Ark. facility knows big cats make bad pets

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge says wild animals should not be kept as pets

By: Andrew Turner
Wednesday, June 20, 2007 9:52 AM CDT

When the door opened on the metal trailer, Detroit the tiger was lounging in the corner of the cage. As Scott Smith from Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge dangled a piece of raw chicken above his head, the animal slowly came to life.

“At 18 months old, he’s already at 400 pounds and 8 feet tall on his hind legs,” Smith said. “He’s not too aggressive about his food because last night I fed him about 8-and-a-half pounds of chicken leg quarters.”

Shrieks of delight came from the crowd of children positioned behind the railing as Detroit gently took the piece of chicken from Smith’s hand.

Smith is the vice president of Turpentine Creek, which is in Eureka Springs, Ark. He recently visited the Smithville library to teach children about the big cats and the dangers of keeping wild animals as pets.

Smith moved toward the end of the trailer and opened another big metal door to reveal a full-grown African serval. This cat was given to Turpentine Creek by someone who thought it would be fun to keep a wild animal as a pet but found out otherwise.

“He was bought as a birthday present for a guy who was about 20 years old,” Smith said. “But soon after, they brought him to us in a pet carrier because he was tearing up the house and spraying on all the furniture.”

The previous owner thought that because it was a small cat, it would be no problem keeping the serval as a pet.

“Boys and girls, and everyone else here, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter what the size is of a wild animal — they still don’t make good pets,” Smith said. “I’ve been around baby raccoons chewing your hands at about 9 or 10 months old. If you can’t make a raccoon be a pet, how would you ever make a wild cat be a pet?”

Clay County Conservation Agent Brian Bartlett said he agreed with the staff at Turpentine Creek.

“From April through June, conservation agents and Missouri Department of Conservation offices will be inundated with hundreds of phone calls regarding ‘orphaned wildlife,'” Bartlett said in a press release.

“From baby fawns to tiny bunnies to baby birds, nothing appears more cute and cuddly than a wildlife baby,” Bartlett said. “In reality, most of the wildlife babies reported are not really orphaned at all. And while the people who attempt to save these babies may have the very best of intentions, they are in fact dooming the very creatures they intend to help.”

Bartlett said it was a myth that the scent of a human on a wild animal would prevent its mother from taking it back. The animal should be returned as quickly as possible to the place where it was found, he said.

Although the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge deals with more exotic animals from around the world, the message is the same — wildlife belongs in the wild.

For more information on Turpentine Creek, visit www.turpentinecreek.org.

Smithville writer Andrew Turner can be reached at 532-4444 or andrewturner@npgco.com.

http://www.kccommunitynews.com/articles/2007/06/20/ smithville_herald/news/h.sh.news.big.cats.txt

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