The public has recently been privy to the horrors of the world of big cat breeding and tiger cub petting. Sadly, some of most horrendous perpetrators of the violence were given most of the attention. But with that attention, a silver lining is emerging. Legislation is being introduced on behalf of the majestic animals. Roadside zoos are being shut down and the breeders are being met with more restrictions. And hopefully more to come.
Because when the animals are bred in captivity to be used as temporary photo props, it’s the tiger cub that suffers.
But thankfully that won’t be the fate for one young tiger cub that was born in 2020.
Dash’s story begins in Indiana at a breeding facility. Located a 1/4 mile up a one way hill in the middle of nowhere, 4 big cats lived at a junkyard. Two tigers and two lions were left uncared for after the facility’s owner passed away. His family wasn’t able to care for the animals and contacted an accredited sanctuary in Minnesota.
The Wildcat Sanctuary (TWS) is a 501(c)3 non-profit rescue sanctuary located in Sandstone, MN. Funded solely by private donations, the sanctuary provides a natural sanctuary to wild cats in need and inspires change to end the wildlife crisis.
Five of the staff members loaded into two trucks and made the 12 hour road trip to Indiana. They had been warned that the rescue may be a bit more difficult than others. Not only was the location up a one way hill in what equates to a junkyard, the animals were each bonded pairs that couldn’t be separated.
They were going to have to sedate and transport each “pair” simultaneously.
Walking through the property they filmed small chain link fenced enclosures, littered with broken “junk” piles.
Rounding a metal heap, they can see the first lion, the 18-year-old Walley that had been hand raised by the breeder. Emerging from behind cement blocks is his counterpart, 25-year-old female lioness Marlene.
Just yards away, a chuff can be heard from male tiger Marky. He calmly paces to “greet” these new faces, likely hoping a meal will arrive with them. It was silent as they called for his companion, Woni to come out of their den.
Fun Fact: Marcus & Winona’s names were changed after coming to the sanctuary? Winona was named ‘Woni’ at the Indiana facility since they said she won’t do what anyone asks. Marcus was ‘Marky’, because he would mark and spray everywhere. We thought it to be important that Marcus & Winona receive new names, with no negative connotations, so to have a true fresh start in their new Wild-At-Heart lives .
But they soon find out why she is refusing their “cat calls”. It likely has to do with her past experiences with humans in her delicate state.
Winona was refusing to leave her newest tiger cub, who lay snuggled up to her, umbilical cord still attached!
No one had known, or been told, that there was a newborn tiger cub in the pack! But they were certainly going to rejoice that he would NOT be growing up exploited. They named him Dash and the 5 were loaded in trailers without issue.
Sadly, they discovered later that only 5 months before Dash’s birth, Winona had a tiger cub that had been stripped from her and sold.
In the wild, tigers have a litter approximately every two years. But in captivity, when breeders pull the cubs from their mother, their mother goes back into estrus. This means she can be bred several times a year.
We were devastated. This poor cub, we named Dash, still had his umbilical cord attached and weighed only a few pounds. If we’d had any idea, we would’ve postponed the pick-up for the health of Winona and her cub.
As they found the new mama and infant tiger cub though, so did Marcus.
I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened if this occurred when no one was watching!
He quickly tried to go after the cub. We were informed that he had killed offspring in the past. We had no choice but to continue the sedation and loading process to save all the cats, including the cub.
All were loaded safely, but Winona was understandably distraught from recently giving birth, defending her cub from Marcus, being sedated and loaded into her transport. It was not safe to put Dash back with her at this time. That was the most devastating of all.
Pay-to-play cubs are taken from their moms shortly after birth so they can be hand raised. As a sanctuary, we feel wholeheartedly that mother tigers should raise their young. So, when we knew this couldn’t happen based on Winona’s reaction, it hurt us to the core.
And although they had never cared for a newborn tiger cub, the staff at TWS have done aMEOWzing with him!
Baby Dash received round-the-clock care, being fed every four hours by his human surrogate. Because of his delicate immune system at this stage, and with the threat of the COVID-19 virus looming, it was important Dash be cared for by just one caretaker.
These days, Dash’s new fans and family at the sanctuary can follow along on his progress.
To help tiger cubs like Dash avoid a life of misery and breeding, please be sure to get educated and spread the word. For more information about the Big Cat Public Safety Act visit http://bigcatrescue.org/big-cat-act/.
All photos property of The Wildcat Sanctuary
REMEMBER: BIG CATS DON’T MAKE GOOD PETS; THEY BELONG IN THE WILD!
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