Category Archives: Lions Tigers and Bears

Sanctuary accreditation

One reason I support Lions, Tigers & Bears is that it is an accredited animal sanctuary.  LTB is one of the few sanctuaries in the country accredited by two organizations – the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and American Sanctuary Association (ASA).

Bakari enjoys his spacious habitat at Lions, Tigers & Bears.

Bakari the lion enjoys his spacious habitat at Lions, Tigers & Bears.

Accreditation means that a sanctuary meets specific standards for humane care of the animals, as well as operation and governance.  This is important for several reasons.

First, for animal lovers looking to donate to an organization that actually helps animals, accreditation shows the facility is providing a good home for the animals with appropriate care.  Food, water and veterinary care are readily available along with appropriate housing and enrichment.  Here, for example, are the standards of care for Lions, Tigers & Bears.

Lions, Tigers & Bears has a state-of-the-art veterinary facility on site.

Lions, Tigers & Bears has a state-of-the-art veterinary facility for the animals on site.

Accreditation also tells donors that the sanctuary is sound in operations, including finances and government.  The standards include best practices for things like composition of the board of directors and fundraising practices.  Even if you visit a sanctuary in person, you won’t see how fundraising is done or how governing decisions are made.  Accreditation tells you everything is on the up and up.

All this is not to say that any sanctuary lacking accreditation is a bad place.  I have visited several unaccredited sanctuaries that are very good organizations.  But accreditation is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  It provides assurance that if you donate to an accredited sanctuary, you are supporting a good place.  This is one reason grant-making agencies are increasingly requiring accreditation before funding an animal sanctuary.

Any roadside zoo can call itself a sanctuary.  Accredited sanctuaries do not provide care like this.

Any roadside zoo can call itself a sanctuary. Accredited sanctuaries do not look like this. Source: GFAS

The problem is that any animal organization can hang up a sign calling itself a sanctuary, but that doesn’t mean it is one.  On the most basic level, true sanctuaries to not breed, buy or sell animals, and they provide a lifetime home for the animals they bring into their care.

Some organizations calling themselves a sanctuary breed animals to sell as private pets or use for profit in petting displays or photo booths.  Others sell animals to canned hunts or euthanize resident animals for space so they can charge fees to take new animals from private owners who no longer want them.

Jillian the lion enjoys her large pool at Lions, Tigers & Bears.

Jillian the lion enjoys her pool at Lions, Tigers & Bears.

In other cases, a facility might provide excellent care to its animals, but fail due to financial impropriety or mismanagement.  Perhaps they have questionable methods of fundraising, or they have trouble fundraising at all.  This is equally bad for the animals because eventually the facility falls apart.

Recent years have seen two high-profile cases of large sanctuaries folding and other facilities having to absorb all their animals.  In 2010, amid charges of financial and governing mismanagement, Wild Animal Orphanage in Texas closed its doors.  GFAS and many others worked hard to find new homes for the 400 animals of various species.  Most true sanctuaries across the country have at least a few animals from this failed facility.

Conga, a captive-born leopard, was abandoned at age 5 weeks but fortunately found a home at Lions, Tigers & Bears.

Conga, a captive-born leopard, was abandoned at age 5 weeks but fortunately found a home at Lions, Tigers & Bears.

The other more tragic situation was Montana Large Animal Sanctuary and Rescue, where 1,200 animals were found, mostly llamas and horses, and many close to death after being neglected for years.  The facility had been relying largely on the generosity of a single donor; when that donor pulled the plug, it had nothing to fall back on.  The owners were aging and sick, unable to care for all the animals they had taken in.  Some animals were able to be rescued, but many had to be euthanized.

Accreditation helps prevent cases like this by requiring facilities to meet standards for government, finance, acquisition, outreach, staffing, physical facilities, security, and animal care.  Accrediting groups such as GFAS also work with sanctuaries that aren’t quite there to improve their practices.

