Newborn tiger cub Dash arrived at the sanctuary in November of 2020. His arrival was totally unexpected!
Our sanctuary had been called upon to help four big cats. They were located out-of-state and one of their caretakers had passed away. Many were coming forward, trying to take the cats, sell them or send them to a pseudo-sanctuary for more breeding or display. We were so grateful they would instead be coming to our sanctuary.
As soon as we arrived at the facility, we knew this wouldn’t be easy. A single lane, curvy dirt road through the woods, led up a quarter of a mile to the cages of these lions and tigers.
We knew there was no way our transport trailer could make it up that hill. And with piles of scrap metal, cars and other collections lining the road, there was nowhere to turn around or come back down either.
The terrain was so rough that the tires on our transport crates bent and could not make it up the hill on their own. It was obvious, we had to come up with an alternative plan right away.
We had no other choice than to sedate these four big cats individually, put each of them into our vehicle, drive them down to the city road and load them into our trailer a quarter of a mile away.
This would all have to be done quickly, before the cats woke up. Not an ideal way, but the only way, given the circumstances.
History of this Facility
Cubs had been bred at this location for years. They’d been sold on the internet, as well as for cub petting profit. Thankfully, the decision had been made to finally give these remaining cats sanctuary.
Years of producing cubs, having them pulled away to be sold – this would be the end of that cycle. Our hearts broke when the story of Sara, one of the lion cubs born here, was shared with us.
“In 2014, I started working selling cubs. This was my first lion cub I held and thought this was so cool. I thought I located a great home for her. It was a roadside zoo, a petting zoo. They destroyed her when she got too old to pet and it broke my heart! She was 4 months old when they destroyed her. She would have been almost 7 years old today.”
Dash’s mother Winona had lived with her mate Marcus in this cage at the facility. We were told Winona had given birth only five months ago. Like so many others, that cub had been sold. You can imagine how shocked we were when, as we were loading cats, we discovered she had just given birth again! (pictured below in the den with mother Winona)
Tiger Cub Dash is Discovered
In the wild, tigers have a litter approximately every two years. But in captivity, when breeders pull the cubs from their mother, their mother goes back into estrus. This means she can be bred several times a year.
We were devastated. This poor cub, we named Dash, still had his umbilical cord attached and weighed only a few pounds. If we’d had any idea, we would’ve postponed the pick-up for the health of Winona and her cub.
But as we discovered the cub, so did his father Marcus who Winona shared her cage with. He quickly tried to go after the cub. We were informed that he had killed offspring in the past. We had no choice but to continue the sedation and loading process to save all the cats, including the cub.
All were loaded safely, but Winona was understandably distraught from recently giving birth, defending her cub from Marcus, being sedated and loaded into her transport. It was not safe to put Dash back with her at this time. That was the most devastating of all.
Pay-to-play cubs are taken from their moms shortly after birth so they can be hand raised. As a sanctuary, we feel wholeheartedly that mother tigers should raise their young. So, when we knew this couldn’t happen based on Winona’s reaction, it hurt us to the core.
The only peace we feel is knowing Dash would not be sold and knowing Winona would never have to go through losing a cub ever again.
Life at the Sanctuary
Though our sanctuary has raised many orphaned young wild cats, this was the first time we’d had to care for a newborn.
Baby Dash received round-the-clock care, being fed every four hours by his human surrogate. Because of his delicate immune system at this stage, and with the threat of the COVID-19 virus looming, it was important Dash be cared for by just one caretaker.
He grew quickly in size and weight, hitting milestones daily.
Dash has grown into a very strong adult tiger now. At times, he’s affectionately been called “Dash the Destroyer” since he attacks every new toy with such power.
He still has that single dash mark on his front right leg, just as his father Marcus had. We’re so thankful we happened to be there at such a critical moment in Dash’s life, when he was born, so we could give him this chance to grow up and live wild at heart.
How You Can Help
As you can imagine, unexpectedly rescuing a newborn tiger cub like Dash is such an expensive commitment. It can cost as much as $10,000 every year to support just ONE big cat! He’ll live 20+ years as he grows into adulthood here at the sanctuary.
That’s why our sponsorship program is so important. It helps provide the best life possible for those we’re able to rescue.
Thank you for considering becoming Dash’s sponsor parent, or even giving a one time donation toward his care. There are easy buttons at the top of this page you can click to help. It makes such a difference for him!
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Dash being raised?
- Just like everything in recent months, flexibility and creativity is needed to maneuver this new world. Raising tiger cub Dash is no different. A tiger cub is not only vulnerable to Covid-19, but also to many other feline and canine diseases such as panleukopenia, canine distemper and the calicivirus.
- Big Cats can contract Covid-19. Therefore, we had to isolate Dash and assign him one primary caregiver to decrease exposure. This is opposite of what we normally do, where we rotate staff with younger cats, so they don’t get too attached to a human. In addition, his primary caregiver also quarantined for two weeks after the transport to decrease exposure. A room in the Welcome Center was modified as a nursery where only Dash and his caretaker Tammy reside.
