ELLIJAY, Ga– Contrary to popular belief the six bears at The Wildlife Sanctuary are not hibernating. They’re happily chowing down on their bowls of dog food and seem quite comfortable in the cold noon sunshine.
Litte do they know the financial cramp their caregivers are in.
Like many 501-c non profits the economy has meant fewer donations to The Wildlife Sanctuary in north Georgia. Executive Director Tim Grady was already used to running things on a streamlined budget, but lately things have been getting a little too lean.
“I find myself planning month to month sometimes instead of year to year,” Grady said.
The Wildlife Sanctuary was started about 30 years ago by local Craig “Grizzly” Cylke. As a child, he found injured or abandoned animals around his family’s mountain home and nursed them back to health. Many times he released them back into the wild.
Cykle died of a massive heart attack last Christmas. Now his wife, colleagues and volunteers are trying to continue his legacy.
“It’s hard to fill his shoes. He had such a big personality and unrelenting passion for the animals. He really was our best advocate and spokesperson in the community”, Grady said.
The Wildlife Sanctuary boasts a busy schedule during the spring and summer with children’s camps, tours and school field trips.
Volunteers say it’s a hands on way to teach people about endangered species. One of their best examples is Tasha, a 14-year-old Eastern panther. Grady says she’s one of only about 100 left in the world.
There are currently six bears at the sanctuary who like the panthers, by law, cannot be released back into the wild.
Most were cubs found after the bears had been killed.
Annie, a mid-sized bear, couldn’t be released even if it was allowed by law. She was found with a trapper who wanted to keep her as a pet, but her sharp front claws proved hazardous. The trapper’s solution was to forcibly removed her front claws with pliers.
“Our foremost goal has always been to rehab hurt or orphaned wild animals until they are able to return to the wild. If they cannot we don’t put them down. We let them live out the balance of their lives here at the sanctuary,” Grady said.
Grady says according the the sanctuary’s veterinarian many of the animals live longer than expected in part because they are kept outside in their natural environment.
That care comes with a cost. Because of the economy, donations that used to come in pretty regularly have slowed.
There are few salary needs since almost every person who works at the sanctuary is a volunteer, but there are other big budget items–food for the animals, materials and manpower to mend fences and cash to pay monthly utility bills.
The idea that after 30 years the mountain sanctuary may have to close it’s gates is something no one wants to consider.
“This really is the last refuge for these guys. All the zoos, sanctuaries and big cat rescue facilities are full. If we close, these cats and bears are going to be put down. That’s just what will happen to them. So we don’t ever look at that possibility we just look at how can we keep it going,” Grady said.
The video report at this link shows cougars, wearing collars, pacing on concrete. They mention big play yards, but none of the animals were photographed in anything other than what looked to be barren cells.
Big Cat Rescue emailed them via their website to ask how many cougars and bobcats they have in case we can help.