Shambala and White Oak
By Lou Moench
Tippi Hedren, made forever famous in the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Birds,” operates Shambala Preserve in Southern California’s Antelope Valley, just outside the small town of Acton. While her screen persona in “The Birds” was ostensibly destroyed by wild animals, Hedren has spent much of her life protecting them.
Now president of the Roar Foundation and the American Sanctuary Association, she founded Shambala in 1983. Shambala is a permanent home to 68 rescued cats — lions, tigers, jaguars and the like. Most were rescued or seized from owners who thought they could be pets. They were either abandoned, uncontrollable or abused, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or other organizations picked them up.
Sheltered here are Kara, a black leopard found frostbitten in a freezing garage in Wyoming without food or water; Leo, a lion cub found living in a basement in Branson, Mo.; and scores of others with similar stories.
Shambala is one of 33 certified animal sanctuaries across the country. Wealthy patrons have created similar entities with other purposes in mind — from hunt clubs to interactive animal parks. Ted Turner turned part of his vast American land holdings over to the preservation — and sale of meat — of an entire species, the North American bison. Jim Fouts, of Wichita, Kan., sold his real estate holdings to focus on his Tanganyika Wildlife Park, located not in Africa, but Kansas. It’s a tourist destination known for allowing touching of animals such as giraffes and camels. Fouts offsets some costs with breeding and sales programs. Very large parks, such as Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas and San Diego Wild Animal Park, offer rides through animal habitats.
Although such projects usually are thought through in advance, Hedren backed into the creation of Shambala. In 1972 she and then-husband Noel Marshall bought about 75 acres along the Santa Clarita River in Southern California’s arid Antelope Valley to film “Roar” — about a pride of lions that took over an abandoned African game warden’s cabin. To have lions and other species to use in the film, they began to acquire rescued animals, collecting 140 of them by 1975, including two elephants.
When filming was over, Hedren says, “keeping them was not questioned, but we were broke and knew we needed to create a nonprofit to maintain the work of caring for the animals.” (None of the original animals is still alive. The last, the five-ton elephant Timbo, died in 2005 at age 49.)
Thus, in 1983, the Roar Foundation was created. Hedren, who donated all the land to Shambala, is still its director. Her vice president is Chris Gallucci, officially Shambala’s elephant trainer. Gallucci is an unpretentious man whose dedication to the quality of life of the animals at Shambala is obvious as he takes a visitor on a tour of the preserve where he has worked since its inception. He wrote “Elephant Man,” the story of his life as an elephant trainer at Shambala and the unorthodox methods he developed, and was the subject of a European documentary called “Tusks and Tattoos,” which aired in the U.S. on the Animal Planet network.
Gallucci manages 75 acres with 42 custom-designed animal compounds with a capacity of 68 big cats and a full-time staff of 11. His wards include, among others, lions, tigers, cougars, black and spotted leopards, servals, bobcats, a lynx, and one liger, a cross between a lion and a tiger. Because Shambala is a sanctuary, he says, “once we take an animal, we never get rid of it. There’s no buying, selling, breeding or trading here. It’s all about giving these animals the best quality of life possible.”
The proposition is expensive. Hedren works without compensation on a $1 million-a-year fundraising treadmill. Food alone, for example, is a major cost. A large lion eats as much as 20 pounds of commercial zoological diet supplemented with raw beef every day. On one recent day, after his morning meal, Leo, now a fully grown adult, moves forward, only vaguely curious about a visitor. He stands in a corner of his chainlink compound and emits 15 to 20 short, barklike roars from his cavernous chest cavity. He has been “adopted” by the nearby Acton Lions Club — “the only member of the Lions Club that is actually a lion,” Gallucci says. He explains that all the animals have plenty of space, that they are in compounds, not just cages, and although there are many animals in need of a sanctuary like Shambala, they will not reduce the space used for the current residents to take new ones. He points out a black leopard in a nearby compound, staring with malevolent confidence at a visitor. “This black leopard in here, Boo, he’s a killer,” Gallucci says.
