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The Exotic Animal Trade

Visiting The Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS) in Colorado opened my eyes to the fact that there are currently over 30,000 lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and other large carnivores held illegally outside of the zoo system in the United States. Many are suffering in peoples' backyards, basements, apartments, and garages. 

The Sanctuary currently provides habitat and care for 550 animals. They are one of the few resources available for these animals. Most were confiscated by law enforcement, and would otherwise have been euthanized. When they arrive at the sanctuary, they are placed in a small enclosure until they get accustomed to being outside of a confined space. Then they are slowly introduced into larger habitats with members of their own kind. Though they will never hunt, breed, or have the life they would have in the wild, they get to roam outside for the first time in their lives, and for the rest of their lives. 

Here are a few stories of the residents of the Sanctuary:

Gary & Natalya:  These Tigers came from "Tiger Rescue" in Colton, California, when it was shut down in 2003. Bred without regard for the welfare of parents or offspring, they were born in 2003, and brought to TWAS shortly after their birth. They are the lucky ones though, as authorities found 58 dead Tiger cubs when they raided the facility. 

Mary Jane:  She is 1 of 7 Tigers found crammed in tiny cages by the gas pumps at a truck stop in Texas. The owner thought that having Tigers by the gas pump would help sell gas, and he was also selling cubs that had been taken from their mothers to people when they went in to pay for their fuel!

Masai:  For every animal actor who works successfully with people, 20-30 animals are bred that don't make it. Masai, a male Lion, was one of  those, coming from a business in California that uses animals for films until they won't work anymore - then forgets them - as if they never existed. Masai now rules over his very own pride!

Carolina, Ella, Catfish and Josie:  These Black Bears were used in an ancient medieval custom called "Bear Baiting," where hunters train their dogs to attack captive Bears that have had all of their teeth and claws removed and are chained to a wall. This practice was illegal in every state in the U.S. except South Carolina, and these Bears were regularly chained up and allowed to have packs of hunting dogs attack them in order to make the dogs feel more confident when they would go on real hunting trips. Finally, the SC legislature passed a law banning the practice, and TWAS was able to rescue them. Now they all live their lives in a wide open habitat free from harassment and have lots of love, respect, great food and good friends to enjoy!

Keona, Raven & Yukon:  These Wolves were part of a group of 18 animals rescued from inside a mall in Iowa where a man had what he called a "wildlife education display" - but had animals locked inside cages for years on end. Sitting day after day on concrete floors scattered with wood chips and bark in order to make them seem "natural" and with no sunlight or fresh air, these animals were being forced to exist in one of the most unnatural environments possible. Now, these Wolves can run freely with other Wolves. 

Simba:  Female Tiger Simba, spent most of her life at a circus in Mexico. Upon Mexico passing a ban on animals in circuses in 2015, she was dumped at a zoo in Tijuana where she and another circus Tiger nearly wasted away for almost two years. After many delays, she finally arrived at TWAS where she will be loved and cared for the rest of her life. 

T.J. & Tahoe:  These Tigers were seized from a man in Minnesota when one person was killed, and the second was severely injured, after he allowed visitors to go in the Tigers' cage. Due to this the Tigers were confiscated and TWAS gained custody of them. 

Gaika & Masha:  These 2 Grizzly Bears were part of a Russian circus were they lived in a truck for 17 years. The circus closed when the owner died. When they arrived at TWAS, they suffered nicotine withdrawals, as that was what their trainer used to train them, so they would be desperate enough to do tricks for him. They are now addiction free, and enjoy plenty of space to live and play. 

Can Can:  A male Coyote who was rescued from Mexico, where he was used in Santeria ritual that involved tying his front paws together and hanging him in the air for days, and sometimes weeks, on end. When found, he was unable to walk, but with lots of TLC and world-class veterinary care, Can Can has fully recovered and is now able to live comfortably, free from human abuse, with others of his kind. 

(descriptions above were taken from TWAS guide)

Can Can's rescue also included 8 African lions, a mountain lion, and 2 lynxes. You can read about it here.

Educating ourselves about the causes and solutions of America's captive wildlife crisis are critical to changing social consciousness today. Also, next time you visit a regular zoo, you may notice an animal pacing back and forth or displaying other fearful behavior (aka "stereotypic behavior") while on display, caught between the strangers on one side and a closed den door on the other. Please encourage zoos to redesign their enclosures to minimize stress on their animals, and don't support institutions that don't put their animals' welfare first

Below are some photos I took during my visit to TWAS a couple of weeks ago. Though it is amazing to see these beautiful animals in person, their reason for being here is heartbreaking. So what can we do about it?

- Never own an exotic wild animal. 

- Report anyone or any organization you suspect is in illegal possession of an exotic animal. 

- Inform zoos of best practices and that your (their customer) main concern is the animal's welfare. 

- Never pay someone (in any country) to pose with a tiger, lion, or other exotic animal. Most likely they were taken from their mother at a very young age, and/or they are drugged every day to sedate them to take photos with people. DO NOT SUPPORT THIS. 

- If you decide to ride an elephant in Thailand, choose your organization wisely. Many chain the elephants feet and keep them in confined spaces. Here's the company I chose to support while visiting: Elephant Nature Park

- Support institutions and non-profits (such as TWAS) that rescue these animals, by contributing a donation or visiting in person, to help cover the costs of veterinary care, land, and food for each and every animal. 

Photos

I'm also adding these to my Netflix queue: "Tiger King" and "Elephant in the Room"