It’s not just humans, but animals of all shapes and sizes that are in need during the current pandemic. The River Valley Regional Food Bank, Tyson Foods, and Simmons Foods are just a few Arkansas organizations or companies that have helped local shelters and individuals with supplying food for dogs and cats.


What about some of the other legit organizations in need, such as Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge? For 28 years, TCWR has offered a safe haven to big cats, bears, and other exotic animals in need, which Tyson Foods does assist.


Speaking with TCWR Vice President Scott Smith at the 46th Annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism in March, Smith provided some history. “Turpentine Creek was started in May, 1992, by Tanya Smith with her mom and dad. That was some grit back in those days to get started with no money.


The nonprofit organization, located just seven miles south of Eureka Springs (about 90 miles from Van Buren), invites the public to virtually join them on 8 a.m. ― 5 p.m. May 5 for an online fundraiser “Pawty” to celebrate. Their goal is to raise $28,000 on May 5 to represent their 28th anniversary of saving lives.


The facility also has a $5,000 matching donation to help kick off the celebration.


TCWR’s Giving Tuesday event


TCWR had to temporarily close their doors to the public for the first time in their 28 year history due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. They decided to combine their annual anniversary bash, an online auction, and #GivingTuesdayNow to bring viewers a full day of online fun and fundraising to help TCWR care for the 100+ animal residents.


#GivingTuesdayNow is a new global day of giving and unity that will take place on May 5 ― in addition to the regularly scheduled Dec. 1 #GivingTuesday ― as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19.


TCWR has a day planned filled with fun games, online auctions, activities, and live videos to keep the audience engaged. Cat and dog videos, photos and memes rule the internet and social media pages, so why not a day of watching and learning about big cats, bears, exotic birds, and possibly a coatimundi?


Though TCWR encourages supporters to donate, it is not a requirement to enjoy their celebration. Anyone can watch and learn.


Items up for auction at bit.ly/ShopWithTurp include paintings created by six of the tigers. Quite honestly, the paintings are every bit as good as some of the art hanging in galleries and museums.


There is a two-night lodging for two people in a choice of tents or lodges in the auction. When you visit their site, it’s obvious that the facilities, including the tents, are not your everyday variety of tent.


There are also two different tours or two people, and a Big Cat Callout package all up for auction at their 459-acre sanctuary in the Ozark Mountains. Visit the “Pawty” page at https://www.turpentinecreek.org/28-years and visitors can choose a link to the auction items.


COVID-19 fallout


When the coronavirus COVID-19 started to spread, it was unknown if tigers and other big cats could potentially catch the virus. There was very little information about what species would be susceptible, beyond humans and the source animals (thought to be bats or pangolins). New research now proves that tigers, as well as domestic pets, can indeed catch COVID-19. It appears the animals may have caught it from humans.


New information about COVID-19 revealed the Zoonotic disease can cross more species barriers than previously thought. A Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19 on April 5. Three other tigers and three other African lions at the zoo were showing similar symptoms and tested positive. Another tiger that never showed symptoms also tested positive. All eight big cats are recovering


Because TCWR is temporarily closed to the public, they don’t have their usual income from daily tours or lodging. Their online community has stepped up and helped fill in some of those financial gaps but the rescue organization is still down almost 35% in income.


Smith said, “Since we’re located outside of Eureka Springs, it makes sense to market ourselves as a tourist attraction. When tourists get there, we turn them into donors for our nonprofit.”


Smith stated that tourism and sponsorships supply about 25% of the income it takes to operate the nonprofit with fundraisers. The other 75% comes from lodging in one of TCWR’s fancy safari tents, cozy lodges, or a tree house. There’s also tent and RV camping that will eventually be allowed once again after the pandemic.


With the number of staff, volunteers and man hours it takes to care for the animals, grounds and facilities, it requires a lot of income to function.


Smith said, “We had to open several revenue streams to fund it because we live in a county with 30,000 people. The average per household is $32,000. We knew we had to get money outside of the area.”


They have done their best to reduce expenses, and have laid off a few employees that couldn’t perform their job remotely. TCWR plans to rehire those employees back as soon as they reopen to the public.


TCWR also had projects already in progress that needed finished and very few expenses can be cut since so many of our annual expenses are tied directly to animal care.


One of the projects includes developing a brand new Visitor Education Center. Preliminary work has already begun. This includes the construction of a new public water system ($150,000) to help not only prepare for the new Visitor Education Center, but also allow TCWR to rescue more animals, expand their facility, and prepare for the future!


The education program at Turpentine Creek is dedicated to helping visitors discover how they can help protect exotic animals and have a memorable experience while visiting the Refuge. It is through education that TCWR can help spread awareness about the struggles animals face due to the exotic pet trade and how everyone can be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.


Now that the Arkansas State Parks are slowly opening back up in phases, and other businesses are scheduled to reopen, perhaps it won’t be too long before TCWR allows tours and lodging once again.


TCWR’s ethical treatment


Although TCWR’s mission is to provide lifetime refuge for abused and neglected “Big Cats” with emphasis on tigers, lions, leopards, and cougars, it appears their real goal is to become expendable. Through public education, the organization works to end the Exotic Animal Trade, making sanctuaries like Turpentine Creek no longer necessary. TCWR wants to preserve and protect these magnificent predators in the wild for our children’s future.


TCWR is a USDA licensed facility; accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, which means they meet GFAS‘s standards for verification and accreditation that involve many factors relating to ethical procedures, restrictions on research and a contingency plan; and, not only a founding member of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance, but accredited by BCSA, as well. BCSA works to eliminate private ownership and the commercial exploitation of wild cats in the United States.


Big Cat Public Safety Act


TCWR’s most recent foray into advocacy was the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a bill that, if passed, would stop hands-on interaction with big cats of any age and require either an adequate barrier or 15 feet between these dangerous animals and the public.


The BCPSA reached two major milestones:


September 18, 2019, the bill was presented to the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife House Subcommittee for “markup” where it was voted 21-14 to be presented to the floor as written.


September 26, the bill was introduced to the Senate as S.2561 where it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.


Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) is one of the 229 cosponsors of the bill. Contact your House Representative and Senators at TCWR.org/advocacy to help put an end to the big cat trade in the United States.


Smith said, “I’m really proud and happy to be involved with a goal that is achievable in our lifetime. Through advocacy and education, we’ll stop the private ownership of tigers and lions in your backyard. We’re getting close now. We may stop in the next five years.”