Nikita’s a female Bengal white tiger who came to The Wildcat Sanctuary in 2012. She was 7 years old at the time and had already survived a horrible life of abuse.

Nikita was owned by the notorious Ohio breeder, exhibitor and ex-convict Sam Mazzola. As a typical pay-to-play cub, he used her from a very young age as a photo prop to make money. Nikita grew up in a small, cement slab cage with other tigers. She had to fight for her food, becoming dominant and dangerous.

Be sure to learn The Truth About White Tigers here and help educate others, too.

Mazzola would travel around with his exotics, bringing in over $20,000 per event. He’d force his bears to wrestle anyone who paid $1000 for the chance, and 1000’s did. Employees were seen using a bat on one of the tigers, too. We can only imagine the abuse Nikita endured.

When Mazzola died of asphyxiation in 2012, authorities divided up his animals and placed them at various facilities. Nikita went to a backyard facility where she lived alone in a 20’ x 30’ cage. But finally, she was safe and loved.

Until Ohio laws became much stricter regarding private ownership of exotics. Her current owners couldn’t meet the new regulations, so looked to place their cats at a sanctuary.

Life at the Sanctuary

We were happy to welcome Nikita to her forever home.  No more being on exhibit, no more moving from place to place, no more abuse….just love and a serene environment for her to blossom.

And she has! She’s a much more docile tiger today, calmly sitting for operant conditioning and not as fearful of cameras as she used to be.  Today, she trusts her caretakers and knows what true compassion feels like.

Be sure to scroll down to see videos of her amazing transformation!

How You Can Help

Without our sponsor parents, transformations like this just aren’t possible. If you’d like to consider sponsoring Nikita, or even giving a one time donation towards her care, you can do that easily using the buttons at the top of this page.

Thank you for your support!


How Nikita’s changed

From Outreach for Animals Tim Harrison:

“I was contacted by Tammy Thies of The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota to do some prep work on a white tiger being kept in a backyard near Ashland, Ohio. Upon my first visit to Denise and Jose Flores’ property, I was amazed to see a well run rescue facility that they called, Tiger Paws.

The big cats they cared for were cats that had been abused by other so called “rescue groups” but were really used for photo ops, traveling road shows, etc. The white tiger Tammy was coming to relocate to her facility was Nikita, as I found out, to be the most aggressive and violent big cat that I have ever met ( wild or caged).

Denise told me her sad story of abuse (struck with aluminum ball bats to “train” her, etc.) Denise stepped in and rescued her from the notorious Sam Mazzola ( World Animal Studios near Cleveland, Ohio). If you want to know Sam’s story, checkout the Animal Planet TV Show, Fatal Attraction’s -“Terror at Bear Farm” ( I also appeared in that sad episode).

Watch this short series of videos of the evolution of Nikita ( Tammy and her team are miracle workers) and her, and her big cat companions, getting much needed oral surgery from the heroes at the Peter Emily International Veterinary Dental Foundation. OFA is honored to be able to be a part of this magnificent work and support The Wildcat Sanctuary, Denise and Jose Flores and Peter Emily International Veterinary Dental Foundation.”

Thanks and stay safe, Tim


Nikita’s rescue was covered by the news media nationally.  Below, you’ll find a list of articles that detail a lot of what we went through in order to bring Nikita here to her new home at The Wildcat Sanctuary.

Exotic animal owner moving big cats out of Ashland County

My life in captivity – through the eyes of Nikita, the tigress

Exotic animal owner moving big cats out of Ashland County

Big cats leaving Ohio for new home

White tiger, cougar taken to MN Wildcat Sanctuary in preparation for proposed exotic animal bill

Exotic animals from Ohio bound for Minn. sanctuary

Lion, tiger moved from Ashland, Ohio to The Wildcat Sanctuary in MN

Old newspaper coverage of Nikita when she was chained down and used as a photo prop at fairs by Sam Mazzola:


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