Exotic pet refuge moving due to overcrowding

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Marengo Sanctuary Home To Bobcats, Cougars, Other Big Cats

Katie McCall
Aug 31, 2006 4:48 pm US/Central

(CBS) CHICAGO – Cougars, foxes and bobcats may seem like great pets when they are cute, cuddly babies. But when they grow up they can be too much to handle.

CBS 2’s North Suburban Bureau Chief Katie McCall reports that an animal sanctuary has taken on so many of these wild pets that it has to move into a bigger space.

At the Safe Haven Wildlife Refuge in Marengo, a bobcat named Phoenix is thriving. She now receives proper food and vet care, but two years ago, Phoenix arrived thin and malnourished.

She had spent most of her life locked in a Crystal Lake apartment. Her owners de-clawed her and fed her canned cat food.

Safe Haven Director Lynda Sugasa says the illegal sale of so-called “exotic pets” like Phoenix is growing.

“It’s become epidemic in this country,” she said. “Everybody wants that cute arctic fox or bobcat, or that cougar until it’s too big to handle.”

Demand for animals like Sydney, a silver fox rescued from a local roadside zoo, and an arctic fox named Juno, taken from a McHenry County home, is so high that Sugasa no longer has room for more.

“We’ve had to turn away 50 big cats this year for lack of space,” she said.

The humane society says the illegal exotic pet trade is a $15 billion industry, with much of it conducted through online auctions and brochures.

An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 big cats, like another one at Safe Haven named Savannah, are living in back yards and houses.

Mountain lions are among the most popular in the illegal pet trade. But they are not easy to care for. Every day they eat 3 percent of their body weight in meat.

When law enforcement removes the animals, they place them at accredited sanctuaries like Save Haven.

But with a full house, Sugasa is now moving the refuge to 160 acres in Nevada.

The new location will allow her to take in more animals that should never have been called pets.

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