Shambala Fundraiser

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Peninsulans reach out to exotic cat sanctuary

By Rebecca Villaneda, Peninsula News

Thursday, March 12, 2009 2:44 PM PDT

It was feeding time at the Shambala Preserve. Patrick, a 19-year-old liger,
which is a cross between a tiger and a lion, waited patiently for his chunk
of raw beef to be tossed into his 1-acre enclosure and then he gratefully
took the slab in his mouth and walked to his den.

Patrick came to the preserve when he was 7 years old, after it was
discovered that his prior owner kept him in a small space that allowed
little mobility.

Shambala came to be after actress Tippi Hedren founded The Roar Foundation
in 1983, a nonprofit that has a sole purpose of to supporting the exotic cat

( ) A
veterinarian told Hedren any longer and he would have been crippled. Now he
spends his retirement at the 72-acre preserve, located about 45 minutes north of
Los Angeles in Acton, Calif.

There are lions, tigers, servals, mountain lions and leopards, among others.
They’ve come from zoos, circuses, private owners that realized their mistake
and even from Michael Jackson’s defunct Neverland Ranch.

“I think it’s fascinating that we take an apex predator and say, ‘Oh
let’s make a pet out of them,'” Hedren said. “There’s absolutely nothing that
we can give a wild animal in captivity that they need. Not one thing. And it’s
a grave human error to have one of these animals as a pet.”

With a consistent residency of 68 to 72 animals eating about 500 pounds a
food a day, Shambala is in constant need of donations.

This Saturday, Peninsulan volunteers have organized the “Cirque Du
Shambala” fund-raiser for the sanctuary, featuring aerial acrobats, carnival games
and music, including Irish tenor Dennis McNeil.

The Roar Foundation’s secretary and vice president Cathi and Steve Shultz,
who reside on the Hill, first visited Shambala about 17 years ago at one of
the preserve’s Saturday safaris.

With a love for animals, and even a rehab in their backyard, Cathi said
their work with Shambala has its returned benefits.

“It’s a feeling like no other for me,” Cathi said. “There’s a special
majesty about these particular creatures and there’s a special atmosphere
anytime you’re around nature or wild animals.

“It takes you out of yourself and it’s a way of regenerating and
rejuvenating ourselves,” she added.

In addition to being home to the animals and Hedren, who has a house on the
land, Shambala educates the public about wild cats and fights to protect
their existence.

In 2003, Hedren co-authored the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which stops the
interstate sale of these animals as pets.

The language in that bill is currently being used to create a similar one
for primates, said Hedren, who plans to introduce another federal bill this
May. If passed, it will stop the breeding of exotic cats for personal

Paws with personality

While the animals at Shambala all have different stories — varying from
negligent owners, forest fire survivors to a man in Colton, Calif., who had
90-plus malnourished exotic cats, including mothers who couldn’t feed their
cubs — each rescue has a unique personality and a name to match.

There’s Kara, a black leopard, who at 23 is the oldest animal at Shambala.
She came as a youngster after she was found abandoned and frostbitten in a
garage in Wyoming, “during the bitter-cold month of February,” Hedren said.

It took Kara some time to get over the emotional trauma, but “then one day a
little paw came through the fence and touched [staff member] Trudy’s
shoulder,” Hedren said.

And again, there’s Patrick that many visitors gravitate toward, and who
Hedren herself admits to having a special bond.

“I’m very fond of the tiger. You know, I love them all. I like the good
guys, the bad guys, but I am in love with Patrick. I just love him,” she

Hedren also speaks the animals’ language, which she has learned through the
years. Tigers emit “chuffing” sounds as to say, “Hello. How are you?
What’ s new? Love you. Sorry,” she said.

“We underestimate their intelligence,” Hedren said of her cats, which she
shares with their adopted parents through Shambala’s “Adopt a Wild One”
program. Parents of the wild have the chance to visit the cats once a month.