- A kitten or cub would spend its first few weeks in the onsite hospital. This wasn’t possible with Dash since his father needed extensive dental procedures and intake exams needed to be performed. Dash can’t be full vaccinated until 12 weeks old, and his parents and the lions had an unknown vaccination history. In addition, vets and dentists traveling in from other clinics would increase his risk of exposure.
- As he grew, he’d move into our quarantine area, with indoor and outdoor space. But, with other animals in the quarantine area, this is also too much exposure from caretakers and other cats for little Dash.
- Once Dash is fully vaccinated at 12 weeks, he will move to a small cat area at the sanctuary where he can be near cats of his own size, but they won’t be the same species. There, he will learn more cat behavior through shared walls and across hallways and get to learn more about the outdoors.
- As he grows, he will move to a larger habitat for big cats. Our goal would be to eventually introduce him to another tiger of similar age so he can grow up with his own kind.
Why can’t Dash be reunited with his mother?
We absolutely wanted him raised by his mother. So many factors went into this very difficult and heart-wrenching decision to save all three; Winona, Marcus & Dash.
The vets were very concerned about Winona’s (Dash’s mother’s) health after sedation, the stress of the move, the fight with Marcus and not knowing if she had other still born babies or had released her afterbirth.
And due to her health, we had to put her on birth control so she wouldn’t go into estrus again and get pyometra from being bred so frequently. Therefore, she was not producing milk.
In addition, she was in fight or flight mode. Who could blame her after all she’d been through? It was just too dangerous not knowing how she would react.
Our first choice would have been to reunite them, but it just isn’t safe for any of them right now. We consulted many sanctuaries and they also agreed.
We understand your feelings, we are right there with you all! This is so bittersweet on many levels.
Dash should have never been born in captivity.
Will Dash be reunited from his mom?
As in the wild, when tigers mature, they no longer live with their parents. The fathers can see another male tiger, even when he’s sired it, as a threat.
We had this occur with lion Gino, the son of lions Sofi and Kimba. The zoo Gino came from in Argentina had to separate him from his parents as he matured since Kimba would try to attack him.
As a neutered adult male, our goal would be to introduce him to his own kind and that will depend on personalities of each cat.
We are open to rescuing another young tiger if there is one in need to pair him with sooner.
Did any of the big cats have health issues?
Lions Wally and Marlene were in good shape and body condition. Marlene has arthritic changes consistent with her age.
Tigress Winona came to us with an amputated tail. We were told it had been injured by one of the lions through a shared wall and had to be medically amputated.
Tiger Marcus needed the most attention. He arrived with abrasions and injuries to his rear hock and hip. He also had several scratches and scars on his face. The most concerning was his broken canines and fractured teeth with root pulp exposure. He received two canine root canals and will need two more procedures to correct 15 of his 30 bad teeth.
All cats have been updated with vaccinations, microchips, bloodwork and wellness exams.
What was the condition of where they’d been living?
The facility was USDA licensed and had 4 adult big cats, numerous dogs, feral cats, birds and hooved stock, all for sale. They had bred big cats and sold them to roadside zoos, cub petting operations and advertised online. The Wildcat Sanctuary removed all big cats on the property.
The terrain was rough and very inaccessible by truck/trailer.
The cages were small. Each big cat did have shelter from the elements. The tigers lived on a muddy surface. The lions had a combination of concrete and dirt.
What type of relationship will Tammy have with Dash as he grows up?
When you care for an animal from a young age, a relationship is built. Of course, our first wish is that there would never be orphaned wildlife or cubs that cannot be raised with their mothers, like Dash. The next best thing is when they can grow up with siblings like Sky/Selene and the cougar trio. But when that can’t be the case, we do become surrogate caregivers.
Tammy and the caregivers respect that they are in a caregiving position, always putting the needs of the animal first. We never try and make them ‘pet like’ or encourage them to love us.
Instead, it’s a selfless relationship and our role is to provide them what they need for every stage of development. This might include stroking to stimulate them to eat or groom, similar to their mother would. It may mean giving them appropriate attention as needed at a safe age. For newborns, it might be wrapping them in a blanket and holding them.
That caring relationship will continue into adulthood, but have very different boundaries. When kittens or cubs come to the sanctuary, our goal is that they grow up with a sense of independence. When they become too imprinted (like in private ownership), those cats wait for human attention, which may come only an hour a day by a pet owner.
At the sanctuary, we want the cats to make their own decisions, live with their own kind, and be happy with enrichment, playing in grass, jumping on perches. This makes them much happier adults, especially since they will be living in captivity for up to 20 years.
Once you have a happy, confident adult, they enjoy the respected relationship between them and their caregiver. They are socialized, which makes husbandry and vet care less stressful. They greet their caretakers at the fence with a chuff or purr. And each cat has a favorite caregiver and a healthy bond.