DULUTH – It’s estimated there are as many as 10,000 large wildcats in private ownership across the United States, and only 4,000 living in the wild. In a two-part special report, we take you to The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn., where they’re about to take the next step in trying to end the captive wildlife crisis, as FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.
It’s about as wild as it’s going to get in northern Minnesota when you visit The Wildcat Sanctuary, with more than 100 rescued wild cats on the 40-acre site.
It’s not a zoo by any means and it’s not open to the public, but it is a sanctuary with a mission of ending the captive wildlife crisis.
Tammy Thies is the founder of The Wildcat Sanctuary — the only one of its kind in the Midwest.
She’s been rescuing cats on this property fully on donations since 2006, and it’s been both exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time because, she says, people still don’t understand that owning wild cats is wrong and dangerous.
“Although we love what we do, and give them a natural environment and home, we can’t rescue ourselves out of the captive wildlife crisis,” Thies said.
Every year, Thies turns away more than 300 cats that are either in people’s backyards, basements or garages.
“There are people with one or two pet cougars in the backyard. They can’t afford it. They move homes. And guess what they do? They open the door to their cougar pen, and what’s that cougar going to do, go find a person. It’s been fed by humans. It’s been talked to by humans every day,” Thies said.
The Wildcat Sanctuary is part of more than a dozen accredited facilities across the country. Thies says they all work together to find forever homes for these big beauties.
“It takes about $10,000 a year to care for a tiger. It takes anywhere from $25,000 to $60,000 to build an enclosure and to run our entire facility. It’s about an $800,000 a year budget,” Thies said.
The final expansion of this peaceful sanctuary is in the process of being built for more cats. But after that, the team is going to start heavily focusing on prevention measures so one day the sanctuary won’t be needed anymore.
“There are too many animals needing homes. Education and legislation will help prevent more animals from needing sanctuary,” Thies said.