SADDLEBROOK, Mo.– The National Tiger Sanctuary in Saddlebrook, MO, does not want to be confused for a “Tiger King” zoo.
The popular Netflix series starring Joe Exotic has spotlighted how these big cats are being mistreated throughout the country. The National Tiger Sanctuary says they are far from Joe Exotic’s zoo.
“We do, like I say, have cats that come from cub petting,” said Sam Blecha, a part of animal care staff. “Pay for play organizations and things like that.”
The National Tiger Sanctuary said for actual sanctuaries that are non-profit, their sole purpose is taking care of these exotic species and educating the public about the horrible conditions these animals have been rescued from. They are not one of these roadside zoos that profit off of the caging exotic animals. They are a rescue and rehabilitation center, which means they do not breed tiger cubs or allow the public to touch their exotic animals.
“We have animals that came from magic shows, circuses, things of that nature,” said Blecha. “That are changing very radically due to public perception. People are understanding they don’t want to see a tiger performing and jumping through a ring of fire. Or anything of that nature.”
The sanctuary has rescued big cats from private owners, just like Joe Exotic, as well as magicians and other entertainers.
“One of the reasons that I get excited about being here is because we don’t care about the look of the animal, their current health state, their age, any of that kind of stuff,” said Casey Talbot, a Veterinarian. “We can give them months of a happy home, or years of a happy home. It’s fun being able to use my abilities as a veterinarian to help with that.”
Michael French works at the tiger sanctuary as an intern and says they’re helping these exotic cats, while still remembering they are dangerous predators.
“So I know in Tiger King, one of the employees lost her arm,” said French. “We want to make sure we don’t risk that happening or anyone just losing a finger or anything like that.”
Now the tiger sanctuary is closed right now because of COVID-19, but you can still see them and kids can learn from the staff on their Facebook page.