One advantage of working with a sanctuary accreditation group is the facility doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel.  An accrediting organization works with lots of other good sanctuaries that are already in operation, and can draw from their experience.  For example, on its website GFAS has several sample documents such as a sample lease, financial statements, and employee handbook.

GFAS also offers a series of webinars to help sanctuary personnel, on topics like grant writing, applying for accreditation, setting guidelines on intake and euthanasia of sick animals, and using technology.

Here is the list of sanctuaries accredited by GFAS.
Here is the list of sanctuaries accredited by ASA.
Here is a photo gallery from Lions, Tigers & Bears, so you can see the facilities for yourself.

Day 28 Swim Report
Number of laps: 45
Time: 75 minutes
Pace: Good pace

Day 29 Swim Report
Number of laps: 42
Time: 65 minutes
Pace: Good pace

Day 30 Swim Report
Number of laps: 40
Time: 65 minutes
Pace: Good pace

Ended up taking Day 27 off due to a very hectic work schedule.  A co-worker has left, and I get to fill in until we hire a new person in a few months.  I really needed the swim coming back — which was good because I had 117 laps to cover in the last three days.  I had planned to split it an even 40 laps a day, but ended up doing a few more the first two days.  So I made my swim goal!!

I hope I can keep close to this pace going into the future because I have felt so much better this month in general.  Regular exercise is very time consuming, but it helps all other aspects of your life.  And I hope my swims have inspired some of you to get started too.


National rally for Big Cats act set for July 2 in Ohio

There’s not a person living in Ohio, or anywhere else for that matter, who doesn’t remember the night in October 2011 when Terry Thompson of Zanesville released 56 dangerous wild animals before killing himself (see definitive journalism on this event from Esquire, GQ, and Cincinnati Magazine).  Police were forced to shoot almost 50 of the animals, including 38 big cats of which 18 were rare Bengal tigers.

Some of the animals killed in Zanesville on October 18, 2011

48 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and monkeys were killed in Zanesville on October 18, 2011.

On the heels of this tragedy, Ohio passed Senate Bill 310, the Dangerous Wild Animal Act (analysis here), to regulate ownership of dangerous wild animals including big cats, bears, wolves, elephants, rhinos, alligators, great apes, certain monkeys, and certain venomous and constricting snakes (full list here).

Owners were required to register their animals with the state while an advisory board worked with the Ohio Department of Agriculture to create standards for housing and care (draft standards here).  To keep the animals, owners will be required to meet these standards and pay a fee to obtain a permit by January 2014.  Certain facilities such as accredited zoos and sanctuaries are exempt.

A patchwork of state regulations on ownership of big cats.  Source: IFAW

A patchwork of state regulations on ownership of big cats. Source: IFAW

One key provision of the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act bans the buying, selling or trading of dangerous wild animals.  This provision is echoed in a new national bill, H.R. 1998, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, introduced into Congress in May by Reps. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA).

The bill would ban private ownership of big cats except at AZA-accredited zoos, sanctuaries, wildlife rehabilitators, state colleges and universities, and select traveling circuses.  Current owners could keep their big cats so long as they register with the USDA, but breeding would be outlawed except at AZA zoos working under a Species Survival Plan and certain research and educational institutions.

These are the conditions in which big cats were kept at a substandard facility called Great Cats of Indiana before it was finally shut down.

These are the conditions in which big cats were kept at a facility called Great Cats of Indiana before it was finally shut down after years of pressure from local activists.

With states like Ohio cracking down on ownership of dangerous wild animals, why is a federal law needed?  First, several states still have no regulations regarding ownership of big cats, including Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  States have a patchwork of laws ranging from no rules whatsoever to a total ban on ownership of big cats.

No one knows how many big cats are in private hands across the United States, but estimates range from 10,000 to 20,000.  This is more than are left in all of the wild.  The trade in these animals and their body parts has resulted in serious public safety and rampant animal welfare problems.  In the past 21 years, U.S. incidents involving captive big cats have resulted in 22 human deaths, 248 maulings, 260 escapes, 144 big cat deaths and 131 confiscations, according to Big Cat Rescue.