“He hates the world, but we’re not going to cut his compound in half just to take another black leopard. He’s sentenced to life, and his only crime was being born in captivity. We give him the best life we can, and only when he dies will we take in another.”
Although Shambala’s only reason for existence now is to give lifelong care to rescued animals and provide community education, the Roar Foundation, which provides its financial support, has a more global mission: to educate the public about the dangers of private ownership of exotic animals. Along with operating Shambala and the Roar Foundation and her nonstop fundraising, Hedren is trying to halt the breeding of animals that will later be rescued and need a sanctuary. About this work, Gallucci explains, “Shambala is a business that wants to be out of business.”
Hedren also works strenuously at the congressional level, achieving success with the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, a law she says “simply stops the movement of these animals across state lines, which will stop the breeding a little bit, and will stop the sales at auctions.”
She continues working with Congress to prohibit the breeding of all exotic cats for personal possession. “There’s nothing you can give an animal in captivity that it needs,” she says.
On the other side of the continent is an institution with a different mission and a different set of challenges. The White Oak Plantation in Northern Florida was begun in the 1950s by Charles Gilman, president of the Gilman Paper Co., whose mills were across the border in Georgia. In 1973, Charles’ son, Howard, took over the company and the 8,000-acre White Oak Plantation, which included a golf course, plenty of lodging, verdant surroundings and a stock of impalas, nyalas and Grévy’s zebras.
Commercially, the plantation was good for the paper company. “White Oak was something we used rather effectively as a sales tool,” says Michael Pallen, Gilman’s senior vice president and corporate controller until he retired in 1999. “We catered to the middle and small customer who we made feel very important. You would get an opportunity to come down for a week and visit the plant, but you also stayed out at White Oak, which had beautiful accommodations and this exotic collection of animals. It was something extremely special to do. But Mr. Gilman was a complex man, larger than life. He wanted something that was unique, and he felt at White Oak he could build a legacy.”
Gilman built the reputation of White Oak by creating arts and cultural programs with artists such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and hosting the Clinton Global Initiative policy planning retreats. In the 1980s he began to expand the conservation side. Gilman bequeathed his estate to the Howard Gilman Foundation at his death in 1998, and although Gilman Paper no longer exists, its timber holdings passed to the foundation and largely finance the animal conservation activities at White Oak.
In 1982, Gilman hired zoologist John Lukas to establish a conservation program. Lukas, now president of the Gilman International Conservation Foundation and director of White Oak Conservation Center, runs the arts, conservation, research and educational activities there. White Oak now has a staff of 38 people who care for up to 300 animals representing 35 species and habitats spread over 600 acres.
“Animals by themselves are not conservation,” Lukas says. “Conservation is a multifaceted, holistic approach. We have breeding programs, research and very strong training programs for veterinarians, zoologists and researchers. In our resident programs, people come in and study with us for one or two years. We also have some international students so we can build a core of competent people around the world.”
Lukas says breeding in the captive population supplements the wild population. If too much inbreeding has occurred in a diminishing wild population, release of captive-bred animals can supplement those populations by increasing the breadth of their gene pool.
“We actually send black rhinos to South Africa, which brings in new genetic diversity,” he says. “The hunting and killing was so extensive at the turn of the century that many populations went down to hundreds or less. Even if they come out of it they’re missing some of their genetic code.”
The species are chosen through a matrix that considers criteria like the threats to the species in the wild and the likelihood of successful preservation. An annual survival plan is developed for each species and shared with a small organization of cooperating facilities known as Conservation Centers for Species Survival. One of their primary goals is to release large groups of captive-bred animals into threatened populations around the world to increase the chances of a species’ survival.
Howard Gilman’s legacy seems firmly established. Of his late boss, Lukas says, “Howard was a remarkable person. He wasn’t just interested in the animals as a hobby like a lot of wealthy people are. He was more interested in making sure they got the best care and that they made a contribution.”
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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