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Minka Kelly is an IFAW Ambassador, American Actress and Animal Advocate
Last month, I took my second trip with IFAW to a big cat sanctuary to hear the stories and lend my voice to animals in need. The thing that draws me to this work is that it’s completely our fault and there’s such an easy solve - we just need to value animal lives over human entertainment.
Right now, there are more tigers in captivity in the United States than there are in the wild. You’ve probably seen people on Instagram petting or bottle feeding an exotic cat cub. Often, the handler makes a really compelling case about how it’s helping conservation but it’s not. At all.
Exotic cat cubs can only be used for public interactions during a small window of their early lives, so the mother cats are ‘sped bred’ so they constantly produce new babies. And the babies are often starved so they’ll drink on command for the camera. When they are no longer profitable they’re often sold to a roadside zoo to live out their lives as a tourist attraction confined in a cage, or they’re killed.
No matter what the person taking your money says – if you’re allowed to touch an exotic cat, you are not at a true sanctuary and that animal is not being properly cared for.
That’s why true sanctuaries are so important to support. This time, IFAW and I visited Lions Tigers and Bears, a true sanctuary accredited by both the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and the American Sanctuary Association at their gorgeous 93 acre facility just outside Alpine, CA.
I met Maverick – a tiger rescued from a famous musician who didn’t have proper permitting or the training to raise a 400lb tiger.
I met Hank – who spent the first decade of his life in prison-like conditions at a breeding facility. He’s a white tiger which isn’t a species that occurs naturally in the wild. It’s a result of inbreeding fathers with daughters and granddaughters often resulting in chronic health issues, mental impairments and facial malformations.
I met Shadow – a black leopard rescued from a “sanctuary” that had to be shut down after a tiger mauling. Shadow was declawed, resulting in lifelong pain and trouble walking.
I met Bobbi – the founder and owner of LTB Sanctuary who dedicates her life to rescuing and protecting these animals. She’s a force and someone I’m so proud to know and support.
Although it was so hard to hear about animals suffering such dire and preventable tragedies, it was so inspiring to chat with IFAW’s team about what we can do to fix this. You can help by encouraging your friends and family to support true sanctuaries like Lions Tigers and Bears and steer clear of places that perpetuate a lifetime of suffering for these beautiful creatures.
Together, we can get this done. We can protect big cats. Stay tuned and thank you so much for helping!