It was the conclusion to the biggest and longest cross-country rescue ever on Wednesday at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone.
The rescue of three cats and a leopard has been nearly four years in the making for the cat’s former owner and more than a year in the making for sanctuary, which takes in big cats who’ve been surrendered by owners or by law enforcement action.
As the doors to a massive rig carrying Shadow, Calcutta, Logan and Caesar opened, the the sound of their roars come pouring out. Executive Director Tammy Thies said the trip has been stressful for the cats who’ve experienced nothing like the trek or what’s waiting for them at the sanctuary.
“It is long and emotional, not only for the humans involved, but the animals involved as well,” Thies said.
Calcutta, an 11-year-old white Bengal tiger was first off the rig, while two other tigers and leopard waited their turn. The cats were transported in small cages not much larger than 8-by-10 foot ones they previously lived in.
“This was a very scary trip for the cats, they’re coming from very basic habitats,” Thies said.
That’s were Calcutta’s story starts. She and the three other big cats were owned by dealers and breeders who used them as exhibits and photo props. Calcutta changed owners one time after she scratched as a child who was taking a photo with her at a state fair. The injury required 14 stitches.
Calcutta’s career as a pet and show cat ended when a New York State Supreme Court judge ordered their owner to surrender custody. Neighbor’s complaints about dangerous exotics in the owner’s backyard had launched a 4-year legal battle over zoning, and then man faced fines and jail time if he didn’t give the cats up.
“An owner decided to do what was right by them and place them in the hands of an accredited facility versus resell them or put them back into the breeding or exhibiting pool,” Thies said.
Thies said unfortunately though, cats with backgrounds like Calcutta’s and the others in the sanctuary, now far outnumber those in the wild. She encourages education and legislation to help curb the breeding and private ownership of wildcats.
“Cats that are in captivity and bred by private owners do not have any conservation value, their genetics are unknown, they have health problems so they don’t contribute to the conservation of the wild population,” Thies said.
For Calcutta, a new habitat that’s 50 times her old space will take time to get used to, but staff expect she’ll adjust in about a week or so.
“It’s beautiful, but I haven’t breathed a sigh of relief yet, that’ll be in a week when she’s swimming in her pool and laying on her perch and coming up and giving us a tiger “chuff,” which is a form of hello. We’re happy to give a happy ending to that story,” Thies said.
The sanctuary said there are still five states that allow residents to keep nearly any animal as a pet, including Wisconsin, Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina, although there are some federal laws governing the sale, breeding, transportation and exhibition of exotic animals.
Wed, 2 Sep 2015 22:10:52 CDT WDIO Channel 10 ABC