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Colonial Forge grad is into cats. Really, really big cats.
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In a perfect world, said Farrell, there'd be no need for the facility, which opened in 1992. But the public's fascination with exotic animals combined with an ignorance over how to care for them often breeds tragic results.
Many of the animals come to the refuge malnourished after owners have fed them dog food or canned tuna in the mistaken belief that such a diet would tame them.
In the best cases, the animals were simply kept in inappropriate settings: a full-grown lion in a suburban backyard or a tiger with her own bedroom and a seat at the dinner table.
In the worst cases, the animals arrive at Turpentine Creek emaciated, sick or injured after mistreatment by hoarders or breeders.
"People are always shocked when they find out the conditions these animals come from," said Farrell. "It's a nice opportunity for me to raise awareness and educate the public."
Part of the problem, she said, is that federal regulations don't outright prohibit citizens from owning dangerous, wild animals.
Both the U.S. House and Senate are looking at a piece of legislation--called the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act--that would tighten regulations. But in the meantime, the International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates there are as many as 20,000 big cats in private hands in this country.
Rules about exotic pet ownership also vary from state to state. For instance, Ohio's law was considered one of the weakest in the nation. Then, last October, the owner of a big-game farm in Zanesville released more than 50 wild animals--including tigers, lions, bears and wolves--before killing himself.
Most of the animals had to be killed to protect the public. Ohio has since enacted a stricter law, but enforcement could be a problem because the state has few records of who already owns those kinds of animals.
In the wake of the Ohio tragedy, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell called for a review of Virginia's law, a process expected to be completed in December.
Essentially, Virginia law allows licensed exhibitors, like zoo or circus operators, to import animals classified as predatory but only for public education purposes--and even then, they need a special state permit and often a federal one as well.
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge houses more than 120 exotic animals, including lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and bears, on 459 acres in Eureka Springs, Ark. turpentinecreek.org.
Kelly Farrell, a graduate of Colonial Forge High School and George Mason University, is interning at
For more information on Virginia's exotic animals law and efforts to study its effectiveness, go online |
And to follow federal initiatives aimed at curbing the private ownership of big cats, see Senate Bill 3547 at senate.gov or House Resolution 4122 at house.gov. The legislation is known as the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act.