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Winona, a female tiger, arrived at the sanctuary in November of 2020. She’s estimated to be about 3 – 5 years old, though we don’t know for sure.

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. Though many other people 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 to be there for them.

As soon as we arrived, 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.

Their Previous Years

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.”

Winona had lived with her mate Marcus in this cage at the facility. Her tail had been amputated after being bitten off by a lion through a shared wall.

We were told that 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!

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 (pictured above in the den with mother Winona). 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 the cub 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 this cub would not be sold and knowing Winona would never have to go through losing a cub ever again.

Life at the Sanctuary

Caretakers at the sanctuary had also been busily preparing habitats for the big cats while we were away. Once we arrived with them, the cats were all safely unloaded. We watched over them closely for days as they adjusted.

Like most new residents, it was scary for the cats at first. But, the moment they finally felt grass under their feet and ran in an open space for their first time ever was exhilarating!!

Baby Dash has received round-the-clock care, being fed every four hours by his human surrogates. Sadly, we can never replace what his mother could have provided him. But he will grow up knowing only love, care and never being a pay-to-play prop, or future breeder for the cub petting industry.

Winona has received birth control so she can live safely together with Marcus. Having her spayed is planned for the summer months when it’s warmer.

How You Can Help

Rescuing big cats like Winona is such an expensive commitment. It can cost as much as $10,000 every year to support just ONE big cat! 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 Winona’s sponsor parent, or even giving a one time donation toward her care.  There are easy buttons at the top of this page you can click to help. It makes such a difference for her!