Dreaming of a white tiger Christmas

Dreaming of a white tiger Christmas

By Brandon Evans Published Thursday, December 10, 2009

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“And love Creation’s final law, Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw,” wrote the English poet laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson in 1850. The line conjures images of predators stalking and slaying weaker creatures to soothe savage appetites and calm carnal desires.

But at the Center for Animal Research & Education (CARE) in Bridgeport this holiday season, visitors can witness a different side of nature’s most brutal and royal felines. CARE is offering visitors a chance to experience what they call an Enchanted Winter Safari. The tours are offered after sunset and have a Christmas theme.

Seeing the cats play after dark offers visitors a different experience.

“During the night, the cats act differently than they do during the daytime,” executive director Heidi Berry said. “It’s really fun for people to come out and see the cats run and play beneath the decorations.”

A team of tigers tackle and tear into a gift-wrapped package like a pack of children on Christmas morning. Lights decorate the top of the animal cages like homes in the suburbs.

Meanwhile, a great lion named Sampson, is more deliberate in how he opens his package. He nuzzles and licks the package tenderly. With knife-like teeth, he delicately peels off the wrapping paper like a child trying to make the moment last forever.

Each rescued animal at the facility has a unique story. Sampson came from a breeding facility in Ohio. He suffered from vitamin deficiency. He showed signs of neurological damage. But due to the dedicated efforts of the people at CARE, Sampson now struts like the king of the prairie.

CARE was founded to provide for the rescue, rehabilitation and holistic nurturing of sick, injured or abused big cats. It is a nonprofit organization. The facility houses more than 50 big cats including white and orange tigers, mountain lions, African lions, spotted leopards and a snow leopard.

The volunteers at CARE hope the nighttime Christmas tours help provide much-needed funding for the facility during the current economic recession.

“It’s hard for nonprofits right now,” Berry said. “We hope this helps out with our funding.”

The facility is maintained by an all-volunteer staff. All proceeds from the Enchanted Winter Safari go to benefit the animals.

The idea for the Christmas-themed tours arose from an enrichment program created by a pair of interns working at the facility.

Sherre Sachar, a recent graduate of Cornell, and Dayna Doskocil, a recent graduate of San Diego State University, sparked the notion.

They began giving the cats cardboard boxes and other objects for the animals to play with. The program eventually evolved into the Christmas-themed safari.

“Enrichment programs give the cats something fun to do,” Sachar said. “It improves their quality of life.”

The purpose of the tours isn’t solely to benefit the big cats at CARE, but big cats throughout the world.

“This raises awareness about the loss of habitat for these animals in the wild and the help needed to care for them here,” Sachar said.

When watching the interaction between the volunteers and the cats, the animals embody and demonstrate both the love and the red tooth and claw of Tennyson’s prose.

One-hour tours will be offered during the next two weekends. Tours begin promptly at 6 and 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. only on Sundays. Tickets are $5 for children 5 through 12 and $10 for people 12 and older. Visitors will have the chance to watch the cats unwrap gifts, learn about the cats, watch them play in a nocturnal environment and possibly feed a tiger. There will also be beverages, snacks and gifts available. CARE is located at 245 County Road 3422 Bridgeport, TX 76426

For information on the winter tours and CARE, go to http://www.bigcatcare.org/




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