This tiger was kept in this shed for six years at Animal Rescue Kingdom in Ocala, Fla.,

This tiger was kept in a shed for six years at Animal Rescue Kingdom in Ocala, Fla.

Having this many big cats in private hands makes for a regulatory nightmare.  A USDA license is required to exhibit or sell big cats, but the USDA, which is also responsible for thousands of zoos, circuses, breeding operations, and research facilities, does not have enough inspectors to adequately monitor compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.  Nor is a USDA license even required for private pets.

Animal welfare is repeatedly an issue for captive big cats.  It costs $5,000 a year to feed a big cat, and thousands more for housing and veterinary care.  Most people don’t have the knowledge or resources to care for these animals responsibly.  Big cat sanctuaries all have stories of rescuing animals from back yards, basements, tiny transport cages, junkyards, apartments, and other inhumane conditions.

Police came face to face with a tiger kept in an apartment in Harlem.  This tiger is now at Noah's Lost Ark in Ohio.

Police came face to face with a tiger kept in a Harlem apartment. This tiger is now at Noah’s Lost Ark in Ohio.

Tigers are perhaps the biggest issue in captive big cat welfare.  Of the estimated 5,000 tigers in the United States, only 250 (or 5 percent) are in AZA-accredited zoos.  The problem is that the USDA allows for public contact with tigers cubs from 6 weeks to 12 weeks old.  This spurs unscrupulous dealers to breed them in large numbers for petting booths and photo shoots.

Once the cubs get too old, however, there is no place for them to go.  These tigers are rarely bred according to Species Survival Plans, which require that subspecies such as Bengal and Siberian remain intact.  Instead, they are crossbred indiscriminately and so do not contribute to conservation efforts.  Zoos don’t take them, and sanctuaries cannot absorb so many unwanted tigers.

Regrettably in some cases these animals are sold to canned hunting operations, where trophy hunters kill them for a fee, and then their body parts are sold on the black market.  In 2000 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uncovered a ring doing just that through its Operation Snowplow, resulting in indictments of 17 people across three states.  With feeding and housing big cats running in the thousands, but a tiger skin rug selling for over $120,000, these cats are worth far more dead than alive.

Tim Harrison of Outreach for Animals relocated Tasha from an Ohio facility that was closing down to an accredited sanctuary.

Tim Harrison helped to relocate Tasha, a mountain lion, from an Ohio facility that was closing down to an accredited sanctuary. Source: Outreach for Animals

On July 2, the International Fund for Animal Welfare will hold an Ohio Big Cat Forum at 10 a.m. at the Statehouse in Columbus.  Among the speakers will be Tim Harrison, director of Outreach for Animals and a Dayton-based public safety officer at the forefront of rescuing exotic animals across the country.  The event kicks off a national campaign for the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act.

If you live in Ohio and have any interest in exotic animals, especially big cats, I highly recommend you attend this event.  To RSVP and for more information, contact Tracy Coppola at

Day 20 Swim Report
Number of laps: 45
Time: 85 minutes
Pace: Very slow

I took a day off two days ago due to an inordinately busy schedule and lack of sleep.  Coming back the next day was harder than I thought.  First I went to a community pool where you have to bring your own swim equipment such as kickboard, but I forgot mine.  For some reason laps seemed to take forever.  I slogged it through, and hope today’s work out is a little easier!

Lions, tigers, and seven bears

As its name implies, Lions, Tigers & Bears houses not only big cats but bears.  Its founder, Bobbi Brink, directed the move of dozens of big cats from failed sanctuaries and private owners in Ohio to accredited sanctuaries across the country.

Now it’s time for the bears.

Six bears are currently living together in a 15×20-foot enclosure in Prospect, Ohio.

