort has required them to expand their facility and build additional enclosures.

The failing health of the owner and the deteriorating housing conditions of these potentially dangerous predators has prompted IFAW to provide urgent funding to complete the building of the enclosures at TCWR. 

As Lilly stepped into her new home this afternoon, she released a bone-chilling roar as a reminder that wherever she rests her head, she is and will always be a tiger.

Whether in the frozen forests of the Far East, the jungles of Indonesia, or a sleepy hilltop in Arkansas, the tiger is an impressive, powerful, and unmatched competitor – that is, except for man.

Our quest for territory, ravenous consumption of almost everything, and unnatural desire to bring wild animals into our domesticated dominion, is either placing tigers in an environment as foreign as another planet or completely wiping them off the map all together.

But for today, for Lilly and Joella, their journey is finally coming to a rest.

These lovely ladies can live out their golden years with the care and dignity they deserve.

Tomorrow, we will once again venture to that mountaintop and return with two more tigers. As the final enclosures are completed, the remaining tigers and cougar will also find forever homes at TCWR by the end of February.

Thank you for your faithful support which enables us to react quickly when animals are in times of need.

Please continue to follow this story as we enter the final stages of this massive rescue.


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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Gail A'Brunzo, Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy