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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.
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
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.
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.
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 is nonprofit, and in addition to daily tours, they provide 10 private suite accommodations for guests to stay on the property.
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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.
If you are looking for other fun things to do in the Eureka Springs area, check these gems:
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