Bobbi is currently trying find homes for and move seven bears from private owners in Ohio who can no longer keep them and want to place them before Ohio’s new exotic animal regulations go into effect on January 1, 2014.

These bears include six that were previously owned by an exotic animal “exhibitor” cited for hundreds of violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including poor nutrition, neglect, and conditions described as “deplorable”and “squalid.”

Their current owner is better but does not have the resources to properly care for the bears.  All six are living together in one 15×20-foot enclosure – about the size of an average living room.  Such crowding is inherently stressful, and the enclosure has no grass and no enrichment.

Maddie the bear lives in a corn-crib enclosure in Covington, Ohio.

Maddie the bear currently lives in a concrete corn-crib enclosure in Covington, Ohio.

The seventh bear, Maddie, was originally purchased to be a pet.  Not surprisingly, the family decided they couldn’t take care of her after she grew up and considered selling her to a canned hunting ranch.

Fortunately her current owner stepped in, but can provide her with only a small concrete corn-crib cage, where she has been living for the past seven years.

Bobbi is searching for permanent homes for the bears where they will receive the care they deserve in a safe, enriching environment.  Lions, Tigers & Bears is also raising money for a host of expenses including:

Sugar Bear, who came from a sanctuary in Ohio that closed down, now lives in this spacious enclosure at Lions, Tigers & Bears.

Sugar Bear, who came from an Ohio facility that closed down, now lives at LTB in this spacious enclosure.

  • Travel expense for their volunteer team to get to Ohio and back
  • Medical evaluations and lab tests for all the bears
  • Neutering two of the males
  • Transport to new homes (one bear will come to LTB, while the others will go to other accredited sanctuaries)
  • Building an additional bedroom in LTB’s new bear habitat.

It wasn’t easy or cheap for Bobbi to rescue dozens of big cats from Ohio, and it won’t be easy or cheap to rescue these seven bears.  Your donation will help cover the costs of giving these animals happy new homes.

Day 14  Swim Report
Number of laps: 40
Time: 70 minutes
Pace:  A little slow

Day 15 Swim Report
Number of laps: 35
Time: 60 minutes
Pace:  Right at goal speed

The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of activities, but I did manage to get in a swim each day.  I am finding that it’s more sustainable to spend a little less time in the pool and go more often than to try to do huge long swims fewer times a week.  I sleep a lot better on days I work out, so I am going to try to work out most days, even if it is for only an hour vs. 1.5 hours three to four days a week.

On the radio

Your Tuesday Afternoon Alternative logoMany thanks to Art and Tracey Jipson for having me on Your Tuesday Afternoon Alternative, their radio show broadcast from the studios of WUDR at the University of Dayton!

I got to explain the Big Cats, Little Cats initiative and rave about two great organizations.

If you are in the Dayton area, check out the show on Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on 99.5 FM.  Art and Tracy have been playing indie, local and alternative music since 2004.

Day 11 Swim Report

Number of laps: 42
Time: 65 minutes
Pace: Somewhat fast

Had a great swim with no issues.  I’m getting stronger and swimming faster with less effort.

Rescue One

Last summer, Bobbi Brink, the director of Lions, Tigers and Bears, invited my husband, Paul, and me to see a facility in Ohio about an hour from our home where she was rehoming all the animals.

An outdoor enclosure at Rescue One.  The animals who lived here had already been moved when we visited.

An outdoor enclosure at Rescue One. The animals who lived here had already been moved when we visited.

At its height, Rescue One held more than 30 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other dangerous wild animals.  Most of them had been rescued from situations of abuse or neglect, or given up by owners who had bought the animals as cubs and could not handle them once they grew up.

It costs about $10,000 a year to house and feed a tiger, and over time Rescue One had been stretched far past its financial capacity.  They fed their carnivores with animal carcasses from farms in the area or road kill, and they paid their bills in part through proceeds from bingo games.

Indoor enclosure. Rescue One volunteer's face blurred for anonymity.

Indoor enclosure. Rescue One volunteer’s face blurred for anonymity.

