Wylie sanctuary tends to wounds exotic cats shouldn’t have to endure
10:04 PM CDT on Monday, March 23, 2009
WYLIE – Skinny and scared and sick, Apollo is not sociable. He’s crouched on a pile of straw inside a low-ceilinged cinderblock shelter, his amber eyes shining in the gloom.
As I watched, he stepped out for an instant into a larger enclosure, but ducked immediately back inside, as if reluctant to have his weakness exposed.
Apollo is roughly 200 pounds short of the normal weight for an adult male Bengal tiger. And, save for his handsome head, he is entirely hairless from disease or maybe just malnutrition. The striped skin is stretched tight over his skeleton, every rib standing out in stark relief.
If he survives the neglect he has endured, Apollo will live the rest of his days at In-Sync Exotics, a big-cat sanctuary in Wylie.
I’ve been out there before and seen what knowledgeable care and kindness can do for these misused, hard-to-place animals. This visit, though, was the first time I looked the “before” picture in the face.
Two tigers and one lion arrived at In-Sync on Sunday after being seized by federal Department of Agriculture agents. Because the seizures are linked to an ongoing investigation, officials won’t disclose their source.
Wherever they were, it cannot have been good. A second tiger, Amol, is emaciated. His teeth are unaccountably worn down to nubs. The scarecrow lion, Kahn, craves food and attention – over time, he has chewed the end of his own tail bloody and raw, either from hunger or stress.
In-Sync director Vicky Keahey is grim but hopeful. “I’ve seen worse,” she said, peering into the darkness where Apollo is pacing fretfully. “You give me 12 months, you won’t even recognize this cat.”
The 39 exotic cats – tigers, jaguars, lynxes, lions – are healthy and content, a marked contrast to the newcomers, but they have similar histories. Some came from well-meaning but foolish dim bulbs who had to learn firsthand that you can’t turn a wild animal into a house pet.
Others were seized by law enforcement and animal welfare authorities from bootleg breeders and makeshift zoos. The nonprofit refuge is always growing and always full.
“We just finished building new cages and a playground,” Keahey said. “Every time we get to where I feel like all the cats are comfortable, we’re back at it again.”
In-Sync, on a rural site near Lavon Lake, has room to expand, but new housing is expensive.
By law, the three newest residents must be kept in isolated quarantine for 30 days. At the end of that time, Keahey hopes to be at work on new enclosures that will give them, like the other cats, room to climb and play.
The cost, she estimated, will be about $60,000, not counting the $3,000 to $4,000 each cat will cost in vet bills to get back to normal health.
It seems like a leap of faith, in the present economy, to bank on the donations it will take. But what do you do with a mangy, half-wild tiger or a skinny, starving lion? It’s a constant musical-chairs enterprise to find available space in reputable sanctuaries to provide the costly, lifelong care they’re going to need.
It’s painful to see what human greed and ignorance can inflict on these spectacular animals. My other visits to In-Sync have been interesting and entertaining, but this was the first time I left feeling angry enough to hit somebody.
I made a note in my calendar to go back in a year and see if, indeed, Apollo and Amol and Kahn aren’t recognizable as the cats I saw Monday.
With a lot of care and good luck, they won’t be.