Wildlife Rescue: Unlikely tiger & bear duo criss-cross the US to find new homes


IFAW's Gail A'Brunzo updates us on these two animals' progress.


Sugar bear in his crate before loading and setting off to his new home in California. Another big cat facility in Ohio has failed.

The facility, situated on the outskirts of Columbus Ohio, had been having financial problems. Once licensed by the USDA, its license was revoked last year primarily because of unsafe enclosures with “gaps in the fencing which would enable the cats to pass a paw through and injure [themselves] or possibly enlarge the open area [hole] that may allow escape."

And so the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) team is back in Ohio moving 32 animals to new homes. This trip we are moving five tigers and one bear.  Day one brings the vet and his team to tranquilize the animals and perform physicals, which includes blood work and parasite exams. This is a good time to check teeth and look for other issues that can’t be identified when the animal is awake.

Before each wakes up, they are transferred into their transport cages so that they can be loaded onto the trucks the next morning to begin their long journey to new homes. Zeus, Apollo and Jake are going to a sanctuary in California. Gage and Syber are going to Safe Haven Rescue in Nevada and Sugar Bear, the black bear, is going to live at Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine, California.

Gage cools down in his water tub minutes after arriving at Safe Haven Rescue in Nevada. Sugar Bear starts to wake up before he can be put into his transport cage and so we all must wait until he’s awake enough to be persuaded to go into his cage. Sugar Bear was rescued from becoming a victim of a canned hunt at about 16-months old. He’s lived at the facility since 2006 and according to the USDA inspector; he’s the nicest bear she’s met in her 25 years of being an inspector. He is a good-natured bear whose favorite food is yogurt. He was rewarded with a six-pack of it the next morning. Two or three slurps through the grate with that big tongue and each container is empty.

Day two gets us up bright and early to begin loading the animals into trailers. The facility has not taken into account in planning their facility layout that one day big trailers must get onto the premises to load more than a big cat or two and so the bigger rig can’t get in. We must run out and rent a smaller cargo trailer to make runs between the facility and a church parking lot nearby where the bigger rig is waiting.

Finally everyone is loaded. Poor, sweet Sugar Bear must share his trailer with Gage, the tiger, who has been growling, snarling and carrying on since we started loading. Plywood is put between them as a visual barrier but Sugar Bear stands up to peek over to see what is going on and who is making all the noise. I think he got quite a shock because when he stands down and looks out the side door at us, his eyes are as big as saucers. And so they are off, to make the 2,100 mile trip to Nevada to drop off Gage and Syber first.

Its two and a half days later and the trailers have arrived at Safe Haven in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Founder, Lynda Sugasa, and her husband, Dave, meet us to escort us past the locked gates of the facility and into the sanctuary. A big, new enclosure is waiting for Gage and Syber who have been buddies together in Ohio.

They will help each other to settle in; first comes Gage who continues to be angry and upset.

The transport cage is abutted closely to the enclosure gate and strapped together tightly so there is no chance of his going anywhere but into the enclosure. Gage, after briefly telling us all what he thinks of us, enters the enclosure and goes directly to his swimming pool where he takes a long drink of water.

Syber is next who is a lot nicer about having to make the trip and cautiously leaves his cage to explore the new home. The two greet each other and shortly afterwards each has taken a long dip in the pool. They’ll be fine and will enjoy the quietness and the remoteness of the sanctuary. Shortly after unloading Syber and Gage, the transport trailers take off for California. I’m sure that Sugar Bear will find the rest of the trip a lot more relaxing.

All the good sanctuaries work together to try and find room when something like this happens. Working with GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries), Bobbie Brinks from Lions, Tigers and Bears is the lead for this effort and has made time in her busy schedule to find placement, arrange transportation and make several trips back and forth from California to Ohio.

Receiving sanctuaries rush to build or enlarge enclosures to make room for the new arrivals. Closing a facility is not an easy job and it’s expensive to get these animals out of Ohio to their new homes – thousands and thousands of dollars.

IFAW has provided the means for the medical expenses and towards transportation. None of us could do this work without our donors. 


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime