by DIANA NORTH, CHRONICLE CORRESPONDENT published November 4, 2010 12:30 am
A pair of cougars will travel from Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a nonprofit big cat rescue group in Eureka Springs, Ark., to the University of Houston for homecoming.
The cats — K.C., 13, and Nala, 10 – will be part of the parade and the two-hour live cougar exhibit after the Saturday, Nov. 13, game in Robertson Stadium from 5 to 7 p.m.
The cats will first be guests of honor at the “Cats Night Out,” fundraising dinner at the Webster Presbyterian Church, 201 NASA Parkway, Webster, which is set for Friday, Nov. 12.
The event, which is from 6 to 10 p.m. and is open to the public, includes a silent auction.
Tickets are $30 per person. Proceeds will support the rescue, housing and educational outreach efforts of the refuge.
Clear Lake resident Tony Le Cara and his wife, Carla Yager, coordinated the fundraiser at the church.
“Last year, when the cougars came for homecoming, my wife and I assisted and saw firsthand the effect that these majestic cats had on the crowd,” Le Cara said.
For the past three years, the couple has traveled to the refuge to spend a week at one of the on-site lodging facilities, where they visit the black leopard they sponsor.
The cat was born during their visit in 2008. Its mother is a leopard rescued from New York.
“We named him after our black housecat, Spyke, and have sponsored him since,” he said. They also have another cat, Samson. Both are rescues.
K.C. and Nala made their first trip to Houston for homecoming last year.
“We don’t take the animals long distances without rest, so it will take two days to get down there,” said Tanya Smith, president of the refuge.
“We use a specially-designed trailer that molds into a display trailer when we lift the sides.”
K.C. was found and confiscated by police in 1998, during a drug bust in Kansas, Mo., where the cougar was being kept illegally as a pet.
The 5-month old cub was underweight and declawed, and his teeth were ground down to nubs when he arrived at the wildlife refuge.
Nala found her way to the center when she was 12 weeks old.
“Nala was purchased as a pet, but her previous owners quickly realized that it was not wise to have a cougar cub sharing their home with a 2-year-old baby,” said Scott Smith, vice president of the wildlife refuge.
“Two of Turpentine Creek’s longtime supporters, who were also friends of Nala’s first owners, convinced them to bring Nala to TCWR. She has become rather ‘quirky’ as she has matured and displays all the aggressiveness of a mature female cougar, especially at feeding time.”
Nala, now 10, lives with K.C. and about 120 other big cats, 30 of them cougars. Other animals at the center include lions, bears and lynxes.
Many of the animals were rescued from Texas, including nine tigers, five cougars, one lynx, three lions and two bears, Smith said.
Staff members have traveled to 17 states to rescue animals.
The 459-acre refuge is open for tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Christmas Day.
Visitors can take a guided tour, participate in presentations conducted by the facility’s biologists and zoologists, view feeding time at the refuge and visit the education center.
Currently, about 90 acres is used to house the animals, but there are plans to expand.
Admission to the refuge is $15 for ages 13 and older, $10 for seniors, veterans and youths ages 3-12, and free for children under 3.
It takes about $1,800 per day to feed the animals and maintain the refuge, Smith said.
About one-third of the operating costs are funded through admission charges, on-site lodging, gift shop sales, Internet donations and bequests.
Tanya Smith, whose family founded the refuge in 1992, said she is delighted to have another opportunity to share the nonprofit’s mission with Houstonians.
“The university and the community has been good to us,” Smith said.