A backyard tiger’s den

A backyard tiger’s den

Hernando Today
Published: January 2, 2010

SPRING HILL – Tyson kept a close watch of the stranger walking toward him.

His yellow eyes peered through the chain-link fence.

Tyson is 600 pounds of pure, adult male tiger. He and his brother, Riley, live in a giant enclosure with ample shade, a large pool of water and a few toys.

Tyson loves to run back and forth along the 50-foot fence.

His caretaker, Jim Jablon, got him going Saturday morning.

“He loves to run and chase,” he said before sprinting from one end of the fence to the other. Jablon, of course, was outside the cage.

“Well, I’m the one who’s running,” he said. “He’s actually walking.”

Tyson kept his eyes on Jablon the entire time as he trotted back and forth along the fence.

His brother was lying on his back, soaking in the sun about 20 yards away.

Most of the time, Riley is more submissive, but the two often fight. Riley severely sliced Tyson’s back during one recent feud. It delayed an appointment from the veterinarian.

Both of them are getting neutered next week. Sometimes their testosterone levels get too high.

“It’s being done for their own protection,” Jablon said.

If there were a female nearby, they would fight to the death to compete for her. Without a female in sight, most of their fights are simply “brotherly love,” Jablon said.

The tigers are a major draw for visitors who come by the Wildlife Rehab of Hernando, but there is more.

Jablon and his partner, Jodi MacMahon, also have a baby lion, a few cougars, two Siberian lynx and two African servals.

They have monkeys, turtles, lemurs, alligators, snakes, raccoons and a wallaby.

They spend hundreds of dollars per week on meat and produce and they waste none of it.

If bones are discarded by their animals, they toss them into a pile for the buzzards to come by. Scavenger birds are constantly flying over their property, located a short distance from County Line Road.

Jablon hopes for corporate sponsorships and fundraisers. He is pouring his savings into the refuge and he needs to find ways to generate more revenue.

He started doing it nearly two decades ago. He was nursing coyotes, birds, reptiles and other wild animals. Eventually, he grew his facility to house bigger, more exotic species.

“It just kind of fell into our laps,” he said. “All of a sudden, it’s one after the other.”

He said his rehab was “booming” about 10 years ago. He gave the animals to other rehabilitation centers and had his heart set on a move to Tennessee.

Then he realized the stringent laws there kept him from maintaining another refuge like the one he had. He changed his mind and stayed in Florida, but it meant he had to start again from scratch.

He and MacMahon feed the animals twice per day – once in the morning and again in the afternoon.

They have three black-and-white ruffed lemurs, all of which love to crawl on top of their shoulders.

One of them, named Melody, got out of her cage and it took Jablon and MacMahon at least 15 minutes to get her back inside. They tried to bribe her with food, but she relished her freedom and wasn’t in any hurry to get back inside and join her two brothers.

Melody climbed on top of the enclosure, which was about 12 feet high. She ran outside, alongside the cage, but never wandered far.

Eventually, Jablon waited until she was close to the door and grabbed her by the tail.

His lemurs are friendly, but they get scared easily when someone grabs them, Jablon said.

She cried and scratched, but Jablon clinged to her and put her back inside.

The animal immediately ran to the opposite side of the cage and ducked inside a small shelter. She was spooked.

MacMahon tried to coax her out, but she would not want to go near another person for a while, Jablon said.

He likes to get up and close to some of the animals. He has the cuts and bruises on his hands and arms to prove it. His leather jacket was torn along his left sleeve.

Later that morning, he got on the ground and rolled around with the 6-month-old lion cub. It growled, clawed and bit down on Jablon, but the two playfully wrestled like a couple of puppies.

Many of the animals, including one of the Siberian lynx, arrive at the refuge looking worn down, ragged and near death.

By the time Jablon and MacMahon spend a few months with them, they are nursed back to health and become acclimated with their surroundings and new playmates and neighbors.

Rarely is an animal caged by itself.

The lynx, for instance, was joined by a male that was bought from someone in Atlanta, Jablon said. He bought him just so his newly acquired female could have company in her large cage. Both of them were gleefully running back and forth along the fence.

It was also time for them to eat.

“I have noticed a total difference in her,” he said of the lynx, named Massey.

The sub-50-degree weather, which gave Florida-native MacMahon fits all day Saturday, suited Massey just fine.

“She loves this kind of weather,” Jablon said.




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