Field update: Ohio big cats Nikita and Tasha are on their way home

Nikita hates men.

The sight of a man sends her into orbit.

Nikita is a seven-year old tiger who was born and raised by a person whose only objective was to make money by using (and misusing) animals for profit. Nikita was used for photo opportunities for anyone who would pay to have their picture taken with a tiger.

She was used into adulthood until she was too dangerous to use, then relegated into a cage with another female and a male to produce cubs to use for the same purpose.

When it was time for photos, Nikita was short-chained on a box with the chain around her neck and then connected to the box. Another chain was wrapped around her shoulders and also anchored to the box so that she couldn’t move from her sitting or lying position.

For hours Nikita had to sit helplessly on that box having strangers put their arms around her to have a photo taken that is probably stashed in a drawer – forgotten.

But Nikita hasn’t forgotten.

The sight of a camera also brings on her own form of post traumatic stress and she reacts to a camera the same way she reacts to the sight of a man.

Nikita eventually passed into the hands of a different kind of owner in Ohio who showed her that not all humans were unkind. But her current owner doesn’t think she can meet the requirements of some upcoming legislation at the state level and is being proactive about finding permanent placement for her and several other big cats she has.

Tasha, the cougar, is loaded on to a transport trailer before her road trip from Ohio to Minnesota. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) helped cover the cost of the move and new enclosure for Nikita, a white tigress. The two big cats made the journey to their new home at The Wildcat Sanctuary.  c. IFAW/M. BoothToday, Nakita and another big cat – a 10-year old cougar named Tasha – are on their way to a new, permanent home at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota.

For obvious reasons, this was an all-woman effort.

We left the hotel early yesterday morning and drove through the pretty Ohio countryside to the owner’s house, about 20 minutes from our hotel. Dogs and cats greeted us when we were invited into her house. Surrounding the owner’s backyard was a perimeter fence and looking into the yard off the back deck was a long row of cages containing eight big cats. After a short discussion about our approach we were ready to transfer and load our two big cats.

We were ready to tranquilize Nikita if necessary but with just a couple of quiet, efficient handlers, she went into the transport cage nicely.

She caught sight of a couple of men onsite (coincidentally cameramen!) and carried on a bit but quickly settled down when they moved away. Tasha also loaded well. Tasha is such a sweet-tempered cat who played happily with her big plastic balls and toys in her cage while we loaded Nikita. Poor Tasha also had a hard life before she made it to this owner too. She was de-clawed (improperly) and lived in a dark and smelly garage, next to lawn mowers, garden tools, other human debris, and oh yes, a bear (her only companion) for eight years!

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has ensured that Nikita will have a huge enclosure ready for her when she reaches The Wildcat Sanctuary, who has worked night and day to have her new home ready for her. And Tasha will be gradually introduced to another cougar and will have a friend to hang out with who is of her own kind.

My IFAW colleague and I are flying to meet the The Wildcat Sanctuary folks at the other end as they arrive in Minnesota and I’m excited to see the two big cats be released into their new homes.

I’ll send an update after the release.


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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
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