Last year Rescue One’s owner, Angela Harter, called the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries seeking help.  After Ohio passed a law regulating ownership of exotic animals, she would be required to considerably upgrade her facilities, which she didn’t have the money to do.

GFAS sent Bobbi to take stock of the situation.  Bobbi not only found accredited sanctuaries to take the animals, but arranged teams to sedate and transport them.  Because no one facility could take all the animals, multiple transport trips, most of them across the country, had to be arranged.

Such trips are extremely expensive.  Veterinary personnel must be on hand, drivers have to be hired, and the large trucks are climate controlled and use a lot of gas.  Financially underwriting this endeavor were International Fund for Animal Welfare and Humane Society of the United States.

A lion watched our every move from his indoor enclosure.

A lion watched our every move from his indoor enclosure. Yes, we were that close.

Transfer of the animals was even more complicated than usual at Rescue One.  Accredited facilities build animal enclosures to certain regulations.  One of these is that when the animal needs to be moved, keepers can line up a transport cage against a door to the enclosure.  Then the door can be opened and the animal can walk into the transport cage.  From there the animal can be loaded safely onto the truck.

That’s not how it went at Rescue One.  Because finances were very tight, Angela’s husband, David Cziraky, had to be creative in finding materials to build the enclosures, and they were not built to these specifications.  There were no regulation-size doors to the enclosures, so when it came time to move the animals, they had to be sedated and carried out by a team of handlers.  This added to the expense as well as the risk in moving them.

Sugar Bear's enclosure at Rescue One.  He now lives at Lions, Tigers and Bears.

Sugar Bear’s enclosure at Rescue One. He now lives at Lions, Tigers and Bears.

Rescue One is an example of how Ohio owes Bobbi Brink and Lions, Tigers and Bears a debt of gratitude.  Angela Harter and David Cziraky did the best they could to take care of so many exotic animals, but in the end needed help.  Bobbi and LTB provided that help, and now those animals are in good homes.

Rescue One was featured in an episode of Animal Intervention, the Animal Planet show with Alison Eastwood, filmed several months before Bobbi flew out to help.  You can see an excerpt in which David Cziraky talks about feeding the animals at

You can also see the LTB page for Sugar Bear, who came from Rescue One and found his home at Lions, Tigers and Bears –

Day 6 Swim Report

Number of laps: 50
Time: 85 minutes
Pace: Somewhat slow

I took yesterday off because I was ahead of schedule and needed a break both physically and to catch up on a lot of things at work.  Today I was back at it and needed the swim.  I had planned for 45 laps but ended up doing 50.  This will come in handy later for that last 0.2 miles of the marathon.

Raja and Natasha

Tigers Raja and Natasha were the first residents of Lions, Tigers & Bears, arriving in September 2002.  They came from a private owner in Texas who kept them in a 6×12 foot cage with no shade or shelter.  They had to step over each other to turn around.

Their owner didn’t want to give up the tigers to the authorities in Texas, nor was he willing to provide them with a better enclosure.  After a great deal of negotiation, he finally agreed to give them to LTB.  Texas authorities gave LTB a month to raise money, build a suitable enclosure, get all the necessary permits, and transport the tigers to California.

When they arrived, Natasha was pregnant.  She gave birth to two female cubs, Tabu and Sitarra, in November 2002.  The girls still live at LTB and have flourished.  Raja was neutered in 2003 to make sure there are no more births.

Check out this video of Raja splashing in his pool after a snow in March 2012.  Unlike most cats, tigers love water, and good facilities will provide them with this essential enrichment.

Day 1 Swim Report

Number of Laps: 45 (1.25 miles)
Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Pace: Slow

This morning was taken up with a volunteer program, so I didn’t get to my swim until late afternoon.  I had skipped yesterday in anticipation of starting today, and consequently didn’t sleep well last night.  That led to a very slow swim today – but by lap 30 I was feeling better and was able to go an extra 9 laps or quarter mile.  That will probably come in handy later this week when I need a break.

