Saving The Tigers

News
Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - 4:03pm

Arkansas woman works to rescue big cats facing extinction.

You might call Tanya Smith the queen of the tigers.

She lords over a Eureka Springs, Arkansas sanctuary known as Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

More than 100 animals found their last chance there and Smith really doesn't want any more.

She's a reluctant leader of the pack.

"Usually when we get the animals, they're on the brink of being destroyed. We're their last hope," she says.

Chasing that hope is why Smith and her crew hit the road to rescue tigers.

A recent trip took them to Stephenville, Texas, outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

"We've rescued from 18 states right now," said Smith.

The house call saved two tigers named Sasha and Shelby.

The former owners bought them from a breeder for $5,000.

All went well until an insurance agent showed up to inspect hail damage on the roof of their home.

The tigers cost them that insurance.

"We got into the last month and we had to make a decision. We obviously couldn't afford insurance, and so we had to give them up," said Guy and Heather Robinson.

The tigers made a lifesaving trip to Turpentine Creek.

Shelby and Sasha will likely spend 30 days in quarantine before they move again.

They'll wind up with more space and grass under their paws.

Unfortunately Turpentine Creek is running out of space.

Smith even agreed to take a bear, which isn't part of any plan.

"Nobody will take him," said Smith. "The animals calls just kept coming in with people who needed help with this cat or this cat or this bear -- whatever it might be. Without the refuge, I knew the animal might be destroyed."

With only an estimated 3,200 tigers left in the wild worldwide, Smith doesn't feel she can walk away.

"They're beautiful and all you have to do is look in their eyes and see that. They deserve a chance to live out their lives with some sort of dignity," she says.

Shortly after they arrived, Shelby and Sasha snarled and swiped at visitors and the refuge's staff.

Now, they are "rolling around and showing signs that they're trusting us," Smith says.

Turpentine Creek currently is caring for 121 big cats and about 30 other animals.
 

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