Turpentine Creek Turns 20

intended to care for.

There was another factor that weighed heavily in the decision, too – the close proximity of many pounds of surplus meat through Northwest Arkansas’ poultry farms.

A legal dispute actually stopped Smith and her colleagues from taking permanent possession of most of those 42 animals, but the wheels were already in motion.

Turpentine Creek became a home for big cats that needed extra attention, and Smith was right in thinking there was a demand.

“We didn’t know how big the need was,” she said.

The physical size of Turpentine Creek and the number of creatures it houses has continued to grow over the years. Currently, there are more than 115 big cats, six black bears and a grizzly bear.

The goal, part of the organization’s mission statement, is to give a “lifetime” refuge to the big cats.

Each of the cats has a story, and Smith is happy to tell the tales. Take Thor, a male lion and the latest addition to the Turpentine Creek family. Thor, after a career in movies, was used as a show animal at convention centers and was shuttled back and forth between small cages. When his owner decided to get out of the big cat business, Turpentine Creek brought Thor to the facility, where he underwent a quarantine and acclimation period.

Other animal stories follow similar tracks. The same mission statement that outlines providing a permanent home also offers sanctuary for “abandoned, abused and neglected” big cats. Smith tells the story of a tiger that was kept on a moat by a drug dealer to protect him from the unsavory folks his line of work attracted. Other cats, such as a white tiger named Kenny who generated much sympathy for his crooked snarl, were deformed because of inbreeding, a common practice among big cat owners looking to create large profits from selling cubs. After many years at the park, Kenny passed away after a battle against cancer in 2009.

“They appreciate the rescuing,” Smith said. “I think they understand.” Eve

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