Disheartening calmness as neglected exotic animals find forever homes

IFAW Animal Seizure New York State 2014


The afternoon sun continued to beat down mercilessly, burning my skin, and the warm breeze still swirled the stale scent of decay around me. Yet, the feeling of that place had already changed so much. It’s quite eerie to stand amongst dozens of empty cages that just hours before were full of the world’s top predators. Only a ghostly silence could be heard once the animals were gone, except for a few clucks from the stray chickens – which too would soon be removed. In fact, no animals – domestic or wild – would remain.

It’s a disheartening calmness. We’ve rescued these animals, but I know there are so many more out there still in need. Almost as predictable as the weather, this was only the calm before the storm. In less than 24 hours after the JNK animals arrived at their forever sanctuaries, half a dozen additional rescue requests entered my inbox.

RELATED: VIDEO: Animal rescue operations now complete from failed NY animal facility

It’s a contradictory world we live in - where too few wild creatures roam the wilderness and too many suffer behind bars. Our desire to conquer, own, tame, possess has warped into a perverted message that to save them, we must cage them. That a child entering a small, dilapidated compound in upstate New York to see an ailing tiger behind rusted wire will somehow translate to the conservation of a species.

But this isn’t conservation. Breeding big cats or other wild animals thousands of miles from their native territory for entertainment, photo opportunities, or private possession will not increase the numbers in the wild – nor will it truly educate the public on what a tiger (or any wild animal) really is.

This is human greed. Plain and simple. It fills a void or need within us to – at best – be close to, or even a part of, something so beautiful and majestic. At worst, it indulges a craving for attention, ego, and money. This insatiability for the natural world has come at huge price for the wildlife we claim to love and protect. For animals like Jericho the wolf, Sebastian the tiger, and Christian the lion – it has left them ill, hungry, and confused.

I don’t believe their owners abused them, not in the traditional sense. Yet they’ve been severely neglected, not out of malice but as a result of incompetence and blindness. Love, right or wrong, can blur our vision of reality.

IFAW's Animal Rescue team work to save exotic animals from a failed animal sanctuary in upstate NY.

Thankfully, there is a short-term answer to the flood of displaced captive animals like those coming out of the JNK facility. Robust and thriving wildlife sanctuaries do exist to give such animals a second chance at the best captive life they can have.    

IFAW found forever homes for these animals at Big Cat Rescue in Florida, Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana, In-Sync Exotics in Texas, Safe Haven Rescue Zoo in Nevada, The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, the Wolf Sanctuary of PA in Pennsylvania, and the Abbe-Freeland Animal Sanctuary in New York.

But this is only the short-term solution. If unregulated breeding and possession of wild animals continues as it does in the U.S. – there will only be fewer happy endings.

Federal legislation like the Big Cat and Public Safety Protection Act must be passed to unify our country in a single voice that says enough to private breeding and ownership of large felines. We need to demand more resources spent on protecting and increasing the wild populations of endangered species, and admit that more tigers in our backyards or county fairs will not in turn bring back a species from the brink of extinction.

I’ve been saying how massive and complex this rescue has been, and indeed it has. I am forever grateful to every organization and supporter who made the removal of all the exotic and domestic animals possible and ensured that Jericho, Sebastian, Christian, and all the others will live out their lives with every need met. However, when viewed through the lens of the larger picture – it is but a small matter.

There is still more you can do. Please help us seek a long-term solution and ask Congress to pass legislation such as the Big Cat and Public Safety Protection Act today. When you visit or support a wildlife sanctuary, confirm that they do not breed, buy, sell, trade or exploit their animals in any way. And if you are faced with an adorable, squirmy tiger cub at a tourist attraction or animal facility - do not give into the temptation to pay for your photo or play session with it. This may be the most difficult request to ask – but please remember that such operations only fuel the influx of animals in need of permanent care and does nothing to preserve a species.

We will continue to rescue animals whenever they are in need, but with your help, we can create a world where someday, that necessity will disappear. 


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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
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
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy