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The Big Cats of Arkansas

November 29, 2012

Arkansas – Sunday, November 25

Hello, Arkansas! I arrived late last night and stayed in Rogers at the first reasonable place I found – in the northwest corner of the state. In the morning I read a bit about the area, and picked up some pamphlets and got some ideas. The donation I wanted to make today will have to wait until tomorrow since they’re not open today, but another opportunity presented itself…

Tula and I started off our day by walking around Rogers, another town on the National Historic Register. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and we walked through most of the streets in town and out into the neighborhoods. They also have a town park which stretches a couple of blocks and it’s all decorated and Christmas carols were playing on the outdoor speakers. It was an enjoyable 3 1/2 miles.

Then we headed east toward Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, which is home to more than 100 rescued big cats. I’m in Ozark Mountain country and the roads in this area are twisty, crooked and steep – but it’s so pretty! I’ve never seen the Ozarks before and they’re steeper and more rugged than I expected. We made a stop at Hobbs State Park along the way and got in another mile and a half of walking. Then I got to the refuge. I was interested in seeing this place because they’re one of the biggest exotic cat refuges- often rescuing lions and tigers (and a few other critters) from people who made a poor decision to get one in the first place. This organization is also in the process of taking in about 36 big cats from a 73-yr-old woman who can no longer look after them. Mostly they have tigers, cougars and lions, but there’s also bobcats, a grizzly bear, something I couldn’t identify, and a couple donkeys. They all eat in their pens (which all have shelters)and spend the night in their pens, but by day there are numerous large “habitats” that they are turned loose in, and for some of the cats they rescue it’s the first time they’ve felt grass under their feet. Sadly, it is still legal in some states to hold exotic animal auctions and that’s where people can buy cute little lion and tiger cubs without apparently realizing that they’re going to grow into large, potentially destructive animals. Plus, they eat a lot! This refuge goes through 1,000 pounds of meat a day, and are generously helped by Walmart and Tyson. I also saw a couple ligers (cross between lions and tigers and they mostly look like tigers without stripes). The guide who took my group around was a volunteer intern and she knew all the animals by name and their characteristics – it was interesting. My daily donation went to them – they seem to be doing a nice job caring for these animals that cannot be released back into the land where they belong.

The refuge also had a small campground on the premises, and since it was a warm day, and the night temperatures would be tolerable, I had to camp there! I wanted to listen to all of the night sounds of these big cats, and figured I wouldn’t have that opportunity again!

But first I called my cousin Jay after my visit through the refuge. I knew he spent part if the year in northwest Arkansas, but wasn’t exactly sure where, and thought I’d touch base. Turns out he was just finishing some work about 10 miles north of Eureka Springs, and I was about 10 miles south of Eureka Springs, so we met up for dinner at The Rocking’ Pig, where he treated me to beer and barbecue and we enjoyed getting caught up. Thanks again, Jay!

Then I went back to the refuge and got set up while listening to the many noises coming from the compound – so many loud sighs, huffings, deep rumblings, and even a nasty sounding spat between a couple of them! These were the sorts of noises that could be used in a scary movie! If I had to guess which kind of animal I was listening to, I would have guessed some big elephants. One other disturbance woke me up during the night – just a couple cats having a disagreement! At first Tula would growl a bit at the noise, then she ignored it. But she had to stay on her leash at this campground – she was interested in watching the tigers in the daylight. The campground is only about 25 yards from 2 of the tiger pens, but there are double fences between them and campers!

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