Big Cats, Little Cats – A swim marathon fundraiser

My name is Cathy Cowan Becker, and I live in Columbus, Ohio.  I will be swimming a marathon (26.2 miles) through the month of June to raise money for two organizations – Cat Welfare Association, a cat shelter in Columbus, and Lions, Tigers & Bears, a big cat and exotic animal sanctuary in Alpine, Calif.

The goal is to raise $2600 – $100 for each mile – with half going to each group.  On this blog I will keep track of the miles I swim, talk about issues facing big and small cats, and feature adoptable cats from Cat Welfare and the big cat residents of Lions, Tigers and Bears.

Donation page for Lions, Tigers & Bears –
Donation page for Cat Welfare Association –

I hope you will consider donating to both!


This month I am turning 50 years old. Hard to believe because I don’t feel 50. But I have been feeling more sluggish lately, and you know what they say – use it or lose it.

So this month I decided to do a swim marathon – 26.2 miles in the pool. This works out to about a mile a day. And I decided to use this event to raise money for my favorite cause – cats both big and small.


Both big and small cats need our help. Anyone who owns a small cat knows what wonderful companions they are. Yet pretty much everyone has seen stray and feral cats wandering the streets.

In Central Ohio alone there are an estimated 1 million stray and feral cats. No one knows how many there are nationally, but estimates range from 30 million to 90 million.

Cat Welfare Association in Columbus, Ohio, has been working since 1945 to help these cats. This no kill shelter takes in friendly stray, injured and pregnant cats to be rehomed after a spay-neuter, preventive shots, and any needed medical treatment. The free-roaming facility houses about 300 cats at a time and adopts out about 1,000 a year to new homes.

Cat Welfare also addresses the root cause of cat overpopulation through a spay-neuter program for low-income cat owners and TNR program for colony cat caretakers. Pet owners can get a low-cost voucher to take their pets to a local veterinarian, while feral cats are fixed for only $10. The Altering Fund helped 2,351 cats in 2012 and 31,248 since 1990 get this important surgery.

Find out more about Cat Welfare Association at


Big cats are disappearing from the planet. In the past 30 years lion populations have dwindled 80 percent, and fewer than 5,000 tigers are left in their natural habitat. Meanwhile, breeding and selling of these animals has skyrocketed – there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild.

Why has this happened? One reason is the USDA allows direct contact with tiger cubs from 6 to 12 weeks, spurring unscrupulous people to breed them for photo and petting booths. Once these animals grow up, there are few places for them to go. Accredited zoos don’t take them (zoos have their own breeding programs that follow strict genetics), while accredited sanctuaries are full.

Many big cats end up in substandard roadside zoos or private hands. Most private citizens don’t have the finances or training to handle the needs of these magnificent creatures, evolved to wander over wide territories and hunt large prey. Big cats of any sort do not make good pets.

One sanctuary working on this problem is Lions, Tigers & Bears in Alpine, Calif. Accredited by both the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and American Sanctuary Association, LTB houses dozens of big cats on a 93-acre ranch west of San Diego. It has 17 species including lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, leopards, servals, as well as bears and farm animals.


LTB’s founder, Bobbi Brink, has a special relationship with Ohio. For years, Ohio’s lack of regulations on dangerous wild animals made it a magnet for the exotic animal trade. New legislation passed last year in the wake of the tragic events in Zanesville prompted many private owners to close up shop.

Unfortunately, people trying to place big cats have few options. That’s where Bobbi came in. She and a team traveled to Ohio to meet with multiple private owners and find new homes for dozens of big cats and other animals.

Then, with support from groups like International Fund for Animal Welfare and Humane Society of the United States, her team transported these animals to accredited facilities across the country. Ohio owes Bobbi and Lions, Tigers & Bears a debt of gratitude for helping these animals get out of substandard conditions and into good homes.

Find out more about Lions, Tigers & Bears at