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.

Comments: 7

7 years ago

The photo above of the tiger behind rusty grating is not from this facility, it must be a stock photo from another facility that they used to tug the emotional heart-strings of the readers of this story. THe second photo on the bottom of the male Lion- Joseph, that is the transpost cage that was used when they removed him from the property. His enclosure was a half acre w/ 20 foot fencing. I love how the writer of this story used misleading photos and didn't even print the truth.

9 years ago

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9 years ago

Its so sad look those animals into those cages...

9 years ago

My friend loved Tigers. When I learned he was dying in 2000,
I took him to the Siberian Tiger Rescue to enable him for the fist and last time to get up close and personal with Tigers.
We understood the risk but in his words, I am already dying , if a Tiger wants me for lunch it would be my honor to provide the main course.
We did the Tiger encounter as consenting adults to share a long held dream for Bru. We had also heard they needed the money to help support the Tigers.
Safe? , No. But it was a special day shared with special friends that all will remember fondly. Most of our time was spent just watching through the enclosures as the Tigers played and romped.
There was an enormous male that was a true gentle giant who purred as he was stroked through the fencing. All of us were aware that wild animals are never really tame. All of us wished that they could all be free to be what they were intended to be..wild. If Nikita is the large male , we were told he had been hand raised inside the house with his human family.
The enclosures at that time were clean. The cats were fed some raw chicken while we were there to perform behaviors but none were dirty, or under weight. All seemed healthy and contented. The staff were dedicated to the animals. They were clean, had enrichment toys, and were well bedded. The buildings on the property were showing signs of disrepair. It was sad.
I believe Diana loved these animals. Sometimes Love alone is not enough.
Because we can, does not mean we should.
I hope all the animals found good homes and will be loved as she loved them.
I pray her surely broken heart will heal with time.

10 years ago

I was certified through the Siberien Tiger Rescue Association as a handler. I worked with these specific cats and I saw the day to day goings on of this organiztion. The only thing I ever saw was financial mis-management. These animals were not used for photo-ops, they were never used for hands-on exhibition after the age of one. A lot of these accusationas are totally incorrect. They ate 15-30 lbs of USDA recommeneded BRAVO diet every day. Their enclosures met ALL USDA and AZA requirements. Diana McCourt dedicated her life to these cats and to say they were abandoned is rediculous. She was evicted in May of 2007 and they were not rescued until October of 2007. Diana had no choice but to leave after putting up a huge fight. Its really sad to see the facts so horribly distorted.
~Melissa in Columbus, Ohio

10 years ago

how do i go buy a big cat and get a license?

10 years ago

This is an amazing story. We have domestic cats and they are our family. I could not think of abandoning them.
I wonder how someone was able to get their hands on these big cats?
Glad to see they are in good hands now.

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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Shannon Walajtys
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