Wildcats Find New Sanctuary
Shambala founder says people who buy wild animals as pets are selfish.
ACTON — Wildcats — such as lions, tigers and bobcats — are not pets, emphasizes Tippi Hedren, founder and president of the Roar Foundation and the Shambala Preserve located near Acton, a sanctuary that currently houses endangered exotic cats, many of which have been mistreated in the past.
“Don’t ever consider a wild animal a pet,” Hedren said. “It doesn’t matter whether it is a little squirrel in your backyard or a Siberian Tiger. They deserve their freedom.”
Shambala recently took in two 6-year-old tigers who lived on Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos. Jackson used the same veterinarian as Shambala, Martin Dinnes, who recommended that when Neverland’s zoo closed, the tigers be taken to Shambala, Hedren said.
The tigers, the female Thriller and the male Sabu, have been on the facilities since early April. Like all of the cats at Shambala, the tigers will spend the rest of their lives, which are often around 20 years, at the sanctuary.
Hedren said the tigers were not mistreated while at Neverland as an animal rights organization had alleged.
“Do those beautiful animals look like they were mistreated?” she asked pointing to the two tigers lying contentedly in the shade of their new habitat. “They were perfectly taken care of.”
In December, the Department of Agriculture sent an inspector to Neverland in response to a complaint from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but the inspector found no signs of mistreatment.
Hedren, who is best known for her starring role in the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film, “The Birds,” and as the mother of actress Melanie Griffith, opened the preserve in 1972 after falling in love with wildcats while filming two films in Africa during the late 1960s, she said.
“At the time, environmentalists were saying if things continued as they were, by the year 2000 (exotic cats) would be completely gone,” Hedren said.
She and her husband at the time, Noel Marshall, decided they wanted to produce a film featuring the magnificent endangered creatures, which eventually led to the purchase and founding of Shambala after they rescued many wildcats to use in the film. After a long production process, the film, “Roar” starring Hedren, Marshall, Griffith and wild lions from Shambala was eventually released in 1981.
Hedren founded the Roar Foundation in 1983, which raises all the funds to keep the Shambala Preserve open. The foundation must raise more than $1 million annually to maintain the facilities, Hedren said. The current construction of a new tiger compound for Thriller and Sabu will cost close to $70,000.
Jackson’s former tigers are only two of the 71 wild cats living at the 42-acre sanctuary. Most of the cats are the result of illegal breeding and sale within the United States. The exotic animal industry is just after the illegal drug industry in size, Hedren said.
“Every animal here has a story,” said Hedren, who has lived in a small house on the preserve facilities since 1976.
Hedren shared the horrors that many of the cats had gone through while owned by private citizens. More than 80 wildcats were found in a feces and trash-filled facility outside of Colton. The animals were kept in very little space with no water. Fifty-eight dead tiger cubs were found in the freezer. The owner had been trying to breed them.
Many people think a cute cub would make a great pet, but then mistreat or abandon them once they get older, bigger and more fierce, Hedren said. One of the sanctuary’s lions was found walking down a street in Missouri after being abandoned by its owners.
“People who buy these animals as pets are selfish,” she said. “There is nothing they can give a wild animal that they need other than medical care.”
In the past and currently, Hedren has been working to get legislation passed that will stop the breeding, sale and mistreatment of the creatures. Not only is it dangerous for the animals, but it is extremely dangerous for the people who buy the wild animals, she said.
She campaigned in front of Congress for the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, introduced by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, which passed and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Dec. 19. The legislation bans the interstate trade and transportation of wild big cats.
Hedren is authoring the tentatively titled Shambala Wild Animal Protection Act of 2006, which would ban the breeding and selling of wild cats. Currently, less than 20 states have laws on wild cat breeding, Hedren said.
“(Legislation) is the only way the breeding will stop,” she said. “But, it’s the enforcement of it that makes it work.
“The sad thing is even after the bill is put into fruition and enforced there will still be 20 years of accidents because the life span of the big cats in captivity can be 20 plus years.”
For more information on the Roar Foundation and the Shambala Preserve and their many education and fundraising opportunities, visit www.shambala.org or call 268-0380.