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Turpentine Creek: Where Tigers are Kings


Turpentine Creek Wilderness Refuge near Eureka Springs has been a destination for families for 29 years. But 13 new resident cats are drawing extra curiosity. Netflix made popular the documentary Tiger King during the first part of 2020. With spare time at home at the beginning of the pandemic, the views surged, and many people became aware of Joe Exotic and the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. The show drew six Emmy nominations, including Best Documentary Series.

Turpentine Creek: Where Tigers are Kings

Tiger King Tiger Rescue

The Tiger King documentary unveils the story of Joe Exotic, a wild animal collector, and an eccentric cast of characters that enter and exit his life, including a rivalry with Carole Baskin, a Florida-based Big Cat Rescue owner. Tangled in a neighbor dispute, new ownership and a murder-for-hire storyline are the lives of the animals at this Oklahoma-based facility which houses big cats, such as tigers, jaguars and ligers.

The documentary’s premise told the underground story of animal conservationists and their rivalry with exotic animal collectors. It resonated with a global audience, with Neilson reporting that 34.3 million people watched the miniseries during its first 10 days of release and doubled viewership in its first month.

Ungowa Lioness Rescued from Tiger King

Turpentine Creek Steps In

Earlier this year, the team at Turpentine Creek was a critical part of the animals left behind at affiliated “zoos.” They had previously been involved with multiple rescues at a Tiger King associated property in Indiana, so they were equipped and prepared to make the rescue and bring the animals to safety. In addition, their specialty in rescuing animals from the exotic trade industry keeps them poised as strong advocates for these animals.

An early observation with moving the animals to Turpentine Creek was their interaction with grass. The big cats were found in a dirt and trash-filled sediment environment, so it took several of them a few days to understand the sensory experience of their new grass habitat. Glacier, a white tiger, was immediately spellbound and pounced on his new toys running up and down the hill in his roaming space. Like male lion Chief, other animals were content to take their turn on the grassy space and chill in the covering of the night sleep area.

Chief, a lion rescued from a Tiger King-affiliated zoo in Indiana, feels grass on his paws for the first time.

Being a Voice of the Wild

Rescuing animals from roadside zoos and magic shows, private backyards and cub petting facilities is a primary goal of Turpentine Creek. They seek to be a voice for these animals and represent to visitors what happens to them when used in the entertainment industry. Their mission is to provide lifetime refuge for abused and neglected “Big Cats.”

Turpentine Creek currently cares for 100 animals in their 400-acre facility. There are two ways to tour the rescue – a tram tour or a walking path. The outdoor discovery center introduces guests to the resident tigers, ligers, lions, jaguars and African servals.

This is an animal sanctuary. All of their animals are rescues from non-natural habitat situations. Their owners were trying to domesticate them as house pets or exploit them for small carnival-type fanfare. Some animals were hurt in those processes or were in environments that left them with permanent damage.

Caring for the Cats

At Turpentine Creek, an on-site veterinarian cares for the animals with staff who abide by a two-person, no-contact method. They are in a “sanctuary” environment, meaning they do not have to do what they don’t want to do. For example, if it’s the middle of the summer and animals feel hot and lazy, they can sleep in the shade, under a play table or inside their night cage. They are free within their habitat to roam, rest, eat and play as they desire.

Turpentine Creek: Where Tigers are Kings

Turpentine Creek is nonprofit, and in addition to daily tours, they provide 10 private suite accommodations for guests to stay on the property.

  • Three options are provided around a liger habitat with observation views out the window of the suite.
  • Five African safari suites combine the Ozarks and Sahara in a unique experience where you can hear animals caroling in the night.
  • Two new “glamping,” yurt-style family suites take tent camping to the next level.
  • Six RV/tent style spots are available for a 7-night maximum visit.

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

Eureka Springs, AR
Facebook, Instagram, YouTube
Tours are offered daily on the hour.
The refuge requires facial masks in the Discovery Area, but not on the tram. Tigers and big cats are some of the few animals that are highly susceptible to the coronavirus.

Virtual Tour available on YouTube – Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Turpentine Creek: Where Tigers are Kings

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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4 responses to “Turpentine Creek: Where Tigers are Kings”

  1. alda ellis says:

    Turpentine Creek is amazing…I have visited there and they are such a fabulous rescue operation in every way. This is a wonderful article, and perfect for something memorable to do in these crazy covid times. Perfect for all ages, as my 3 year old grandson loved it as well as we did . The refuge just needs our love and support of their wonderful caring rescue operation.

  2. Tanya says:

    Thanks for sharing our mission.

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