“A friend of ours told us about it, and we came up here and fell in love
with it. And at least this way you see where every penny of your donation
goes, because without donations this place wouldn’t exist,” said Larry Tegel, who
with his wife, Sheree, are Precious the tiger’s parents. “You can see that
the animals are being very well taken care of.”

Said Sheree, “[We chose Precious] because she’s fun and playful and she’s
got a real cute personality. She’s very chuffy — she talks a lot and
she’s interactive.”

Twenty-two-year volunteer Christine Link said the “Adopt a Wild One”
program is a great way to thank the sponsors for their contributions.

“They feel more connected to the place, like they are more a part of it,”
Link said. “It’s great when Jiang is chuffing to me. That took a long time
for him to do. You get something back by just becoming a parent. This place
becomes part of you.”

The public also has the opportunity to sponsor an evacuation trailer that
staffers also use to move the animals to and from enclosures, which they do
about every six weeks to prevent boredom.

“A different neighbor, a different tree to climb,” Hedren said. “It’s a
big deal to move them, whereas Patrick, no matter who is next to Patrick,
they are fine, he is fine. He is a very benevolent animal.”

Only some animals share enclosures, like Pumpkin and Sweetheart, and servals
Sascha, Pasha and Feather.

It can be a challenge to introduce new animals, a feat that can sometimes
take up to a year, Hedren said.

“We set them in compounds that are side by side so that they have a fence
between them and they can work out all their idiosyncrasies and dominancy
problems,” she said.

And with wooden nameplates outside their homes, the animals do recognize
their names when staff or visitors call them.

“It is a familiar sound to them, and all those things that we can do to make
them more comfortable is good,” Hedren said.

Ann Adkins, a Shambala animal caretaker, who’s got chuffing down pat, said
the animals recognize voices and even footsteps.

“Yes, they can develop a relation with some of [us], just like people,”
Adkins said. “And they let you know if they’re not too fond of you

Adkins first came to Shambala last April, and because she saw that the
animals were well cared for, she began working there.

“That was important for me — to find a place where they took care of the
cats,” she said. “[And Tippi] is exceptional, wonderful and extremely
devoted. She puts her whole heart and life into it.”

‘Peace and harmony’

The word “shambala” in Sanskrit means, “a meeting place of peace and
harmony for all beings, animal and human.” The preserve was founded in 1983
following the movie “Roar,” which Hedren starred in along with some animal
stars that were also rescues.

It was then that Hedren realized the necessity to help exotic cats, and
since, she has devoted her life to the sanctuary adorned with animal
sculptures, a koi pond and two tents for overnight safaris.

“She really has given a lot of her fortune to this cause. She lives very
modestly,” said Peninsula resident and Shambala volunteer Ann Pfohl. “
[Shambala] is always larger than you imagine it to be, when you walk
through. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s here and it’s so accessible and you can
actually come out and visit.

“[The animals] are content and healthy, and they’re so beautiful,” she

Once upon a time, there also were two African elephants at Shambala. Both
were circus animals that lived their last days at the sanctuary. A memorial
garden decorates a portion of Shambala in their honor.

Hedren hopes to take in another elephant, or two, especially since she has
about 32 undeveloped acres, with a river that runs through it. But until she
finds the money to build a new barn, that will have to wait.

With a budget that’s close to $1 million each year, Shambala relies on
public donations and grants. Hedren hopes to one day obtain a corporate
sponsor or an endowment.

With so much pressure to exist one wonders why Hedren decided to make this
commitment in the first place.

“If it hadn’t just crept up on me, I would have gone screaming into the
night, because it’s just enormous. To know the whole operation of how this
place works is mind-boggling,” she said. “I look over my life and I feel that
this is why I was born … to do this.”

For information about the March 14 “Cirque Du Shambala” on the Peninsula,
call (661) 268-0380. To make a donation to Shambala or adopt a cat, visit
To see more photos of Shambala
and its cats, visit the online Photo Gallery.


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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