Oakland Zoo and Accredited Big Cat Sanctuaries Coordinate 4,000 Mile Rescue, Bring 4 Big Cats to Safe Havens

Oakland Zoo
June 13, 2022


Oakland Zoo and Accredited Big Cat Sanctuaries Coordinate 4,000 Mile Rescue, Bring 4 Big Cats to Safe Havens

Oakland Zoo, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, and Lions Tigers & Bears to Rescue, Rehabilitate, and Re-Home Lion, Tiger Hybrid and Two Tigers

(Captions: Above left: Tiger hybrid at roadside zoo in Oklahoma, prior to rescue on Friday. Above right: Generic tiger at roadside zoo in Oklahoma, prior to rescue on Friday. Bottom: Tigers arriving at Oakland Zoo  yesterday, and being brought into Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital

OAKLAND, CA…June 13, 2022 – Four fortunate big cats will now live safe, dignified lives after a cross-country rescue was facilitated on Friday by a three-entity collaboration. AZA-accredited Oakland Zoo in Oakland, CA, and globally accredited big cat sanctuaries Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge from Eureka Springs, AR and Lions, Tigers, and Bears in Alpine, CA teamed up to rescue a lion, a tiger hybrid and two generic tigers from a defunct, abandoned drive-thru roadside zoo in northeast Oklahoma that offered cub petting and photo opportunities. Cited and shut down by the USDA in 2008 for multiple animal safety and welfare violations, the roadside zoo, and its owner were reported to have ties to “Joe Exotic,” also known in the well-known Netflix series as “Tiger King.”

The rescue operation was initiated by Oakland Zoo, which was first contacted for help by a concerned Oklahoma resident last month. For years, Oakland Zoo has been vocal in its commitment to rescuing and giving a permanent home to animals in need, and the concerned individual knew the defunct roadside zoo had four big cats abandoned and in poor condition. Colleen Kinzley, VP of Animal Care, Conservation and Research for Oakland Zoo contacted both animal sanctuaries to team together in the effort. Oakland Zoo and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge traveled to the defunct roadside zoo and conducted the onsite animal evaluations earlier this month.  

Funded by Oakland Zoo, the critical cross-country journey for the three tigers began on Friday with the help of a state-of-the-art, self-contained animal rescue hauler owned by Lions, Tigers, and Bears. The tigers arrived in Oakland yesterday, reaching the Zoo at 10:30AM, with animal care and veterinary teams standing by to receive two of the tigers and transfer them immediately to the Zoo's veterinary hospital for evaluation. The Zoo's animal care team has already named them "Lola" and "Mia". The remaining tiger arrived at LTB last night.

For the past thirty years, we’ve fully committed Oakland Zoo’s tiger habitat as a sanctuary for tigers victimized by the circus, roadside zoo, private ownership, and cub-petting industries. Those tigers need help, and we can provide that help while educating the public about the dangers of animal exploitation practiced in those industries. When a concerned Oklahoma resident called us to help these big cats, who have endured so much suffering, there was no question that we would step in and give them the homes and care they deserve, at Oakland Zoo and our partnering sanctuaries, for the remainder of their lives,” Nik Dehejia, CEO, Oakland Zoo.    

The rescued big cats, all female and some declawed, a standard practice in the cub-petting industry, include:

There are major red flags that show these animals were victims of the cub petting industry,” said Bobbi Brink, founder and director of Lions Tigers & Bears. “These cats were declawed and in poor health and living conditions. Most likely, they were bred to be photo props, and once they grew too big and couldn’t be profitable, they were abandoned. We’re the animals’ voices, and we need to work toward education and legislation, because each animal rescued makes a difference.”

The lion arrived at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge this past Friday. In their new homes, each big cat will have a proper habitat, diet, safety protocol and more, as is required by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), a certification held by only the top sanctuaries in the nation that provide lifetime care for rescued animals, including Lions Tigers & Bears and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

The Oakland Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums. Oakland Zoo’s tiger habitat features climbing platforms, two pools for swimming, trees, and a grass-covered ground. Upon arriving at Oakland Zoo, the tigers will be taken to the Zoo’s veterinary hospital for medical attention and care for approximately four weeks before being moved to the Zoo’s tiger habitat.

After living in dismal backyard cages, four big cats will now receive top-notch husbandry and veterinary care from the Oakland Zoo; Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge; and Lions, Tigers, and Bears. PETA thanks these accredited facilities for this life-saving rescue, for advocating for the Big Cat Public Safety Act, and for setting an example for other reputable animal care facilities to follow,” said Brittany Peet, Deputy General Counsel, Captive Animal Law Enforcement - PETA Foundation (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals).

Turpentine Creek and Lions Tigers & Bears are two of only a handful of sanctuaries in the country equipped to rescue, transport and provide veterinary care to rescued animals from horrendous living conditions to accredited sanctuaries around the country, including their own.

These big cats were living in small, filthy enclosures. Shelter was provided but was terribly weathered and rotten,” said Tanya Smith, President and Founder of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. “Aside from some good Samaritans, they were left alone, fed inconsistently, and needed veterinary care. We’re so relieved to provide new homes to these animals and help them thrive.” Emily McCormack, Animal Curator at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge adds, “We are always ready and willing to collaborate with other accredited facilities when the need for rescue arises. We must fight together to resolve the big cat crisis we are facing here in the United States. No animals should suffer or live in the deplorable conditions these animals had to endure. The lioness was subjected to solitude 24x7 for 7 years that we know of. It was simply inhumane.”

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, Lions Tigers & Bears and the Oakland Zoo encourage support for reputable animal sanctuaries and facilities and advocacy for the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 263), which places much-needed restrictions on big cat private ownership and contact with the public.