The roars get louder in the early afternoon.
That’s when the lions and tigers awake from their mid-day snoozes and get ready to eat. About 5 p.m., handlers throw chunks of raw meat through small holes high in steel cages.Often before the meat even hits the ground, the big cats start their work on their dinner as patrons gather around, oohing and aahing at the sound of crunching bone.It’s a familiar routine for Tanya Smith, president and founder of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.
Almost exactly 20 years ago, Smith founded Turpentine Creek, a refuge south of Eureka Springs that is now home to more than 100 big cats, from leopards to tigers to lions to ligers — yes, that’s a cross between a lion and a tiger — and more.
Turpentine Creek does not buy or sell animals, and it’s not a breeding farm, either. The purpose of the facility is to give abandoned or neglected animals a home and a safe environment. That leaves Turpentine Creek with many previously undesirable creatures, such as a mountain lion with dwarfism, a blind lion and many animals that were meant to be pets but grew up to be the wild animals they are.
And for Turpentine Creek, they’re all just perfect.
“We all have a few little things wrong with us,” Smith said, and she might not just be talking about her critters.
Smith’s first experience with an animal rescue wasn’t one of her own. Her father found a neglected lion cub at a used car lot. He arranged to bring it home and give it space to grow and the care it needed.
That adoption led to a few more, and soon there was a small menagerie at the Smith house.
Tanya Smith founded Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in 1992 after learning that 42 big cats were in need of care. The east Texas native sold everything and moved to Northwest Arkansas, in part because its seasonal climate works well for the big cats she
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