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story.lead_photo.caption Tigers are among Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge's denizens that can be seen currently via online videos. The cats are predators, not pets, a Turpentine caretaker stresses. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

Arkansans can take pride in our state's real-life counterpoint to the overwrought melodrama of Netflix's Tiger King, this spring's wildly popular series. The Natural State attraction is Turpentine Creek, home to 100 or so tigers, lions and other carnivores.

The conservation-focused property just south of Eureka Springs is closed due to covid-19, with no reopening date set as of press time. But it can be comfortably toured online via recently taped videos. As lagniappe, it's free to watch these visits to the hilly 459-acre sanctuary, which charges admission when its gates are open.

Two postings totaling 44 minutes are narrated by Beckie Moore, Turpentine Creek's education coordinator. She introduces viewers to a dozen of the refuge's animals, most of them rescued from commercial operations like those featured on Tiger King.

Viewers meet Miss Fergie, one of the refuge's three ligers, a hybrid of lion and tiger. They are bred, she says, "to make money" for commercial attractions. They do not exist in the wild because lions and tigers do not mate naturally or even share the same environments.

Moore tells what she calls "a sad story" at the fenced enclosure for a tiger named Bosco. He came to Turpentine Creek from an attraction that she describes as "part of the cub-petting industry, like a puppy mill."

Adult females in these operations are brought to pregnancy three or four times as often as in the wild, she explains. Cubs are taken away from mothers very early, stimulating the urge to breed again. Paying visitors can pet and play with the cubs until they weigh about 30 pounds and become too dangerous to handle. Then they are sold, sometimes to hunting ranches where they are targeted with high-powered rifles.

"I tell you these sad stories not to make you cry but to make you aware," Moore says. "Out of sight means out of mind." A main purpose of Turpentine Creek, she adds, "is to give these animals the life they deserve. They are not here to entertain."

Having mentioned that more tigers may exist as attractions or pets in the United States than still survive in the wild in Asia, she offers a sharp reminder: "These are predators, not pets."

A smaller species presented by Moore is a serval, a wild cat native to Africa that weighs 20 to 40 pounds as an adult.

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Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, south of Eureka Springs, houses tigers and other big cats pictured on its website. Conservation is the focus of the park. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

"This is a really cool cat," she says. Among other attributes, a serval can jump up to 10 feet high to catch birds. It urinates up to 40 times an hour to mark its territory. It catches about 50% of the prey it pursues, "whereas lions and tigers are lucky to catch 15%."

After Netflix began airing Tiger King in March, Turpentine Creek posted a response that can be read on its website.

The message describes the series' main character, known as Joe Exotic, as "one of the many animal exploiters that we are aware of and disapprove of. ... They do not work to conserve big cats, only to use them to make money."

Turpentine Creek's staff, according to the statement, provides "the best quality care possible in captivity, building large grassy habitats for our animals to enjoy and providing them the best food and veterinary care."

That dedication is evident in Moore's commentary and in the other videos that can be accessed through the refuge's website: turpentinecreek.org.

Style on 05/19/2020

Print Headline: Arkansas refuge fights to stop Tiger Kings of world

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